Sunday, September 27, 2009

Nobody's Business

Easter of yesteryear in bus 331. A pauper dozes in the seat reserved for handicapped persons. Opposite him, a coquettish redhead winces like the smell bothers her. In the back of the bus a rubicund gentleman looks through the window. Two crones gossip. The air, of an inebriated hue, hangs. Closed-eyed, the pauper twitches, as if chasing a fly away, then settles.

The city is dead. Through the window a nondescript germination happens. Bucharest is a city of Lego with little plastic men stabbed in the asphalt to dissimulate human activities. The bus flies past them monotonously, heedless of signs and traffic lights. My lids weigh heavy, sleep presses and I am close to surrender. But the bus takes a sharp turn and I am woken by a thud.

Eyes hurry to the front of the bus, where the pauper has collapsed on the floor. He lies crouched in the middle of the bus, his body inert like a wounded animal. I look around. The other passengers avert their eyes, the window presently more riveting than the obvious spectacle. I take two steps toward the human mass and realize that I cannot lift him by myself. With horror I wonder if anyone would give me a hand. The driver condescends a brief glance in the rearview mirror. Not his business, either. Lines of embarrassment dig into the faces of people. Would anyone react if I said something? Would they look at me if I yelled? Numb, the bus rolls on.

Still, the pauper lies lifeless on the floor. His clothes grey, his skin ashen, his cheek indifferent against the grey floor where microscopic grains of mica glitter in the sun. He looks like a child groping for a toy in his sleep. His feet remain thrown over the base of the seat. Urine darkens his trousers in rivulets and continues on the floor. Concerned, the redhead raises her shoes to safety. She does not look at him. All around people feign preoccupation. Men and women are absent. There are only their carcasses here.

Breathless, I press a red button. The doors open and I gush forward, like a frothing stream against a manmade dam. My limbs are made of gum. Movement disconcerts, stillness nowhere in sight. I speed up to get home, where there are colored eggs and family, and everything is well. In front of my building lies the corpse of a giant mouse on which flies feast, ravenous. How picturesque, I conclude, putrefaction in the most select quarters of Bucharest. My hand poised on the doorbell, I cannot ring. I stand paralyzed, with my disgust, my shame. I weather a disease that must be faced stoically to acquire immunity. And then I do the only thing that we can do in Bucharest to live in peace with ourselves: I turn my head.

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