Malcolm Steadman will dial the suicide hotline in 48 days.
The shady looking boy that stood next Malcolm Steadman was making him nervous. To be fair, Malcolm was nearly always nervous and had once been set into a philosophical frenzy because of burnt toast, but the boy next to him looked dangerous. Malcolm had taken the city bus enough times to know when he shouldn’t turn his back on someone, and right now, everything about this boy told Malcolm that this was definitely one of those times. It did not help that the teenager Malcolm was worrying about had just reached into his pocket to feel something. A knife? Wherever the bus was, it needed to be here right now.
Besides this, fortune, it would seem, had finally been kind to Malcolm Steadman. Or maybe it had been merciful? After being unemployed for this long Malcolm was starting to give up, so when he was called in for an interview the day before he was stricken with a not just great elation. He was also totally unprepared. The universe had given him a bone, everything that happened after that was his own fault.
His morning preparing for his interview was in a stark contrast to the one he had prepared for some weeks earlier. Unlike before he was not confident, and time did not seem to be on his side. He shaved quickly and in his haste to get prepared and out the door in time to get to the bus stop he had forgotten his phone and thus his main source for telling time. It was only now, in his anxiety to get on the bus and away form the shady looking boy that Malcolm realized he was missing it. He watched as the hooligan beside him put on some earbuds and briefly debated whether or not he should ask him for the time.
Malcolm took a deep breath, and decided that his need to know if the bus was late outweighed his fear of the shady looking boy. He gathered up his courage and tapped the boy lightly on the shoulder but was immediately ignored. Rude. Some time passed and Malcolm fought away the urge to let it be and tapped the boy on the shoulder once more. He watched as the boy pulled the earbud closest to Malcolm out of his ear and arrogantly left the other earbud in. ““Eh, er… excuse me, do you know what time it is?” Malcolm asked the boy timidly. It was just then that Malcolm realized that the boy looked very uncomfortable and realized now that the youth probably thought Malcolm was creepy. After all, what business did a grown man have talking to a teenager if not for some ulterior motive? This realization seemed suddenly cruel to Malcolm. When had Malcolm departed so far from youth culture that this perception could come to someone so easily? Was Malcolm out of touch with the youth?
The boy answered “It’s seven-thirty”, and did not look directly at Malcolm. Everything about the boy’s posture and body language screamed fear. Malcolm decided to lighten the mood, try and ease the boy’s fears and demonstrate that he was not some creepy psychopath. He decided to do this with a joke: “I guess it’s about time the bus showed up huh?” the Boy’s earbuds were back in his ears and at full blast, he did not hear him.
The joke would not have worked anyway, it would have made Malcolm seem even creepier.
The boy’s music came throbbing back and suddenly Malcolm recognized the artist: it was Pink Floyd. The boy was listening to Pink Floyd! Malcolm had first listened to Pink Floyd when he was this boy’s age, and at first, this was an exciting development. He had something in common with the boy! Maybe Malcolm was not as out of touch as he had onced thought!
Then the existential crisis came.
Malcolm Steadman had sought out a new job about a month ago because he was terribly unhappy, and though he was going in for an interview for a new job today, would that change anything? Regardless if he liked this new job, he needed it now out of necessity. Without it his savings would run dry and he would likely be out on the streets. This job was in the same field as his previous one, so if he was successful in getting it, he would not be successful in changing his life like he had originally sought. Malcolm would continue to be unhappy. Financially stable again, yes, but unhappy. What was worse was that this was the best he could do.
Malcolm had first heard Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” when he was this shady looking boy’s age. He had an entire lief ahead of him with all of the potential that implies. What had he done since that was worth bragging about? He was now middle aged, out of shape, and terribly unhappy. He was constantly unfulfilled and now he was going in for an interview for “more of the same”. How much longer would Malcolm live his life like this? The most he had done to “liven” up his life lately was let a puzzle gather dust and buy a toy dinosaur out of a sense of nostalgia! Was nostalgia all he had to look forward to now? Was looking back all he had ahead of him?
There was an opportunity here: Malcolm could not change his past, he could not course correct his life immediately, but he could warn the boy next to him, he could let him know of the dangers of growing old… of growing old and regretting. Like Malcolm years ago this shady looking teenager had an entire lief ahead of him. If Malcolm acted, maybe this kid would not be in his shoes now, decades later…
Malcolm turned to the boy now, squared his shoulders at him with intent, and tried to gather up the courage to give the boy a speech that would change his life. The boy, sensing Malcolm’s posture, reached into his pocket and grabbed on to something… a knife?! Malcolm reeled in horror and took a step back, as if he were pushed away by the boy’s gaze. Whatever the boy had touched in his pocket stayed there and Malcolm watched as the boy removed both earbuds from his ears and gave him his full attention. This was it. This was the moment that Malcolm would change this scary looking kid’s life forever.
Instead, Malcolm stammered his speech and sounded like an idiot as he misquoted his favorite band.
“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” Malcolm ranted.
Knowing that he had already failed at what he had tried to accomplish, Malcolm took a few seconds to gather his thoughts better. In this time neither he nor the boy spoke, but the awkwardness between them grew to be louder than words.
“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! Desperation crept to the forefront of Malcolm’s speech as he saw the bus near in the corner of his eye. “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” Malcolm pleaded.
“Cool” said the boy.
The boy let Malcolm get on the bus first. Malcolm sat up front, the boy went to the very back. Before The boy sat, Malcolm eyed him taking a granola bar, the boy’s breakfast, out of his pocket. Malcolm laughed to himself as he realized now that the granola bar was “the knife” he had felt so threatened from moments earlier. The bus crept slightly forward and began moving. Neither of them looked at each other the entire ride.
Malcolm wished he had his phone with him. He wanted to listen to Pink Floyd.