Posted by Justine Solomons on June 19, 2012, in Writers
At the bus stop, in the gloaming, a man approaches Emily. He is dressed as Hitler, at first glance, though in the longer run he turns out just to have a carefully clipped moustache. He asks Emily about the number twenty four. Emily says she knows nothing about the number twenty four but it probably does go to Trafalgar Square, yes. They all do.
Mainly she wants him to stop talking. She wants him to sit at the bus stop with his Nazi-inspired facial hair – which, by the way, is nothing more than socially acceptable pubic hair – she wants him to sit here and remain silent while they await their respective buses. Emily has already decided, she decided the instant he approached, that she would not get the same bus as him. No. She wants her own bus, her own space. As much room as she can. She certainly does not want to sit next to this man on the bus. She will not get the same bus as him.
There are saving graces. He does not seem prone to talking and she is pleased about that. Minutes pass and he says nothing. He continues to look like Hitler. No buses come. He offers her a polo mint but does not attempt to discuss it. Emily shakes her head. She does not want a polo mint. There is silence.
Why would you grow a moustache that makes you look like the despotic leader of a European state? This and other questions forge in Emily’s head. His fingernails are dirty too but she doesn’t entirely notice this, not yet. Dirty and bitten and stained with earth from where he’s been squashing daffodil bulbs into flowerpots for his sick, nearly dead, dying wife.
She does not notice this, Emily, she does not notice much. It is getting darker, she doesn’t care and, to be fair, that moustache is pretty distracting. He must know, she thinks, he must know he looks like Hitler. You don’t grow a moustache like that without knowing. For a brief, mad, second, she believes he is Hitler, that he might lead her home and gas her for looking a bit Jewish, although she is not Jewish, really. A distant aunt somewhere on her mother’s side used to visit a Synagogue occasionally, she’s been told. That’s pretty much as Jewish as it gets in Emily’s family – i.e. not Jewish at all.
It’s OK, though. He’s not going to gas her, this man. He’s just going to sit there and suck polo mints and wait for his bus, the number twenty four which, by the way, is not the bus Emily will be getting. No.
She’s pleased he knows nothing about her, not whether she’s Jewish or not, not even what bus she’ll be getting. For example, he doesn’t know her brother’s not called anyone in a week and a half and she fears, quite secretly, that he might be dead. He’s not dead, her brother never calls anyone, he’s just lazy, but he might be dead and she wouldn’t know if he was. That’s all. The man at the bus stop does not know this about her, nor anything else, and his ignorance makes her feel powerful.
She notices the dirt on his fingernails now, only because he lifts up his hand to scratch at a stray hair and she is momentarily distracted from the moustache itself and sees how filthy he is. She does not mind. She does not find it unattractive. She wonders, briefly, what he’s been doing with his fingers, those fingers, other than gassing Jews. She does not give it much thought; it is something she considers only in passing.
It occurs to Emily that he might be contemplating her own chipped nail varnish, the cracked, broken, worn out manicure from three weeks ago, the dry skin around her bleeding cuticles, the hands she couldn’t be bothered to sort out because it’s too much effort to go to a chemist. Because the man at the party put her index finger in his mouth and sucked very hard and said he liked the taste of her nail varnish. He said he liked the taste of lots of things, but mainly the nail varnish: alcohol and lacquer mixed with sweat and flesh and poison, he liked it a lot. And later, he bit into a patch of skin around her collar bone, clenched it between his teeth and pinched very hard, left a mark, a red mark, a small one.
The man who looks like Hitler does not care at all about the state of her fingernails, she knows that. She does not know he is thinking of his wife, hoping she is still alive and hoping she is dead too, trying not to remember the translucence of her skin and the sharp corners of her hip bones pressed against the cotton duvet cover he had dry cleaned because it was her favourite and it was worth it, hoping she will live to see the daffodils bloom and hoping it is quick and painless and he will get through it as peacefully as she will.
Emily sees him take another mint and press it against his teeth with his tongue, a sound like metal against china. Against her better judgement she looks over to him and wonders why he doesn’t just take a razor to his face. The moustache is mostly black but it does have at least three colours in it: some grey hairs, one ginger, a smattering of blond. It is a thing of wonder. It disgusts her. Mostly it disgusts her. The mint chinks against his teeth again.
Suddenly, he lifts his hand and digs some discoloured snot from his nostril with the corner of one sharp fingernail and Emily does not mind as much as she thought she might. These things are human, they are what happens, they are what everyone does when they think no one else is looking, they are what people do when it no longer matters what other people think. She wishes her bus would come now. She is bored of waiting. She does not want to look at his moustache anymore.
The Hitler man folds foil around his mints and places the packet in his back pocket. He does not look at Emily again. She wonders, briefly, incorrectly, if this will be one of those moments. A coincidence, a happenstance. A moment when two people meet quite by chance at a bus stop, on the platform of a train station, with no connection whatsoever, nor any reason to speak. And something happens, one of them drops their wallet, loses their ticket, shares a tube of sweets they cannot eat all by themselves and suddenly, unexpectedly, they lose themselves in each other’s souls and forge a connection so deep and intense that for years to come they will be thinking of one another almost constantly, his clear green eyes, her perfect fleshy lips, pining for each other while they fuck ungrateful spouses or scratch their cracked fingernails down the back of inadequate lovers. Wishing they had had the courage to speak but grateful that they did not, remembering always the fleeting, accidental touch they shared when one of them stands up to leave and turns around to apologise without really needing to.
Emily does not give it much thought. This is not one of those moments. A bus arrives. The number twenty four. The man with the Hitler moustache stands, boards the vehicle, pays his fare, does not look back. The bus pulls away. He is gone.
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