Four People Sitting Next To Each Other

The four of them took up five bus seats. There was Sleeper, Hospital Gown, School Girl, and Light Bulb. I got on the bus when there were only three people in five seats. Everything sort of happened when Hospital Gown walked on.

He bounced off of people, from bus person to bus person to bus person, passing over the mid-vehicle hump, tripping onto Sleeper. Sleeper was waking up from a nap that took over three chairs and required his legs to be lifted above a partition. Hospital Gown fell himself onto Sleeper’s legs. He who grumbled at him, winding up a swat like an annoyed cat until he saw what the entire bus and I saw: Hospital Gown’s hospital gown was entirely backless. He had a circular tattoo the size of a hand slapped below the neck that looked down on his bare back. There was a patch of lower back pubes that led to his crack. You couldn’t see his ass (He was wearing loose black dress pants.) but you could infer what lumps he was containing. He had a clear plastic bag in his hand. It was full of orange clothing. He swayed with the bus, drugged. Was he supposed to still be in the hospital? Where is his family? Was he going to, you know, let out some bodily fluids?

Sleeper was very attentive, though. It must have been a tattoo thing since Sleeper had both arms shaded completely black, flames riding up and onto his face, and various embossed materials under the skin. He had wavy shoulder length hair wrapped in a bandana and turquoise eyes that filled his scleras. He looked like a black painted sleepy snake with a large book bag, which was stealing an extra seat for him. He kept dozing off. He should have stayed reclined over three seats like he was before, instead of sitting up to take up two. It must have been on purpose though: he sat up as Hospital Gown fell/sat down into him.

This whole time School Girl kept eye contact with her neon green iPhone. She had a loose cateye and a green polo with a Santa Monica Catholic High School crest over a breast. Her black and white book bag covered her bare legs, closing the gap between khaki shorted thighs and knee. She was looking out the corner of her left eye, at Hospital Gown, seeing if his gown would open more, seeing if there was an injury. She was in full view of his back since he was leaning forward, asleep, jiggling to the bus’ bumps. She’d periodically look up at me and the man next to me, eyeing in blinks if we were seeing what she was seeing. We were. We were looking out for her as long as our ride permitted.

Then she jumped because Light Bulb jumped. He was sleeping, too. He had black and blue hair and was crumpled into a C next to a wall. He had a large empty gauge in his ear. School Girl had been looking at the hole before Hospital Gown sat down. She could have stuck her phone through it. I wonder if she was thinking that because I was thinking that? Maybe that’s what we exchanged when she eyed me. Light Bulb had a small crocheted bag full of small rectangular boxes, neatly stuffed in a row, making and not making sense in the unformed yarn. They could have been boxed anything—vape pens, glasses, notecards, bottles—but they mostly resembled boxes for light bulbs. Why did he need so many light bulbs? Were they for a performance with his ear, where he screwed them into the hole to light up a half-smile as people cheered? He probably performed that bulb-in-ear trick at bars.

Light Bulb jumped two more times, in a row. Shake and a shake. School Girl was on her phone. She eyed me again. “Did you see that?” she blinked. I did. He’s like a dog deep in a dream. Sometimes they shake and bark and growl whole unconscious: he doesn’t mean any harm. She looked back down at her phone.

What if School Girl did need help? As Hospital Gown sweat in his sleep and Light Bulb kept twitching, maybe I should have sat down in her place. She kept shimmying on her butt cheeks from this side to that side to this side. Was she uncomfortable or bored? She had a coyness to her too, this invitation for things to get weirder. Hospital Gown’s bag had been swinging into my leg for three stops now and I had been curving my body as far as I could from him, so he wouldn’t rock into me or fall at me feet.

They four kept sitting though, going through this same rhythm: Sleeper would wake up and go to sleep; Hospital Gown would slip on himself, revealing some other private part of himself (a flabby tit, a scar on his ankle); School Girl would half-watch them and hold her bag closer; and Light Bulb would sleep twitch. I took photos of them and I kept making eye contact with School Girl. “Do you want me to sit there?” I blinked. She shook her head and looked down at her phone. She did not care about these other people and was probably her own unique brand of bizarre.

As Hospital Gown’s smell of body odor with alcoholic sterility began to drift from nose to nose, I got to my stop. Where were they all going? Probably not the same place.

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