The watery sunlight tried in vain to filter its way through the caked smears of mud on the back window of the bus. This of course merely increased my sense of tiredness, as I turned away to glance at the woman who was just now paying her fare prior to plumping herself down on the front seat, facing the aisle.
The word was a sudden, visceral thought, clambering up from the depths of consciousness, without warning or explanation.
Since it’s rare for me to ever make such a judgement about someone merely on the basis of looks, I got curious and wondered about its origin.
True, the woman was no beauty queen, but it was still winter and no one appeared all that graceful beneath layers of puffed polyester and wool. So why did my inner self judge her so harshly? I sat quietly and observed her.
She was a portly woman, likely in her late forties, and she wore a dark coat which reached her knees. When she sat down, the coat raised up, revealing a dark pair of slacks. Her wiry hair was piled on her head, in a sort of Aunt Bee beehive style (wait! Is that where “beehive” came from?), and she wore thick glasses.
Her pale sickly face had a sort of a “don’t mess with me” look about it: intolerant of the world at large. I wondered if that was her public game face: the face many Torontonians adopt when scurrying about in the big metropolis; designed to keep all others at bay, especially those who walk up to us with those cute little stickers that they give us, prior to begging for money “for my kids and I”.
As the bus made several stops more, I watched the woman, who seemed entirely caught up in her own little world. She must have been, based upon what she did next.
Funny, isn’t it, how we tend to obsess over our personal appearance: we want our friends to tell us if we have bits of celery in our teeth, or a tag hanging out of the back of our shirt. I recall a saleslady in a store pulling me aside to remove the size tag from the front of my shirt – for which I was grateful. And how many times have you been found walking around with toilet paper stuck to the bottom of your shoe?
Maybe you’ll recall the Jerry Seinfeld episode, where he was stopped at a stoplight, and he had an itch at the side of his nose. In the scene, his model girlfriend was riding in a cab which pulled up next to him, just as he was scratching the itch. She saw his nose action and interpreted it as something a little more gross – and the story went downhill from there.
Well that’s exactly what the woman did. Or so I thought. She appeared to be scratching just on the inside of her nostril.
However, all doubt was removed when suddenly she went in, knuckle deep and began to dig.
I felt myself frowning in awed disgust. It was like a traffic accident – I could not look away.
After she was done digging, she put her hand down to her slacks, and rubbed off the residue on them. My horrified frown deepened.
“Ugh. That’s horrible. At least it can’t get any worse”, I thought.
I thought wrong.
I watched, fascinated as she used her other hand to enter the opposite nostril, and began to root around like she was looking for spare change. This time, she pulled something out, and rolled it between her fingers.
I could feel my whole face contracting, almost in pain.
And then…..(I’m not even joking here – I’m a grown man, and don’t participate in juvenile jokes, which this was beginning to resemble)….she ran her gooey hand through her brittle hair.
The penny dropped. The last straw hit the camel’s back. My last nerve pinged like a broken guitar string.
I looked out of the dirty window, and nodded. “Yup”, I thought. “That’s about right.”
And then – I couldn’t help myself – I burst out laughing.