ambivalent encounter (ii)

the greyhound bus station in albany, new york, is just like any other bus station. tired passengers and bored-to-death workers. and nobody has anything to do. that’s why everyone either sits on the benches and stares at their phone or look around at what other passengers are doing. my inquisitive self wanted to observe others but after a while i started to make eye contact with the same people and so it started to get awkward. i decided to sit down on one of the black metal benches and read my book. murakami’s kafka on the shore.

kafka on the shore is a pretty big book. i wanted to read it for a while, and while i had started reading it at the start of the semester, for the most part it was lying down on my dorm table, gathering dust and nothing more. i had picked it up for the trip precisely because i knew that i would have a four hour layover at albany before coming back to utica.

i was sitting cross-legged, reading my book. it was dope. the story was really grasping my mind. it felt as if i was tuned out from this world and wrapped into that world. i read and read and read. then suddenly…

…the lady sitting next to me spoke, “excuse me, can you look after my bags for a while. i need to use the restroom.”

at this point, my mom would freak out. she would have probably advised me to say no. she would probably have reminded me, “remember how the maoist put bombs in bags and leave it everywhere?” but i was not in nepal in the late 1990s or the early 2000s. there was an almost zero probability that i would encounter a bomb in the bag. “sure,” i said.

and i went back to my reading. the book was absolutely crazy. it was almost an intermingling — but not really — of two different stories. the fact that i did not know where the plot was going was making me interested. so i read and read and read. i read one chapter, then the next, and then another one. and then i got tired. i closed the book and put it next to me. i wanted to close my eyes and not do anything. the trip had already made me tired.

“so you like to read?” it was the same lady. i looked at her light-grey eyes and smiled, “i guess. i don’t know what else to do in a four hour wait.”

“i hated reading. especially in college. i have no idea how i went through it. but good for you. you must be pretty well informed about things.”

i smiled again. “well, i like to think of it more as a habit. i always used to read books. kinda lost the habit once i started college. at least reading fiction. just wanted to get some of that energy back.”

“yeah,” she said. i looked away, not knowing how to keep the conversation going. after a few seconds of silence she spoke again, “where are you from?”

the question is a tricky one for me. i usually answer based on who the person is. if they are someone that i know a decent amount, i tell them where i am actually from. if they are a stranger, i give the response that i gave her, “oh, i go to college near utica. hamilton college.”

“i see. i’m from the bronx, i went to college there.”

“how was it like going to college there?”

“oh, it was different than other colleges. it was a college for low-income students and that’s why i went there– i could not afford other colleges. it’s so expensive these days, you know. but i’m lucky, i’ll be paying off all of my student loans in the next seven years,” she looked at me, waiting for a response.

“good for you! that’s really nice,” i smiled. “it’s actually true- college is so freaking expensive,” i raised my eyebrows to amplify my point and she nodded her head. “that’s why we need bernie 2020,” i added with a bit of hesitation, unsure how she would respond. americans don’t talk about politics in public, i had heard.

she laughed. “yeah, that’s whom i am voting for. i really like him,” she paused. “trump, he’s an interesting guy. i disagree with a lot of what he says but i kinda get what he means.”

i tried to piece apart her statement. a bernie supporter that also is kinda a trump supporter. i was not only confused, i was beyond confused. i decided not to respond in detail, but rather close the conversation. “yeah,” i said and nodded.

and there was another brief moment of silence. then she spoke again, “you know it’s crazy– this wait. i’m going to syracuse, which is just three hours away, i’m staying there for a few days and then flying to the dominican republic. that’s where my family is. but the dude that i was hanging out with,” — she was referring to another guy she had met in her previous bus and then had started talking in the bus station — “he’s going to syracuse and then flying to texas. isn’t that crazy?”

“yeah, that’s pretty crazy. it’s far away and the trip sounds expensive.”

“i know right?” she exclaimed. “everything is expensive these days,” she said, her gaze lingering at a point some distance away.

the guy came back and he asked her a question. she turned away from me and started talking to him. i opened my book and started reading. i had not bought the book- i had borrowed it from my college’s library. neither did i, unlike her, pay much for college.

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