Strangers on a bus
It was a rainy Tuesday afternoon and I was on my way back to the University of the Philippines Los Baños from La Salle in Manila. I was a bit irritated by the rain when I reached the Green Star terminal on Buendia and looked for a seat inside the bus, ready to shut out everything. Then a few minutes before the bus departed somebody sat beside me. I didn’t bother to look and just amused myself by looking outside the window.
After the conductor collected the fare I prepared to have a short nap. The stranger beside me pulled out a book from the National Bookstore plastic bag he was carrying. Before I could close my eyes, the title of the book caught my attention and got me smiling. I wondered if a sister or a friend had asked him to buy the book for him because I didn’t think any guy would want to be caught reading “Jane Eyre.”
It is not that I don’t like the book. In fact I like it—love it actually.
When he peeled off the plastic from the book and started scanning it, I couldn’t believe it. I asked myself: Is he going to read it? I mean, for real?!
Unable to control myself, I muttered, “That’s a good book,” and gave him a polite smile. He smiled and asked if I had read the book. I nodded. He asked me another question and our conversation got started.
It was mainly focused on books we had read, the type of stories we enjoyed reading and, of course, our favorite titles. His was John Grisham’s “The Pelican Brief,” and I told him I hadn’t read it yet though I had watched the film. When he asked what my favorite was, I told him it was “Pride and Prejudice.” He started laughing. He said classics must be my thing. I denied it and pointed out that I wasn’t that boring.
We talked about our favorite scene from the movie “Pride and Prejudice” which happened to be the same: the scene on the gazebo. He told me he had read the book but found it difficult and quite stressful—the reason he preferred the movie. I argued that the book was better because it was more “kilig” than the movie, at least for me.
We kept talking on and on. He was bound for Sta. Cruz to visit relatives while taking a week off from work. I told him I was on my way back to Los Baños.
We carried on a continuous conversation without even being conscious of it. It felt so easy and so comfortable talking to him, to share some thoughts I had. There were no awkward moments that could make you talk nonsense just to keep the conversation going. I found myself enjoying his company and admiring his wit (not to mention his smile, hahaha). I mean, I never felt so close to a stranger before because I am the aloof and snobbish type. But this time, I found myself giving a hearty laugh over his jokes and even trying to tease him.
As we entered the Calamba exit, he told me he was enjoying our chat and was having a good time. He joked that perhaps we were soul mates. To which I replied with a laugh, “Siguro nga.”
He told me he wanted a soul mate who loved reading as well so that he could share things with her. “Baka ako na nga ’yun,” I said, and we both had a good laugh.
We continued with our conversation until the bus entered Los Baños. Sensing I was about to get off, he asked for my number. I gave it to him but I did not ask for his. I stood up when the conductor shouted, “Olivarez. O ’yung mga bababang College diyan.” Then I eased my way out of the seat and told him, “Ba-bye.” He smiled back and echoed my goodbye. And that was it.
I was still in high spirits when I reached the apartment and found my sister and other housemates there. I couldn’t contain my excitement and attempted to share it with them, but received very little encouragement. I had no choice but to keep it to myself and keep rewinding the scene on the bus several times in my mind. Since it wasn’t a big deal for them, I thought that maybe I was overreacting. In the following days, I decided to put it all behind me.
Then on Monday morning I woke up to the sound of the alarm on my cell phone. I noticed that I had three unread messages. But the one that got me wide awake was from an unknown number and said, “Good morning my Ms. Eliza Bennet. My 1 week leave is over and I’m heading back to the city in a few hours. Inaylola is great so is my progress with Jane Eyre. Any chance you’ll be on the bus today? Anyway, it was more than nice meeting you. Btw, I can’t find you on Facebook. Til next time.”
I read the entire message again and found myself fighting not to scream and giggle. I debated whether I should press the reply button and say good morning at least. But I ended up deciding not to send a reply.
The whole day I was in the best mood of my life. By late afternoon, I had a good text conversation with one of my girl friends and finally unloaded my story on her. She shared my excitement and told me I should have texted him back and asked him about his visit at least. She thought I should make the effort because what if he really was my soul mate? (I’m sorry but we have this tendency to be overly romantic sometimes.)
But that was it. It was just nice finding someone, a total stranger, who shared a lot of good things with you. Maybe the world isn’t so bad at all. Maybe you can have a good time anytime, anywhere by just being you and speaking your mind. Maybe my experience is proof that parents are wrong when they warn us against talking to strangers.
Maybe that short encounter with him is meant to remain one of the mysteries in my life. Maybe I will meet him again after eight years—or maybe not. Or maybe he will be one of the five people I will meet in heaven. But for now I am convinced that we were just two strangers who happened to be on the same bus and shared a seat. Maybe the effort I spent reading “Jane Eyre” and adoring Mr. Darcy made some sense. But what I am sure of is that every time I will be on a bus, my eyes will be wandering and looking for Kier. Maybe I will spend one-eighth of my life wondering if he has met many Frois on a bus.
Froila Marie Deniega, 22, is a BS Chemistry senior at the University of the Philippines Los Baños.