He would usually get on somewhere, anywhere, along the 7 route. Occasionally his girlfriend would be with him- is it his girlfriend?- Yes, I think so, from the relaxed silence the two of them shared. They made for an interesting couple; she, 40s, worn from the vagaries of life, skin aged and coarse- you glance at the rosy color in her cheeks and wonder: what memories, what ruminations drift through the halls of her nights? The play of light and shadow on a wall, unearthing some long-lost scene in another life.
The man, with lighter skin, is still clearly east Asian, like her; his round eyes quiver with the vitality of youth, but it's muted. Hard to place his age. Thirties perhaps, somewhere after that day when you first feel it- the knowledge that your time on this earth is limited. You knew it before, sure, but it was only knowledge then; the truth of it hits you now, and you know the value of your days. That subtle, sobering patina, ever-present, aware that you will one day have more past than future.
And yet- his eyes.
They may bespeak hardship, and contain the far-off echo of one who has "seen things," but in the face of all that- he is here. His eyes are alive with the notion of the breathing now- of things yet unfound, of discoveries and joys and who knows what else. This verve energizes his gaunt form, and he responds to your smile with one of his own- every time.
"Hello, my friend," he'll say, recognizing me. Before he knew me he would simply nod and say, "give me two transfer!" It is a request, a benevolent command, and a greeting all at once. I don't question him. Who knows what stories he has passed through- this day, this decade.
Yesterday in Vietnamtown I saw him again, but it was all different. He is alone on the sidewalk, hands behind his back, and a burly cop stands nearby, posturing and faceless. They're holding him there, but I don't know why. The lights on the patrol car spin ceaselessly. Our friend, gazing nowhere, achingly alone, stuck staring into the middle distance.
Bus full of people as I pull around slowly.
I'm trying to get his attention, my hand hesitantly searching for a chance to wave. And then he sees me, and it's a second before he recognizes me- the lock of eye contact- and then those eyes of his light up, as his hand comes out slowly, from behind his back, to return the wave. Feels like slow motion. His smile is tentative at first, then widens, and he keeps waving. Both of us happy just to be alive. We'll live through this, I tell him with my eyes. Whatever it is. You'll laugh about it with your friends someday. See you on the other side.