I wondered what percentage of the universe I could actually see from my perch beneath the yellow street lamp. One thousandth of a percent? One millionth? I could see a half-dozen stars and twice that many planes crossing the night sky. How is someone supposed to feel insignificant and alone when civilization keeps reminding them there’s no escape?
At least I had the bus stop to myself. “I want to hold your hand,” crooned the smooth Motown voice through my earbuds. I reached into my pocket and half-pulled my phone out, as if I’d be judged by the whole lot of nobody there. It was Al Green and, if the schedule was right, I could enjoy it in solitude for a whopping three minutes before I’d be collected by the bus. As I tucked my phone into my pocket, I spotted a figure marching up the street, glancing furtively over his shoulder.
“It’s 3-5 minutes out,” I wanted to tell him. He looked right through me as he approached, not quite meeting my gaze. He glanced again over his shoulder and stopped in the shadows beneath a tree maybe ten feet from the platform that extended from the sidewalk. Just come ask me, I thought, waiting for him to approach. The bus still wasn’t in view.
He pulled out his phone, slowly flicking his fingers across the screen. Every few moments, he’d glance back at the road for the bus, then back at his screen, waiting for the schedule to load. You could’ve just asked me, I thought. But the moment was past and the bus was approaching.
When I got on the bus, it was shockingly full for this time of night. “Everybody’s talkin’ at me. I don’t hear a word they’re sayin’,” sang Bill Withers as I surveyed the bus for a spot. “Only echoes of my mind.” Every set of seats save one had a person in it. I climbed into the empty row, pulling my loaded backpack on top of my lap. The other man from the stop slid awkwardly into a seat next to another gentleman and quickly fumbled in his lap trying to get his earbuds in.
When did we become so afraid of human interaction, I wondered. Of course, I was equally guilty. Two thirds of the bus had headphones or earbuds in, myself included. I tried to watch people in the lit reflections of the windows, constantly nervous that someone would see me and talk to me. I began listing the reasons I wanted to be away from people: I was tired, I was grody, I hadn’t showered that day, I couldn’t find a clean work shirt, so I grabbed one out of the laundry basket. I told myself I was working on homework in my head, writing essays, playing with words, but honestly, I was writing this and wondering what was wrong with me.
“Thank you,” I called as I slipped off the bus. We spilled out like a mob fleeing a disaster, bodies flowing quickly away from the oversized sardine can that delivered us. I scanned my wallet, escaping the plebeian station for the solitude of the enclosed bike parking thanks to the magic of RFID. I could hear chains rattling and see people passing outside my protective box.
But that’s the beauty of biking. I do it alone even when I do it with people. “I’m a lucky loser, yes I am,” hollered James Carr as I mounted my bike and began to weave through the Saturday night crowds, grateful I wasn’t among them.
I sped down the hill into the cold darkness of the bike path, finally feeling insignificant, lost in the hurtling speed of moment, considering that even at my fastest, I was moving slower than the slowest of stars. I vanished into the universe, just another speck.