Tick Tock

All these people sitting on the bus, looking at their phones, ignoring each other, scared to meet each other’s eyes.  Where are they going?  What are they doing?  Do they have a purpose?  Does what they are looking at on their phones have a purpose or is it just to pass time, or just to avoid others.  The girl next to me is looking through her friends photos, I wonder if she is looking at them in envy or for enjoyment.  There’s no emotion on her face, no smiles at the picture of her friend posing on a beach.  I think middle age has made me too cynical.

The bus stops at another station and more people get on.  The same faces I see every morning, yet I know nothing about any of them.  They’re just a face.  Sometimes I imagine fantastic lives for them, but I know that their lives and my own can’t be that much different.  We all sit on the bus to go to work, work, then sit on the bus to go home.  The monotony a twisted comfort.  Twenty years of the same thing but I have never made any effort to change it, no matter how much I desire to.  My friend says we’re like ants, I prefer to say we’re like a clock, just look at what we’re doing and you’ll know what time it is.

Why have I never tried to escape?  I can’t, I have a wife and a child.  Two things that are supposed to bring me joy and fulfillment.  My child does, I enjoy watching him learn, watching him play when he has the chance.  Still there is doubt, am I not just preparing him to be like me?  Tick-tocking away at life to a set script that has been set out for all of us.  Me and my wife only live for our child, neither of us have any joy in life apart from him.  Love has gone but the little boy who we both adore still holds us together.  Surely we both deserve better?

A crazy man has got on the bus.  His toes are visible, the front of his shoes worn away.  He doesn’t care though.  His clothes old, as though he is a relic from 20 years ago.  He tries to catch people’s eyes as they look everywhere but at him.  He starts to talk, talking about how we’re all lost in a world where no one cares about each other, but he cares and it’s his duty to bring us all the message.  As he catches my eye I smile at him, he smiles back with a toothless grin and goes quiet, staring at his ruined shoes until he gets off at the next stop.  Maybe it’s easier to be mad.

There’s visible relief on some people’s faces.  They will make it to work unscathed, they’ll tell their co-workers about the mad man on the bus, their little adventure for the day.  Or maybe they won’t, they’ll probably have forgotten him, lost in some other meaningless distraction.  Looking out the window I watch people walking the street and eating their breakfasts.  Not even time to have it at home with their families.  I sigh audibly, nobody takes any notice, not that I want them to.  Or do I?  Even the acknowledgment of my sigh by strangers might give me a feeling of significance.

The bus pulls into my stop and I push through people who aren’t aware or don’t care that I am trying to pass.  Maybe I should talk to myself, they would move quick enough then.  The bus stop is packed with people, like those on the bus, staring at their phones or looking at the floor or reading the bus timetable for the third time.  If I was given the chance to escape this would I?  I don’t think I would.  What is unknown frightens me.  At least this way I know what time the clock stops.


This is inspired by many journeys to school on buses when living in China.  So many of my friends there would tell me about how monotonous their lives were yet they saw no way of changing it.  


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