He was the first person I saw among the throng of people inside the bus. He was looking outside the window, his forehead on it, lost in thought. His shoulders were slumped, his eyes depicted loneliness. An aloneness that could only come from somewhere deep within. Sadness that couldn’t be reached unless coaxed out.
There was an empty seat beside him. Why no one would want to sit at that seat, when there were people standing inside the bus already, was something I couldn’t fathom at that moment. Maybe that was why he was lonely. Because no one would sit beside him. No one wanted to be with him. His face unsmiling, his eyes glassy – seemingly on the verge of tears. He was lonely. Alone. So I went to him and sat beside him. He looked up briefly, met my eyes head on and gave a small smile, his lips quirking a little on the side, his deep dimple showing on his left cheek. As if he was grateful that I sat beside him, that I alone understood how he wanted to be with someone and yet no one would hear his silent plea.
I smiled back, acknowledging his silent thanks. His gaze lingered with mine for a few seconds, as if trying to decipher something but then he went back to staring outside the window. I was half tempted to talk to him, to ask him how he was. To know what it was that he was thinking. To know why he was alone and seemingly lonely. To ask if he needed someone to listen to him, be with him, understand him.
I looked at his reflection on the window. With the glaring bright lights inside the bus, it wasn’t hard to see him. I wanted to comfort him, wrap my arms around him. To offer my friendship. To offer a listening ear, a lending hand, a friendly shoulder to cry on. Where these thoughts and sudden feelings came from, I didn’t know. Maybe it was the way he looked so forlorn, all by himself despite the congested bus. Maybe it was the way he gazed at me when I first sat beside him. Maybe it was the way he smiled.
But then – my stop came.
I took a glance at him, trying to see if he would look at me. That alone would have stopped me and I would have stayed put. But he didn’t. He continued staring outside the window. He continued on his silent loneliness.
I stood up and walked towards the exit of the bus. I looked back at him and I was startled. He was looking right back at me. Before I went down, he mouthed “Thank you”, his lips quirking up again in that little smile of his, his dimple making an appearance yet again.
Then the bus door closed.
As I watched the bus drive away – I smiled as well. And thought – Will I see him again tomorrow?
Written originally on September 26, 2006
Edited and re-printed on March 28, 2016