This morning I got one of the last seats on the bus - one stop later and the bus was full. After a short while I noticed a guy who had gotten on at the next stop and had to stand near the front. He was heavy, balding, in his mid-to-late thirties, wearing a drab greyish-brown raincoat that wasn’t tied properly across his gut and he was drinking a bottle of lucozade for breakfast.
What drew my attention to him, though, was the fact that he was talking so animatedly. He was deeply involved in conversation, hardly sipping from the bottle at all. To my dismay I quickly realized he had no phone, no headset, he was just staring into the middle distance and chattering away. He even paused and inclined his head forwards, staying silent for a minute before saying “Oh really?” or just nodding “Yeah, yeah.” Sometimes he ‘d even emit a slightly camp gasp, widen his eyes and say “Oh I know yeah!”
The bus was quite full so I couldn’t hear most of the ‘conversation’. I heard him drop some ‘r’s and deduced he was probably English. After a while I could make out the rhythm of his speech and I decided that if I had to put money on it I’d have said Liverpudlian. I wondered how he came to be here and what had happened to him.
I looked at the passengers around him, sitting in awkward silence and looking directly ahead, minding their own business. Nobody spoke to each other and they seemed preoccupied with keeping themselves to themselves. I became aware that I had been staring at chatty man for the last few minutes. I don’t think he had noticed but I quickly shifted my gaze to avoid eye contact when he seemed like he might glance in my direction. I wondered who he was talking to and imagined it to be some ghost from his past. He might be traumatically bereaved and his companion, a close friend or family member who, in his mind, never left him. He couldn’t accept the loss and so kept up one-sided conversations so as not to be alone.
Then I thought, ‘What if ghosts did exist?’ He might be like that kid out of The Sixth Sense who can see dead people. Maybe we, the narrow-minded, yawning, shoe-gazing passengers, were in the wrong. As I looked around the bus I saw a small red-haired girl with glasses who was sitting down opposite chatty man. She nodded her head and I realized she was speaking. That’s who he had been talking to. I hadn’t seen her.