I write from a bus.
I must write in short bursts.
The fellow I’ve sat beside is the friendliest, but also the most persistent man I’ve ever experienced.
The above is all I was able to write in two solid hours of writing. This amounts to 14 words an hour, which is not exactly a speed record. The reason for this was the man who I sat beside on the crowded bus who I will describe here as interminable. Used here this word means ‘a sheer unstoppable talking machine’. No matter how many times I began writing, or closed my eyes or pulled out a book he would inevitably turn to me with another comment. Which would have been great, except that I could not understand a single word he said.
Not a single word! He hadn’t been my first choice for seat mates, but the bus was filling up fast and I had to sit somewhere. As I sat down he pulled his large bag up onto his lap, his bald head peeping out from beneath it like a turtle from a shell. He remained sitting this way the entire ride, his limbs emerging from beneath the bag to make a point and then retracting while I tried to decipher what in the world his point had been.
We ended up sitting next to each other for two hours, talking solidly, and I can report that I still have no idea about anything he said. After an hour his determination to have a conversation turned from baffling to impressive, if I was in his seat I would have given up after five minutes. And so I put my limited Spanish to the test and combined with his zero English we managed to have a taxing and lengthy conversation. What follows is a summary of what I know about my new friend, who I would describe as a middle aged, bald Panamanian man who really, really likes to talk.
– He lives somewhere in the world and he has to walk there. I know this because he would make little walking motions with his fingers and then point to himself. He also may have just been telling me that he knows how to walk, which considering we are sitting on a bus I can’t take for granted.
– His brother lived in United States for 12 months. I’m pretty confident about this one, though the time is uncertain – it could be 12 days or years. He carefully counted out twelve on my arm a few times to make sure I understood. His brother is either a doctor, a gold miner, or some sort of farmer. He responded enthusiastically to me offering each of these as his brothers profession, laughing and exclaiming ‘Si’ at each one. “Hermano. Burro.” He kept saying, while motioning with his hands something big becoming small. I know that Hermano means brother but I wasn’t so sure about Burro. At first I thought maybe his brother made Barrels, or lived in them or possibly worked around them, but then we saw some horses and he excitedly pointed to the horses getting smaller and I finally understood. A search later confirmed that Burro means Donkey. So my best guess is that his brother rode a donkey to United States or else he breeds them there or possibly he is a 12 year old donkey.
– His grandfather had colon cancer. Doctors from the United States came down and operated on him. This I surprisingly understood! I asked him. “The cancer – bueno? Or no bueno?” I guess I wanted to find out if his grandfather had made it. He smiled, nodding his head and responded. “Si! Jack Nicholsen!” I looked at him, confused. He nodded again, “Jack Nicholson, Hospital, United States comedy!” While spinning his finger by his ear to indicate crazy. “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest?” I asked. And with that the conversation abruptly stopped, he looked out the window and thirty seconds later began another thread that I had long stopped trying to connect.
– His daughter is married or alternatively she may have some terrible growth on her ring finger.
– He works in shipping, possibly by using donkeys. He ships all over South America but now all his business has gone to China and India. I feel pretty confident about this one. It’s possible that ‘shipping’ was wrong, but he definitely works with something involving other countries. Though he may have been retired. Or just tired of it. Either way he didn’t like China or India.
– He also talked a lot about skin pigment. It seemed like half of his comments would come back to the colour of skin, which he portrayed by violently rubbing his inner arm and saying “pigmente”. At one point I think he was talking about mosquitos. Then another time I’m pretty sure he was saying he didn’t like black people, though he may have just been telling me to wear sunscreen.
He continued for a long, long time. At one point he got up to go to the bathroom at the back of the bus and while I sat there, treasure ng the silence, the man across the aisle leaned over to me. “It is funy.” He said in english. “That man. He is talking talking talking!” I agreed strongly with this. He continued, “I am listening to the converation. That man can understand nothing! Ha ha ha.” I leaned over and confessed to him that my Spanish was horrble. “Ha ha ha! I know!”
Eventually the time came and my friend’s stop arrived. He shook my hand and left and as soon as his butt had left the seat I tapped Jesse’s shoulder, urging him to take the empty seat before someone else did. “What was that guy talking to you about?” Jesse asked as he slid into the seat. “It sounded like you were having a real conversation the whole bus ride! Did you actually understand him?”
“Nope.” I tell him. “Not a word.”
Looking back on it I suppose I would do things differently. I guess I missed an opportunity for a rich and enlightening conversation while broadening my knowledge of the Spanish language. But at the time I just didn’t want to talk to him. I couldn’t let go of the slim hope that he would eventually want to sit quietly and look out the window. “I guess he wanted someone to talk to,” Jesse said after I told him a bit about the conversation, “It didn’t matter if you could understand him or not.”
I think Jesse was right. Next time I’ll pull out my dictionary and work hard to break the language barrier. Or I may just try to put my earbuds in faster.