I’m at page 700-something in this big ol’ book that is actually three books bound into one. It’s fairly dense reading, with each book telling about a few intertwined lives of mid-century Canadian academics and historians. Sounds dry, the way I describe it.
Anyhow, on the bus, I sit down next to a man who is probably homeless. He doesn’t smell and his ski-jacket is in good shape, but his hair is dreaded and matted, his hat has seen better days, and his eyes seem yellowed. He has smooth skin on his cheeks but weather-beaten lips.
The man glances at my book and asks,
I fumble at the ripped pages that are the cover, which was ripped off long before I bought the thing at a yard sale for a dollar. The cover is now one of those first pages that tells you reviews—it’s a review of the third book, that’s how many pages have disappeared. I show him the spine of the book. The Cornish Trilogy: The Rebel Angels, What’s Bred in the Bone, and The Lyre of Orpheus. The man sounds out “Cornish trilogy,” and asks if it’s good.
“It’s my dad’s favorite,” I saw, somewhat weakly. What a… removed sort of book to talk to a homeless man about.
I got back to reading but take stock of the folks around me. I notices some dry, jangling sounds. The girl to my left is a big, black woman with beautiful skin and huge shell earrings that keep her ears noisy company. She’s rigorously scouring and “liking” things on Instagram on an iPhone that she holds furtively close to her face. Or maybe she is far-sighted.
The homeless man has been leaning on my right shoulder more and more, swaying with every push and pull of the bus—we’re behind the according and sitting in a row with our backs to the window, so we sway sideways instead of back and forth.
As I continue reading, the man shifts so that he’s now leaning—and now quite noticeably—on the young man farther to the right. I catch this out of the corner of my eye and when I turn to glance at the fellow unintentionally offering his shoulder, we meet eyes and smile quietly.
The girl and boy sitting with us depart at the UCLA stop and the homeless man disembarks somewhere after the 405. He bids me a farewell and I reply with a “have a good one.” He starts mumbling something like,
“Already had a BAD one, you know? And…” he starts to speak gibberish while he grabs his giant garbage bag of recyclables. Sounds like mostly plastic, which makes sense, as he hefts it easily. At his stop, there’s already a shopping cart waiting for him.