Like the bulk of us early-morning commuters, he gets on at the same place every day. He boards the bus, arms outstretched: one hand showing his ID, the other dropping coins into the meter. Based on the showing of said ID and the use of just a couple of coins, daily, I am under the impression that his ticket has been subsidized.
He is solidly middle-aged. Not fat, but not thin. He carries an umbrella. He reads over the top of his glasses, the lines in his face insinuating a life of disappointment.
He sits in the same seat every day, the forward-most, aisle-facing seat. If someone is already sitting there, he stands in front of them, clinging to a strap hanging from the ceiling. There can be 40 or more open seats available, but he will not sit in one of them.
Those are not his seats.
His seat is the first seat. The one in the front.
I run into him downtown one day, blocks away from our normal route. The streets are busy, but the sidewalks are wide and clear. The sky seems higher than usual, the color a thin, light blue. Caught in the delicate time between fashion boots and winter boots, it is the kind of day that makes noticing just how beautiful it is, easy.
I smile at him in recognition. “Lovely day, isn’t it?”
He doesn’t answer. Instead, his face twisting with hatred and righteousness, he shoots past me, rushes toward a young man on a bike.
“There’s no riding your bike on the sidewalk! It’s against the law! There’s no riding on the sidewalk!”
The guy on the bike swerves to avoid him. “Hey!” he says. “Look out!”
“There are rules!”
The guy on the bike speeds away, looking back just once in a mixture of fright and anger.
Front of the Bus Man turns to me in anger. “I should kick him! I should jam my umbrella into his wheels so that he falls on his face and breaks his teeth in the street!”
I wince. “That seems a little harsh,” I say.
“Oh, really?” he says. “So you think anarchy is the answer, is that it? You want martial law? You think you can handle that?”
And with that, he thrusts his chest towards me, a mock-charging gesture that sends me backward several steps.
I walk away, go up the bus line a couple blocks. People like this, I don’t want to know.
There are people that we see often enough to know them on sight: the woman whose cotton-candy-colored hair never varies in its retention of two-three inches of black roots; the two immigrant women with their shiny blue-black ponytails and Hello Kitty backpacks; and the man who won’t sit anywhere but that one, magical seat.
But just because we know what they look like doesn’t mean we know them.