I usually have headphones in while I wait at bus stations and I’m always writing, knitting, or answering Drag Coven emails and social media stuff. Every once in a while, though, I accidentally witness a whole story unfold even though I’m not trying to be nosey.
I’m waiting for the GO Bus from Jamie’s to Toronto tonight and I’m so tired from our drag trip that I’m too lazy to dig out my headphones or write for work. I’m just sitting here knitting and minding my own business. A woman and a man round the corner holding hands very casually, more like old friends than a couple. He’s singing and humming a random tune that I’m pretty sure he’s made up and jiggling her hand around like he’s trying to get her attention and make her smile. She’s trying to be amused. She cracks him a weak little grin but she looks stressed. In her other hand, she’s clutching the biggest, floppiest stuffed dog I’ve ever seen.
They walk towards me across the waiting room and she plops the dog down in the chair next to me. Immediately the whole area I’m sitting in is flooded with the smell of cheap cologne. She stands in front of the dog, smiling at it a little, and then leans forward and takes a big breath, smelling the dog’s fur thoroughly. The man comes up behind her and says “See? It’s nice, right? That’s why I sprayed him; to remind you of me. I think I overdid it a little though”. I’d have to agree- I’m starting to get a small headache from the overwhelming smell of the dog by this point, but I don’t say anything because the woman is clearly upset and I don’t move because I’m tired and there’s nowhere else to sit.
They settle in the seats next to the dog and she has tears welling up in her eyes. She says “They’re going to take everything from me all over again. I built stuff up and now I won’t be allowed to have any of it. They won’t even let me have the man in the store across the road put aside the broken cigarettes in a box for me anymore, so I won’t even have a smoke when I need one”. The man tells her that she really needs to call them.
She takes a deep breath, takes his phone from his hand, and dials a number from memory. She states her name and who she’d like to speak to. She’s very well spoken and respectful in her tone, so I assume she’s talking to someone in a position of power. She explains that she’s very sorry for being late and that she’s at the bus stop waiting. She says she didn’t realize they’d changed the schedules since the last time she’d been out and it didn’t occur to her to check, which was a stupid mistake. Then she says “My friend bought me the big dog I told you about, the one that I really wanted!” She seems excited for the first time but as the person on the other end of the line talks, she starts saying things like “It’s my own fault” and “I’m sorry” and “I understand”.
She gets off the phone and she’s upset again. He asks what they said and she explains that they were understanding but that she was still very irresponsible, so she won’t be allowed to come again for a long time. He asks what they said about the dog and she says “They can’t accommodate him. They don’t have the space. The beds are small, they’re really so small. When I get there they’ll take him from me and lock him up downstairs until I’m allowed to have things again. I really messed up”. He says he doesn’t want to talk about messing things up and asks to hear about how her day went before he picked her up. I learn, through her explanation of mundane tasks like taking the bus and eating at Tim Horton’s- things that she explains with utter excitement as though they’re extraordinary tasks- that she is on a day pass of some kind. The way she describes it sounds like some type of rehabilitation program or perhaps a minimum security prison, but she’s breached their rules about how far she was allowed to go and what time she was expected back.
She starts to cry a little and the man pulls her in to lean on his shoulder, wrapping his arm around her. There’s nothing meant by the gesture besides comfort. He holds her the way I hug my platonic friends, the ones that mean the most to me. He holds her like he knows that, no matter your relationship, a little human contact is essential sometimes.
After a few quiet minutes he starts poking at her, trying to make her laugh, but she’s too upset and it annoys her. She pulls away, saying “Please don’t. I’m sorry, it’s not you. I’m just upset. I know I’m not showing it, but I’m very grateful that you’re here. That’s the one thing I’m happy about today”. The man looks confused and asks her “Didn’t you get to see your nephews?” She says no. They never met her at the Tim Horton’s. No one came to see her and she had to eat the donuts alone. That’s why she left the area she was permitted to visit and went to find him.
He takes a deep breath and grabs the dog from the third seat. He starts describing it like it’s his son, saying silly things like “Look at those eyes! These big, round, chocolate brown eyes! They’re just like his daddy’s, don’t you think?” He gets close to her face and starts batting his eyelashes at her in a really over-exaggerated way. He looks and sounds completely ridiculous. She laughs a little, but she’s still sad so he changes his strategy. He starts moving the dog’s mouth, making it talk and flipping its head around like it’s an animated character, so its felt tongue flops from side to side. It’s actually kind of funny because this thing is practically as big as I am and it’s all furry. He doesn’t make it say anything real, he just sings a random tune full of nonsense words. She laughs a little, but she’s still sad.
