Wednesday, February 3, 2010

4) Fung Wah

Unfortunately, wonderful weekend journeys usually end the same way they begin for me - on a bus. This time, it’s the Fung Wah. As any young, broke New Yorker or Bostonite can tell you, the Fung Wah is the cheapest, easiest way to travel between the two cities - $15 one way and it runs every hour. Despite persistent rumors about busses catching fire on the expressway, every Fung Wah bus is packed, and today is no exception.

My things are spread out on the seat next to me - magazines, a banana, a plum. The hope, of course, is that this will deter anyone from sitting there. But no.

“Excuse me, do you mind if I sit here?” The voice comes from over my head, and my first inclination, after two years in New York, is to roll my eyes. I start in with my customary disgust but find myself starting to smile even as I turn my head to look up. The voice has such a disarming gentleness to it, an easy friendliness so uncommon it’s almost foreign, and yet familiar, somehow, too. When my eyes meet the man attached to the voice I smile against my better judgment, and look down again quickly. I nod at his request, and gather my things.

He is a tall, thin, hollow-cheeked white boy, about my age, wearing a maroon t-shirt, jeans, and a black baseball cap just a little too big for him. His eyes are even more striking than his voice - green and deep-set in dark circles in his greasy face. He looks tired and dirty, and I wonder if he spent the weekend partying, maybe popping pills. We keep looking at each other and I think of my ex; he had pretty eyes too, but not like this. This boy’s eyes are soft and bright, like moss under water. But there is forlornness there too, the color of deep bruises,the tenderness of skin. I think about someone hitting someone else I loved a long, long time ago.

The boy looks at me so intently that I have to look away. He reminds me of someone I know. Not anyone specific, just the type of person who might be a friend of mine, an amusing acquaintance. I feel okay about him sitting beside me, even though I know he’s going to start speaking at any moment and that once he begins it is unlikely he will stop. I hesitate, wondering if I should give him an opening or turn my back, but I remind myself of my new goal of being more open. I’ve decided that living in New York has made me angry, hostile, short-tempered – a harsher version of how I’ve always been, and I’ve resolved to change things.

“Wow, Boston is such a great city,” the boy says. “I was just visiting a friend from college.”

“So was I,” I say, but I keep my eyes away from him, out the window, looking at the cars in the parking garage of South Station. They boy says he spent most of the weekend in bars. He’s lived in New York for one year, he says. He says he likes tall buildings and I laugh, not knowing if that's the reaction he was going for.

The bus lurches forward, signaling the start of our four and a half hour journey. The boy does not appear to have anything with him - no books, no magazines, no iPod. I start to regret my friendly demeanor, then rebuke myself.

Emily, I say, you are leaving New York for a reason. Remember how you used to speak to people you didn’t know? Remember chit chat, small talk, pleasantries with strangers? Recall your own damned roots, woman! You are from Iowa, for God sakes. Now shoot the shit with this nice young man.

“If you like tall buildings,” I say, “I guess you moved to the right place.”

So, now, we are talking. His name is Richard, Rich.

“Yup,” he says as he stretches himself out in the seat. “I’m just a poor medical student, so I gotta take the Fung Wah.”

I’m surprised at myself, the way this statement makes my ears perk up, like I can hear gold tinkling in my lobes.

“I work at a fancy magazine,” I tell him, “but I still have to take the Fung Wah.”

He asks which magazine and I tell him, the usual mixture of shame and pride rising with heat to my face. But fuck all of that. Why dwell on the present? There are far more interesting things about me, and that’s what I’m focused on now.

“Actually,” I say, “I’m moving to Thailand.”

I start to giggle to myself as I have been doing constantly since making my bold decision. I tell Rich how I haven’t given my notice at work yet, but that I’m moving to Bangkok, Thailand at the end of August, to teach children to speak English.

“That’s great!” Rich says. “Wow! Gosh, that sounds like so much fun!”

I feel a little silly after sharing my plans with this complete stranger, so I turn my face towards the windows and watch the green hills of Massachusetts pass by. There is too much traffic and our bus can do no better than inch along.

