"Yes," said the driver of the nameless New Jersey bus.
"The last stop's 42nd and 8th in New York. Three dollars. Pay
when you get off." I stuffed my cash back into my pant pocket,
and considered taking the seat that was broken into chaise
lounge position of the converted school bus, before taking
a right-window seat in the middle. A lifetime of New York City
subway riding inured me from the remnant stench of unwashed
ass. The only other passenger was a well-groomed older man
seated on the other side on the aisle a couple rows in back
of me. To assure passengers that the dusky black-bearded
driver wasn't a terrorist, an American flag was affixed above
a stuffed Mickey Mouse seated on the driver's rear view mirror.
Mickey's legs blocked the mirror almost entirely. I slept . . .
until I was awoken by a booming two-way between the well-
groomed older man and a nondescript middle-aged man sitting
directly in front of me. They were speaking a foreign language.
I'd become immune to such rude loud conversations if I
could identify the language, but I couldn't recognize theirs.
And was about to tell the guy in front of me that I'd strongly
prefer not to hear them, but what calmly came out of my mouth
was, "What language are you speaking?" "Turkish," he replied.
"Oh," I said, "like the Ottoman Empire or immortal poet Nazim
Hikmet." In broken English, he sang the praises of his homeland.
Because I've spent well over 90% of my life pretending to listen
to what others are saying, I feigned listening while I drifted into
thinking of a girl who years back worked at Tower Records.
Her name was Fem and she too was Turkish. She was a painter
who worked in their classical music section. She said she only
liked music and art of the Baroque period, and was supposed
to have been born then. I wasn't sure when the Baroque period
was but liked what she said because modern times surely wasn't
working for me. Fem was a high-cheekboned snowflake, with dark
almond-eyes and flowing hair. An angel or a witch. When the bus
arrived at 42nd and 8th, I waited for the others to get off before
getting up and handing 3 bucks to the driver. He shook his head no,
gestured toward the street at the talkative Turk who just got off,
and said he'd paid my fare. As for Fem I'd asked her if she'd like to
go to the Metropolitan Museum with me. "I might," she said, smiling.