Whenever I sit beside a pretty woman on public transit I like to imagine that she is my wife and that we are just another ordinary couple travelling to an ordinary destination, so synced and settled in each other’s companionship that we don’t have a thing to say.
I won’t say it’s anything to brag about, but I’ve been the husband to a pretty female stranger on just about every form of public transit there is—planes, trains, buses, ferries. Once I was even husband to a woman on a gondola.
Confidants surmise that it’s a mark of loneliness, but for me it is just the boredom of shyness and public transportation and the automatic cinema that always occurs when I am suddenly seated beside a good-looking woman with the edge of my leg or maybe my shoulder snoozing gently on the cushions of her physical bedding.
These transit matrimonies never last for long, sometimes only a few blocks, but they are always very enjoyable in their limited dialogue and, in the end, a little portentous too. I’ll tell you what I mean.
I was taking a bus in South Korea.
The bus was heading to a remote mountain village that was rumored to have a must-see autumn maple forest, as if the forest were a famous homemade cheesecake and the village a corner diner.
There wasn’t much to admire about the bus because the tourists on the bus had buried themselves under the 6-hour trip to the village.
The bus was like a motorized tomb with occasionally one of the bodies rising from the dead to use the shitter at the back.
The bus rolled on and on and then at some point it made a stop and just like regular western transit magic a pretty western woman got onto the bus and took the seat beside me.
The woman was a cinch to join in matrimony, traveling by herself in her tiny cargo hiking shorts and strappy hiker’s backpack, with the heavy tumbles of her curly black hair crashing down all faces of her picturesque summit.
It took some time to arrange the engagement, but after a while we got to chatting and after a little while more we started to exchange some classic husband-wifey dialogue.
There were comments about the weather and a story about her sister and a small discussion about the global importance of bees and before I knew it, poof! there we were: husband and wife, traveling toward a foliage renaissance with a full deck of forgettable remarks between us.
We shared forgettable remarks for a hundred clicks and beyond, and the more of them we exchanged, the longer we were married. We talked for ten, twenty, thirty years until finally we passed our golden anniversary and she got tired of talking and dropped cliff-like into slumber without a word of pardon—the way any normal wife would fall asleep while her husband of 50 years was driveling on about nothing.
The bus took its time getting absolutely nowhere. It lumbered through industrial cities and rural villages, through hill towns and muddy agricultures, and then almost like accident it wandered into autumn.
The bus drove up a narrow mountain pass and turned a corner and suddenly there were the autumn maples, dropping leaves like blown kisses, waving their branches like liberated French people who’d waited ages for our Allied arrival.
The maples were gathered in handsome legions all along the mountainsides, each dressed in royal autumn uniforms of burgundy and gold. They were something sacred and rejuvenating and delivered a Lazarus life-shock with a Christ-like voltage.
In a twinkling all the bodies on the bus rose from their temporary deaths and shoved their faces against the windows. They rolled the boulder from the tomb of that 6-hour transit and sped their spirits into the resurrection daylight singing from those trees.
The woman never saw a leaf.
She was totally oblivious in her perfect jouncing sleep and I didn’t think to wake her because I was her old man and she was my old lady, and old-fart couples like us didn’t wake each other up unless it was an emergency.
A few minutes from the village the bus hung a sharp right, slid half her sleeping face softly against my shoulder, and that is the wonderful soft way we remained until we reached the village and the inevitable divorce waiting at that destination. There wasn’t much to do, of course. She had friends that she was supposed to meet somewhere in the village, and I had to be anywhere else in the village because our transit had come to an end and it was time to let go. I woke her with a whisper and we got off.
“That was a very nice journey,” she smiled.
“It was,” I smiled back. “Good luck on your next one.”
We shook hands.
I’ve been the husband to a pretty female stranger on just about every form of public transportation there is, but whenever I think about being a real husband it is always that bus, and the parting of that wife, which I come back to.
It’s a haunted reminisce that constantly impedes any sustained movement toward permanent union: that last blue moment of loss and arrival when I slipped my shoulder from under her sleeping head, and like an old man standing aside the passing of his beloved, leaned down and told her: We’re here.
Timothy Marsh is a curriculum developer in Bali, Indonesia. His work has appeared in The Evansville Review, The Los Angeles Review, The New Quarterly, Waccamaw Journal and Whiskey Island and he was nominated for Best of the Web 2011.