In inner Melbourne you see bus timetables and stops, but rarely see buses actually picking people up. They seem like ghost routes to me. But maybe that’s because I’m not looking out for them, having the luxury of other transport options.
I remember on my first day of my first proper job, I tried to catch one from Spencer Street to Brighton. It arrived 40 minutes late, and I was late for my first day.
So I rarely ever catch them, but when I do, it feels like a bit of a special occasion, so I’m kind of on the alert.
On Saturday I’d caught the train to Greensborough on Saturday, and on the way back remembered there was a practically door-to-door bus from Alphington station back to my house.
When I get to the stop, the driver is asleep and I have to rap on the door to wake him up, apologising. He shakes himself awake. ‘No worries!’
There’s nobody else on the bus. I forget to swipe my myki but he doesn’t notice. We leave about a minute later.
I’m in a funny mood and too tired to read my book, but luckily get to eavesdrop on three youths sitting across from me, all wearing Adidas tracksuit pants with snap buttons.
From my reading of their group (a mere shallow first impression) there’s a ringleader type, his wingman, and a sullen girl with a Puma bag on her lap and dark rings under her eyes. She looks defeated, over it.
The ringleader has a pockmarked face and eyebrow ring. He talks rapidly and grins wickedly at his own commentary.
He seems sharp and intelligent, in a furtive kind of way. His eyes are glazed over. He doesn’t exactly seem like he’s on drugs; more like he’s taken so many that there are still traces in his system. But again, only first impressions.
Frustratingly, bus noise keeps obscuring their conversation, but it’s something like this.
Ringleader: ‘Gary. Man I’d love his life, eh. He just rides around all day in his Landie and smokes weed.’ [grins]
Wingman, enthusiastically: ‘And killin’ animals!’
Ringleader and Wingman look to sullen girl for approval. She gives them a blank look that seems a bit hating.
Ringleader: ‘He’s a real good guy eh. He’s got the best life! [grins] Known him since I was nine. He’s met you too once, but I think you were whacked at the time.’
Wingman: ‘He’s loaded, hey. He’s got so much money. He’s got the best life. Just drives around in his…’
Wingman: ‘Nah man, he’s not rich eh. His mum’s a teacher and his dad’s a cop.’
I wanna hear more about Gary but then an acquaintance of mine gets on. I’m surprised to see him; most people I know don’t catch the bus.
He’s a wisp of a guy, gentle and thoughtful with a wry sense of humour. I quite like him.
Him: ‘What are you up to?’ I tell him I’ve been visiting a friend in Greensborough.
Me: ‘What are YOU up to?’
Him: ‘I’m actually off to my engagement party.’
Do you ever find it hard to feel happy for someone when they tell you their good news?
It was fleeting sensation of negativity, rather than a serious gripe.
It’s not like I had designs on this guy and was jealous of his partner. It was more like I was jealous of him for getting it sorted: his emotional future laid out in front of him; undoubtedly not perfect, but probably meaningful. I felt a bit – I don’t know – left behind. But I did want to wish him the best.
In less than half a second, the following thoughts roll out in my head:
[Sarcastic] Good for you, you got engaged. I’m glad you’ve got your shit sorted. Raili you SHIT why can’t you just be happy for him. He’s a lovely person. Say something! Put a proper look on your face! God!
My face feels like heated plastic. As I smile, the corner of my mouth quivers a bit and I say with fake brightness, ‘Congratulations! That’s great!’ An awkward impression overall, but hopefully he didn’t notice.
I was telling another friend about this experience afterwards, and how I hated being so mean-spirited. He said he feels that way sometimes too, but rather than putting on a cheery face, he just asks them a question.
His theory is that they’ve usually only got one line prepared about their good news, and they’re not really expecting further enquiries, so you get them off guard. Then you regain the power. Devious.
Anyway, back in the bus, I chat a bit longer with that acquaintance of mine, before he makes his apologies, and leaves to join his fiancee, who’s sitting at the back of the bus.
Next thing I hear Ringleader asking Wingman, ‘Hey, dya know if you can train cats to behave the same way you train dogs?’