There is a specific kind of ‘tired’ that exists only in the bodies of twenty-two-year-olds whose confidence has sunk to the bottom of their stomachs. I recall that ineffable moment that fateful day. I was sunk to the core of the bus seat I was sitting on. The howling engine of the bus and my heartbeat were synchronised. Pacing. My thoughts were driving me insane.
I had lost a lifetime staring at the window, first looking at the things outside the bus, second at the small glare and image that the glass window reflected, then into the nothingness of it all. I gazed at the driver and I could see that he recognised my need to remain in that trip almost like he, too, wanted to drive into the ether with me.
I wondered if he recognised me and my thoughts then, like the million other passengers who had sat exactly where I was sitting with those very similar, pounding thoughts. I wondered if in his years of driving people to their dreams, to their lovers, to their new lives, he ever considered driving himself to the shore of his own dreams. What were his dreams? What were his passions? What woke him in the morning?
His large brown, hazelnut eyes reflected on the rear view mirror and they caught mine. In that brief moment, I realised that those eyes had seen so much life, far more life than I could have ever fathomed at that point. His eyes searched through me, the same way my father’s stern eyes used to search through me as a mischievous child.
After a few stops, I was the only passenger remaining in the bus. Finally, he broke the silence by asking where I was headed. I told him I was going to class. He asked about my occupation and I replied that I was a university student. I was comfortable by then and so I asked how he became a driver. There was a long pause.
The bus passed by a suburb where my mother used to work, as a domestic worker, and I was taken back to the days where she used to carry me on her back on a bus just like this one. I sat there in that bus – half a man, half a boy – reminiscing. The loud engine of the bus disrupted my reminiscence. In the same breath, the driver broke the silence as I sat there forgetful of the question I had asked.
He proceeded to tell me of his days as a youth and how he was a student in a university once – just like me. His eyes gleamed as he spoke of his days as a freshman and the hopes he had. He took a glance at me in the rear view mirror and a frown overtook his face. He steered the bus with focus as he began to open up to me about the fateful day that changed his trajectory forever.
He shared with me that his single-parent mother passed away during his sophomore year and he had to quit school to find a job. The responsibility of taking care of his four younger siblings fell upon him as a firstborn child. He found a job as a bus driver. He had been driving ever since. The bus driver was a full man of magnitude in his mid-fifties, but in that very moment I could see the child in him. He proceeded to tell me that he had learned so much from driving people, more than he ever did in school.
Suddenly, while he was talking a thought struck me like a thunderbolt. I realised that the bus driver had arrived, not to my bus stop, no. He had arrived at his destiny because he was content with where he was. He was conscious of where he was not, but yet he was immersed in where he was. He was alive. He was in alignment with his purpose, just as some of the people he was driving to their destinies. He was in alignment with his purpose just as my mother was in alignment with her purpose when she child reared me with a domestic worker’s salary.
I realised then the true value of the gold that lies within a conversation. Everyone has a story to tell and if you listen closely, you will recognise bits of yourself in the people around you. His story drove me to write this story.
Tell us: what is the best conversation you’ve ever had with a stranger?