He changes things up again. He pretends the dog is rapping and he writes her a silly verse on the spot. It talks about having a bad day and picking yourself up. He ends it by saying “With a nice nose and crooked toes, that’s the way the world goes”. That one makes her laugh more and protest that she does not, in fact, have crooked toes. He maintains that she does and she tells him he wouldn’t know because he’s never even seen her toes. He grabs her foot and makes like he’s going to take off her shoe but she jumps out of her chair and she’s finally actually laughing. It’s a weird scene because they’re easily over 40 years old, but it’s strangely refreshing because I’ve had to listen to how sad her day was for the last 20 minutes, so watching them play harmfully like teenagers is preferable.
They stop horsing around and she stands quietly, petting the dog’s head. He’s quiet too, answering text messages. She takes a broken cigarette out of her coat, which doesn’t fit her well (it’s far too large and wide) and is dark and worn out. That’s what everything she’s wearing looks like. She looks at the cigarette, which is crumpled like an accordion in the middle, and sighs, saying “I’m going to go out and smoke this since it’s the last one I’m going to have for …I don’t even know how long”. He asks if she’d like him to go with her and she says no. She’d like to be alone to think and she asks him to stay here and look after the dog. She goes outside and he does what she asks.
He sits next to me for 15 more minutes (I have no idea where my bus is at this point; it’s late even though the weather is fine). He plays a game on his phone but gets bored quickly. He picks up the dog and starts snuggling it. He catches a teenager looking at him weird and says, in a calm, good natured way, “Hey man, I’m cold” and shrugs. His voice is deep and smooth like a voice actor narrating an old movie. He’s a broad, tall guy, so people are definitely staring at him while he cradles this huge stuffed dog like a small child. It’s kind of comical.
She doesn’t come back. I don’t think anyone else notices but him and I, and he’s been so concerned with her the whole time that he certainly hasn’t noticed me sitting there. He starts to look around. He doesn’t see her outside the windows of the waiting room anymore, so he sits up higher and starts to look stressed. He puts the dog in the chair and paces a little, trying to see around the corners of the building through the windows without actually going outside. He’s acting sneaky about it, like he doesn’t want her to catch him checking in on her if she suddenly returns. He turns and looks the dog right in the eye and, like no one else is near them, he says “It’s okay, I trust her”.
Ten more minutes pass, though, and he decides he doesn’t trust her after all. He picks the dog up under the arms and sits it on his hip like a toddler. He hauls the door open and starts walking around the area outside. I’m looking around now too. How can I not wonder where she’s disappeared to when they’ve just put on a veritable play right in front of me? I don’t see her anywhere. He doesn’t either. He takes out his phone and makes a call but I can’t hear what he’s saying other than the sentence “She doesn’t even have any money on her”, which he spits out, exasperated, as he whips the door open again and hangs up his phone.
He sees a security guard across the hall and goes to approach him, but the guard is preoccupied with a teenage girl who looks like she’s never seen a shower or a morning that didn’t involve a hangover. The girl is yelling at the security guard, telling him to stop accusing her of things she didn’t do and calling him a “fucking loser”. The guard stays very calm, but escorts her firmly out of the building. He doesn’t touch her; he just walks confidently behind her asking her to “stay calm and go home” until she’s finally walked herself out, screaming and swearing the whole way. She spits in the guard’s direction as the doors swing shut and stomps away backwards with both middle fingers in the air, aimed at him.
While this is happening, the man with the stuffed dog is getting downright anxious. His friend has obviously left. He’s muttering “She couldn’t have gotten far but could end up anywhere, knowing her”. I can’t tell whether he’s talking to himself or the dog. The moment the security guard is free, the man with the dog approaches him and asks for help. He’s frantic now, but I can’t hear his explanation of who his friend is or why her wandering off (he seems to know firmly that she left of her own accord, even though he didn’t see her go) is such a problem.
I get on my bus smelling strongly of the dog’s cologne from where it rubbed against my coat when they plunked it into the chair next to me. I’m stressed all the way home for a pair of adult strangers that I don’t know and will likely never see again.