Time And Space

Entry by: Paul McDermott

27th July 2017
Time and Place

The bus was crowded, the temperature off the scale. You could taste the acrid sweat of other passengers in every laboured lungful of re-breathed air. He sat on a single rear-facing seat near the front of the bus, seemingly oblivious of his surroundings.
He was the only passenger who seemed entirely at his ease. Sitting opposite, I wasn’t deliberately listening or even paying him any special attention, but I couldn’t ignore the fact that his lips were in constant motion, although he was travelling alone. After a few seconds, I noticed that his hands were contributing just as much to the ‘conversation’ with his invisible companion as his sotto voce words.
“ … and then she died.”
These were the first words I picked out. He wasn’t looking in my direction, but the phrase caught my attention and I was hooked. He paused, as if listening to a response. His hands fluttered constantly, reminding me of the graceful gestures of deaf people carrying out a totally private conversation in a crowd, a time and space entirely their own.
With just a hint of self-conscious guilt I began to watch him more closely, without doing anything which might draw attention from others, leading to possible accusations of voyeurism. My eyes tracked to his ears: no, he wasn’t using a hands-free mobile.
His attention seemed fixed on a point outside and slightly above the bus, creating the impression that his co-respondent was an insubstantial, ethereal entity only he could see. This didn’t make me doubt for one moment his sincerity or his sanity. On the contrary, the old adage “In the country of the Blind, the One-eyed man is King” suddenly made a lot more sense. Just because He was the only person acknowledging the unseen Being’s existence didn’t mean everyone else was ‘right’ and He must therefore be ‘wrong’ … did it?
“No, that’s not what happened …”
Another pause: a brief silence ‘filled’ with a complicated combination of finger gestures which appeared to include a ‘counting sequence’
“Good. You understand: I knew you would … it’s been about a week, but life has to go on, you know …”
Some pauses were longer than others. He seemed to be taking comfort from the answers only He could hear. His fingers became a blur, especially when he wasn’t speaking. Had He and his companion acquired the unique ability of speaking and listening at the same time? Think how much you could save in phone bills if you could learn that trick! At least one other person had been mentioned who was dead, and therefore belonged to a Past Time. Was the unseen tacit Listener still in the Land of the Living? He – or She – definitely wasn’t ‘Here and Now’, that much was certain.
A discreet burr! from an inside pocket interrupted the ebb and flow of his far from one-sided conversation. The calm, distant look in his eyes sharpened and refocussed as his left hand reached for the impervious, insistent demand of his mobile phone, truncating at least half of his ability to communicate. I make a point of gazing at absolutely nothing happening on the suburban street as the bus pulls away from a stop. I don’t want either of us to be embarrassed by the consequences of him becoming aware of my involuntary eavesdropping on a private but (for Him) very real discussion with his unseen companion.
“Hello? … Yes, I won’t be long now … I know I was just telling him that … I’m getting off next stop … see you soon: ’by-eee!”
He stood and reluctantly rejoined the mundane reality of the late afternoon swelter on a crowded bus. Other disembarking passengers momentarily blocked him from my view, and although I tried I failed to identify him before the bus pulled away again. Curiously, I didn’t feel like an uninvited trespasser on a stranger’s personal space. I felt I’d been granted the extraordinary privilege of a rare insight into another human being’s innermost thoughts and feelings, unfettered by the fixed boundaries we define as Time and Place.