The sharply dressed man beside the boy was making him nervous. The boy had taken the city bus countless of times, he was no stranger to the body language of weirdos, and right now, the man beside him was broadcasting a very weird body language. For whatever reason, the boy observed, social contracts were broken all of the time at the bus stop. What permission did the weird see in the bus stop that they could break social norms and ignore all social cues? The boy felt an unopened granola bar that his mother had given him for breakfast inside of his pocket and played with it nervously. He was about to open it and eat the pressed dry meal but when he had eyed the sharply dressed man next to him, he decided to hold off on it. The man beside him was staring directly at him now. God dammit, the boy thought, here we go…
The boy pulled out some earbuds from his backpack and placed one into each of his ears. He quickly found his music app on his phone and played the first thing that popped up on full blast and begun to relax. This was really his best defense for an awkward or unwanted interaction he had from the weirdos. Only the schizophrenic or the most aggressive creeps would not pick up on this social cue. Earbuds were a passive, but universal way of letting everyone around know that the person wearing them DID NOT WANT TO BE BOTHERED. The man was still staring. The boy knew better than to look back, eye contact was always an invitation to these weirdos. It seemed as if the man was closer now, the boy closed his eyes and took a deep breath. Wherever the bus was, it needed to be here right now.
There was a tap on the boy’s shoulder now, and his mind went reeling. What about me wearing earbuds screamed “touch me” to this creep? he wondered. A short panic ran through his mind as he considered pretending that he did not notice the tap, but his line of thinking was quickly interrupted when the man tapped his shoulder again. “Eh, er… excuse me” the sharply dressed man sputtered over the throbbing beats of the boy’s music. The fact that the man looked as uncomfortable about the situation as the boy did little to ease the boy’s dread as he pulled out the earbud nearest to the man. “Do you know what time it is?” the man asked timidly.
This was suspicious. The man was well dressed. Had he been older, maybe another generation or two this question would not have raised any red flags for the boy, but the man was middle-aged, and he was well dressed. There was no way that this man did not have a smart phone on him, he could easily check that to tell the time. This meant only one thing: the question was an opener, a ruse to get the boy’s full attention. This man had ulterior motives. The boy looked down at his own phone and immediately pulled the phone’s dial pad up, just in case he had to dial the authorities. “It’s seven-thirty” the boy answered, not looking directly at the man. The boy sighed as it seemed that their business was done and put his earbud back on. The man beside him said something that the boy could not make out through his music as the boy gazed onto his dial pad, hoping he didn’t have to use it… and then: nothing. The man beside him took a step back.
The boy took a deep breath and sighed with relief. Then the man took a few steps closer.
The well dressed man was now VERY close to the boy. His shoulders were squared directly at the boy’s side and he was looking straight at the boy. He did not touch the boy this time, but it seemed almost dangerous to the boy to try to ignore him now. The boy reached in his pocket and started nervously feeling his granola bar. He then turned slowly and removed both of his earbuds this time and saw that the man looked almost frightened and stepped back, as if he was pushed away by the boy’s gaze. A silence fell between the two as if it were a physical divide, one that they each welcomed and feared to remove. It was only then that the boy realized that, like a spider, this weirdo creep was more afraid of him than he of the man.
“Are…” The man started “are you listening to Pink Floyd?” He finally managed. The boy looked back at him with suspicion and answered a simple and curt “yes”. He wasn’t.
“That line, ‘the sun is the same in a relative way but you’re older’? Er, uh no, I meant the line ‘ten years have got behind you, no one told you when to run, you missed the starting gun’? That one, the one that goes like that, well… It’s true” the man babbled at the boy.
The fear between them had waned, but it was only replaced with an awkwardness that was burdensome. The man continued and stuttered out “I-I was your age when I first heard that line, it was an old song even when I was young, do you understand? I was your age and now… now I’m going in for an interview for a job that is meaningless and I see no way out of it. Everyday I realize that more and more that my life has no meaning and I don’t know what to do with myself! And what’s more, do you know the Irony of it?” The boy shook his head in response.
“The irony is that someone DID tell me when to run, someone warned me about not hearing ‘the starting gun’ and it was that song. Pink Floyd had warned me all of those years ago and I ignored it!” There was a sense of desperation in his voice now “I must’ve heard that song hundreds of times since and it never lit a fire under my ass to change anything. Don’t. Be. Me. Don’t grow up to be me. I wish someone told me that, but I’m telling you, I’m telling you now, this is the starting gun”.
The bus had finally arrived.
“Do something with your life” the man pleaded.
“Cool” said the boy.
The boy let the man get on the bus first. The man sat up front, the boy went to the very back. Neither of them looked at each other the entire ride.
The boy ate his granola bar.