“Tell me something interesting,” he says to me as we sit side by side on the bus. He looks so cold and calculated and I wonder if he feels anything towards me at all. He takes up room in his seat. I barely fit next to him. He is an overachiever, overeducated and impeccably self-reliant, with what most would call a bright future ahead of him. He is the science student. Is this what I want? Is this who I am? I feel torn within myself. He looks me over, bored, unsatisfied, and I feel an old familiar pain come over me. I have known this pain before. I feel it when not fitting in; disappointing my family; looking in the mirror and disliking what I see. The pain is lonely and crippling and once again I feel flustered in its presence. As I struggle to come up with the right words to keep his interest, all I see is a cold fog which blocks the rest of the world and focuses my attention on my senses. In the fog’s coldness I feel chilled to the bone, and am unable to speak clearly, so I don’t speak at all.
I sit by him frozen. Like aimlessly taking courses at college. Then too, I feel as if I am going nowhere and desperately trying to maintain some hope for the future. Our future. Do we have one? Should I try, or simply give up? Like my education I’m trapped on a cold bus ride with no destination feeling like I don’t know who I am…
His laughing engulfs me. He jokes. He teases as I look down silently. He can be incredibly attractive when he likes. He laughingly taunts that “Arts students are lazier than science students.” I know I can be captured by his charm. And that I’m expected to relate to him. I’m supposed to be a science student after all, although I am so unlike him. I know he expects me to agree. I have been given this route to fitting into his world. Through my silence, we are suddenly aligned by this mutual superiority to others. I try to hold on to this moment. I hold my breath and try to grasp at its security.
Gradually I breath out. The fog starts to clear and I see something different. I see a kind of waste. He is like a tank. He has one goal in mind. To succeed. A PhD, important publications and talks, great discoveries and great fame. He runs down everything in his way to reach this ultimate end. He could take out half the life on the planet. He could destroy habitats, taint waters and further pollute the air. He will leave his tracks, but his creations could easily be… useless, dangerous, harmful.
Then I see myself more clearly. I have been calloused by past pains. I am now sturdier and stronger for it. There will be others for whom I will count. I am angry he has plough me down in his way, made my existence seem insignificant next to his own aims.
As I brood over my role in his aspirations, I become even angrier. Then I can no longer bear to stay silent. Finally I stand up next to him and shout, “I AM NOT A SCIENCE STUDENT.” I feel relieved and lighter. Then I gently add, “I am not like you.” I continue, more calm now, “What you do isn’t that important. And I don’t think Arts students are lazy.”
He gets up, walks past me and makes his way to the front of the bus, then walks off. I feel a different kind of pain now. One that is duller and more transparent. I focus myself on the crowd of people rushing onto the bus. I tell myself there are others who will need me.
(Originally published October 2, 2005)