“Ay, it’s the cost of everything these days that drives me crazy. Nowadays I’m only rolling my own.”
Chris could tell by the accent that the bus driver was a Scot, but he’d come down to work in London. Usually, the bus drivers don’t talk much, but Chris had caught this one on a quick smoke break at a turnaround.
Not wanting to offend the old man, but needing to sit down in the warmth, Chris waited for a polite interval then asked, “May I get on and sit down? I’m freezing.”
The driver blew a slow stream of smoke over Chris’s head, eyed him as though wondering if he was deaf.
“Did ya not hear what I just said?” the driver asked.
Chris flashed a half smile. “You mean about the cost of everything driving you crazy.”
“Ay,” the driver said, his suspicious squint transforming into a broad smile. “Don’t you think so?”
“Sorry,” Chris said, “I didn’t know you were talking to me.”
The driver looked around at the winter cold empty dusk space surrounding them and the bus. “And who else would I be talking to then?”
Chris had been hoping the driver was on his cell phone talking to someone else. “Ah, sorry, it’s so cold I can’t think straight.”
As if not even hearing him, the driver went on. “So you’re not from around here then,” the driver said, squinting again, almost as if aiming.
“Ah no, I’m not, how could you tell?”
“It’s your accent, and that shirt of yours. It’s what they call an Aloha shirt, right? Jack Lord and Tom Selleck and all that.”
Chris managed a smile. “Well, yes, it is.” No matter where he traveled, his Aloha shirts traveled with him. He’d worn nothing but Aloha shirts since he’d gone to college. There was about a year gap when he went to graduate school in Wisconsin, but he’d remedied that by bringing the shirts along with him after he’d been home for a quick break.
“So you’re from Hawai‘i, are you?” the driver asked, still squinting. “What brings you here in the winter?”
“I’m on vacation.”
“Vacation? In this weather? And you from Hawai‘i. Are you crazy?”
Chris, instantly irritated, had been wondering the same thing about the driver, but he’d had the decency not to ask. His demeanor changed.
“Some people think I am crazy,” he said. He took a menacing step toward the old man. “Do you think I’m crazy?” He gave the driver a glaring look. The action surprised Chris as if he’d dropped into some kind of role, a character to be played, nasty and ugly, a bully. It scared him. Could he be that kind of person? He was alone here in London, anonymous. No one knew him. He could be anyone he wanted to be.
The driver looked up at him. The expression on his face made Chris think he was indeed rolling the question around in his brain. “I hope not,” the driver said. “That’d make two of us.”
He laughed, and so did Chris, the both of them sounding like a couple of cackling hens. Chris smiled his normal smile, patted the driver on the shoulder good-naturedly, relaxed into his usual self.
It must be the cold, Chris thought. Could it do things like that to you? Probably. Hey, the old driver was just trying to be friendly, after all. Why be that way?
“Let’s get a move on then,” the driver said, seemingly unaffected by Chris’s momentary Mr. Hyde impression, maybe thinking, Tourists, geez they’re weird.
“Good talking to you, Jack Lord,” said the smiling driver.
And with that, the two boarded the bus, the driver getting back into his seat to grind on, and Chris sitting down to wonder about his momentary transformation, as though for a second he’d stepped to the edge of a deep cut void. And it would bother him into the night that he’d enjoyed that glimpse at a darker blackness about him than he’d seemed to have seen before.