Checking the bus timetable, I was pleased to see that my bus was due in about five minutes and proceeded to take a seat. As I turned to sit down, a man walking along the street, smoking a hand-rolled cigarette, hesitated in his tracks before deciding to sit down as well.
I didn’t know if I’d imagined the man’s split second decision to change his plans upon seeing me take a seat. I tried not to look at him. I took in the streetscape around me. I glanced at the activity of the markets in the Brunswick Street Mall. I risked a quick look at the man at the other end of the bench from me. He was looking straight at me.
He took the opportunity, afforded by the briefest moment of eye contact, to strike up a conversation.
He told me, in the most prosaic way, that he was on an hour release from hospital. I absorbed that information while he continued to talk. He was out buying some caffeine drinks for a fellow patient. I wondered aloud whether the hospital encouraged the consumption of caffeinated beverages. The man explained that he couldn’t have them, but they were good for his friend who was not prone to any great bursts of activity. He said his friend enjoyed being around him because he talked a lot.
I learned the man’s name; that he was 38; that he had been in hospital for 6 out of the past 11 years; that he didn’t have an eating disorder, but was always admitted for not taking care of himself. He talked about his parents’ inability to take care of him, expressing some understanding about the difficulty he presented for them.
He asked me if I would give him my phone number, producing a pen from inside his jacket. I shook my head. He said he would call me and we’d talk. He said he didn’t like skinny women, and without taking his eyes from mine, for any more than the briefest flicker, asked me to confirm that I was ‘voluptuous’. He asked me if I was interested in having children. I replied that it wasn’t a burning ambition. He was pleased by my response, saying that differences over the question of having children had been the problem in a previous relationship he’d had. He had a sixteen year-old daughter.
The sun was shining straight into my eyes, rendering my sunglasses ineffective. He noticed and adjusted his position to block out the sun for me, observing that my ‘shades’ weren’t very shady.
At some point in the conversation he told me about a government scheme where it’s possible to get 6 free appointments with a psychologist on the recommendation of a GP.
He asked me again for my phone number. I said no, but that it had certainly been worth trying. He presented his forearm, a white expanse on which he said he could write down my number. He said how difficult it was for him to meet anyone. I agreed that it must be.
He started to look around. I followed his gaze. A woman standing nearby made eye contact with me and smiled encouragingly. My bus arrived. I said goodbye to the man and boarded my bus. He crossed the road without a backward glance.