THE MOST SELFISH MAN IN THE WORLD
(Bus Stories #5)
BY BEATRICE EKWA EKOKO
Two women get on at the stop opposite the back entrance to the hospital at the university. In the crowded bus, they have to stand, supporting themselves on the overhead rail.
I feel myself dozing off and will myself to sit up straight. Dozing is for the old and weary—those who can afford to bypass life.
The woman with the Spanish accent says,
“I have a car but I always take the bus to work. Have you heard? Parking at the university is up from $15 to $20 for the day! My bus ticket costs me less than $2 one way. Why would I drive? It’s more convenient taking the bus, no?”
Spanish is pretty. Her companion is a tall, redhead, middle-aged woman.
They continue talking easily; my mind is on the books I will buy for my niece.
“I don’t speak to him at all,” Redhead says. “We’ll act normal in front of the kids but I can’t look at him anymore. I’ll get the supper for the kids, there’s enough for him if he wants it. Then I’ll go up to my room and watch TV for the evening.”
I look more closely at the redhead. She wears a uniform under her winter coat; I can see the collar of the striped shirt and she has on low-heeled shoes, laced up hospital style.
“It’s that bad eh?” Spanish leans in sympathetically.
“Yes. He hates me. He calls me stupid, other names.”
I listen for a note of hurt or humiliation in her voice. There should be sadness or righteous indignation, but it isn’t there. No feeling sorry for herself, this tall, world-hardened woman.
“He never spends time with the kids,” she continues. “Never home. He told me—these were his very words—his work comes first. If there is a choice between his family and his work, he’ll pick work first. He said this.”
No anger, only acceptance.
“That’s what my ex was like too,” Spanish cries triumphantly. “Selfish. The most selfish man in all the world.”
“That would be him.” I can hear in the voices a conspiracy, an understanding that has replaced the reserve that was present between them at the start of the ride. They meet as kindred spirits because of the selfishness of men.
“So, I’m looking for a house. I’ve seen one like the one I grew up in. I’m from Toronto originally, yeah? Nothing big, just enough for me and my two kids,” the redhead says, dreamily. “I don’t need much. Just want my own place and my kids with me.”
The bus roars up the steep Wilson Street hill and I look out the window, seeing the broad sky lightly touching the landscape below—once fertile farmland. A few homesteads still stand; holding on stubbornly just to prove that they can, here in the oldest town of Lower Canada.
“You’ll be better off without him,” Spanish says goodbye and gets off at her stop.
The bus is approaching the “Meadowlands,” a sprawl of box malls: Home Depot, Crisco, Winners, Sears outlet, Town and Shoes and on and on. Chapters is my destination but although I’ve been up here before I can’t for the life of me remember where to get off.
I turn to the redhead who is alone now and seated (the bus is practically emptied of the students –they don’t live this far from campus).
“Yes?” Her face is alive with kindness and curiosity.
“Chapters. Is it the stop coming up?”
“That’s right. I’m getting off at that stop too. You from Toronto?” she smiles questioningly.
“No, I just don’t come up here that often.”
We descend into the early winter afternoon, the light thin and already waning.
“Just across the road,” she points. “Over there between Sloppy Joes and Home Depot.”
“You take care now. Buy yourself a large coffee and study hard!” She clenches her fist in a tight gesture. She’s mistaken me for a student.
The mother in me recognizes the gentle admonishment; I too tell my girls the same thing and of course I heard it from my mother. It’s the love-talk of a working woman urging her children to greater things, to do better than what they themselves have done, which is only to birth them, and hold them and feed them and carry them and nurse them, and shelter them and clothe them and play with them, and correct them, and teach them and grow them and put them first.
I wave at her.
“Have a great day,” she says. I know she means it.
Beatrice Ekwa Ekoko is a Hamilton based writer. While she has been engaged throughout her life in various forms of writing, she is excited to be venturing into the world of fiction. Beatrice is a regular contributor to thespec.com and ParentsCanada Magazine. Follow her on twitter @BeatriceEkoko.