Sunday, May 08, 2016

BUS STORY # 496 (Jeffrey, Part Two)

Downloaded from Loner Wolf.

You can read Part One here.

I think it was in September, some three or four months after our first encounter on the campus, before we exchanged words again. He reached out as if to shake hands. I reciprocated. He took my hand in both of his and, looking me in the eyes, said, “Safe travel, my friend.” And released my hand.

I was taken by surprise, but managed something like “Thank you, same to you.”

And off we went on our separate ways.

He had always been pleasant on our encounters, but now I got to wondering if an outwardly-projected inner happiness was something more than conventional manners. I saw something in his eyes, but I also heard something -- a warmness, a gentleness -- in his voice.

I also heard in his voice a foreign accent. Despite the earlier “namaste” gesture, I had already ruled out India because his complexion did not match any of the skin tones I’d come to identify as “Indian.” Now, his accent did the same. Other than that he was not Indian, however, I was clueless. My best guess was “the movies.” All I needed was the title, actor, and role...

After this particular encounter, he would sometimes say something in passing -- “Safe travel” or “Take care” -- or we would simply smile at one another.

One afternoon in late October, when neither of us was wearing our hats, he pulled up in front of me, wished me good health, and hoped I was “taking good care of [my] prostate.”

What does one say to a greeting like this?

After recovering my senses, I said I was doing my best, then added it sounded like he was having trouble with his.

He was. Cancer. He’d gone through treatments, but had been told there was probably metastasis. He was going through periodic tests to see if it had migrated, and to where.

This last explanation is my summary of what he said.

In fact, his description was a masterpiece of elocution that managed to convey the facts without saying “cancer” or “metastasis” or even “tests.” Even the way he described metastasis conjured up the image of a malignant entity boarding a bus and riding around the city until it found a stop to its liking.

I asked him how he was dealing with the uncertainty. I remember he prefaced his answer with “Given my Church of England upbringing and my Augustinian framework...”

He explained he had moved beyond those moral and philosophical underpinnings without abandoning them. And now, listening again to his declamation, I was thinking “British education... The King James and Book of Common Prayer... Shakespeare... Dickens... All those Victorian essayists...” All this was in his vocabulary and his cadence, intermingled with what I was now guessing might be a black South African accent.

When he was finished, he had basically come to where most of us do in circumstances like his: he was taking it one day at a time. More, he was optimistic, whatever the outcome.

I confess I was also thinking I would probably miss my bus because of this conversation.

It turned out that I did not -- by about two minutes is all. But I found myself wondering why in the world would I worry about this when I was in the middle of an interesting story -- two interesting stories, his and him -- and when I knew perfectly well the next bus would be there in 20 minutes.

And I think the answer is: fear of getting involved.

In the maybe five minutes this discussion took place, I had already begun working out how we might get together for coffee, and when, and not just to hear all his story, but to find out what kind of support system he had here, which included the possibility that he had no family here, and who knew about friends... Which left me thinking about the way my own Roman Catholic upbringing and Thomistic framework would be driving me far beyond telling the story.

Before we went our separate ways, when we were shaking hands goodbye, he told me his name: Jeffrey.* And I told him mine.

It would be a few days before I would be taking the bus home from work again, and it gave me time to think about the next step.


*Real name changed.


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