I open a magazine and give Rich Women’s Health to keep him occupied, but as soon as his face turns down to look at pictures of women fitter than I, I find that I still want to talk.

“Where did you come to New York from?” I ask.

He came from California, where he went to college.

“My best friend lives there now,” I say. And we talk about her and Iowa, where I grew up, and Oregon, where he did. When the conversation lulls he thinks up questions to keep me chatting. He asks, “What do you really want to do?”

“Write,” I say.

“Have you ever done any volunteering?”


“Do you ever feel like you want to be really healthy?”

“Sometimes, after yoga,” I say.

The bus stops at its halfway point for food and fuel and toilets. Rich says he’s going to get McDonald’s. He doesn’t ask me to come but I follow, my flip-flops slapping against the sticky rest stop floor. I stop a few feet away and watch him at the back of a long line, his finger on his chin as he looks at the menu from under the brim of his stupid hat. His tennis shoes are pristine white and his jeans are baggy. What am I doing? I ask myself. I don’t know this guy; he isn’t my type at all, and I don’t want McDonald’s.

Confused, I turn around and head back outside. I perch my ass on a guard rail and eat my banana. By the time the boy comes back out, I am started on the plum. I feel odd, calm but unnerved at the same time.

Rich sits down on the rail next to me and all of a sudden, I feel normal again. He asks me to hold his French fries while he unwraps his burger. “Help yourself,” he says. “Have as many as you want.” I eat some, but not too many. It is not my habit to accept food from random men I meet on the bus.

Back on the road, my body moves closer to Rich's without my knowledge, so that in a few moments I’m surprised to find us so near that our upper arms touch. Rich presses his warm, white arm against mine and smiles in a way that prompts me to lower my eyes and say meekly, sexily, “I don’t think it’s quite time to play doctor yet.”

He offers me an ear bud to his iPod and I accept. We are watching the Simpson’s Halloween special as the Fung Wah rolls back into Manhattan. We’re entering China Town now, one of New York City’s many nexuses of evil, yet I feel great. I had a fabulous weekend with my friends, I’m quitting my job and moving to Thailand, and now I’ve met this guy.

“We should hang out,” I say.

Rich grins. “Yes we should,” he says. Both of our phones are out of batteries so he writes my number on a piece of paper from the bottom of his bag. It looks like an old rolling paper and I hope it is.

We file off the bus and stand there on Canal Street, stock still in the buzzing dark of New York City, blocking the flow of passengers. I wonder if maybe we should go somewhere together now, and Rich asks me if I want to but even though I do I say no. I need to go home, I say. It’s late and I have to work in the morning. I think that I should kiss him. My body moves again without my volition but I pull myself away. We only sat on the bus together. He isn’t at all the type of man I usually find attractive. I’m not supposed to be interested in men right now. I don’t know what’s gotten into me.

Rich hauls the straps of his back pack over his shoulders while people push and curse us. We move out of the way, but don’t take our eyes off one another.

“Aw, come here,” he finally says, and he reaches his long, thin, arms around me in a hug. It feels wonderful but I can’t wait to get away, to have the night over and have today be tomorrow already, so that he can call me, and we can see each other.

We say goodbye and walk off to our own respective subways – him to Harlem and me back to Brooklyn. I keep watching him until I round the corner and he is out of sight, and then a great panic comes over me. What if he loses my number? I don’t have his and we don’t know each others’ last names. What if I never see him again?

Down on the subway platform, in the bowels of the city, I run into a friend from work and grab her tiny white hands in mine. “You look so happy!” she says.

“I just met the cutest boy!” I say, and tell her everything, gushing until we are home in Brooklyn. I fall asleep to dream of a cute, New York doctor, his healing hands stroking my skin.

Three weeks later, with his goodbye present, a first-aid kit, tucked into my suitcase, I board a plane at JFK, and fly to Bangkok.

1 comment:

  1. Liked the hug, perfect timing. Loved the first aid kit. More please. :)