Sitting on the bus I couldn’t quite put my finger on what was different. Slowly looking around me I suddenly realised, the bus had an energy. It was animated in here, there were people acting like, well real people.
Not signed into their electronic devices like my usual bus rides. Faces staring into tiny lit screens as a bus load of robot clones would.
No. On this bus ride, there was a wonderful vibrancy. There was life.
People were reading paper paged books (I know!) they were talking, a toddler gently traced circles on a window as his mother lovingly leaned into him. The kiss that she placed carefully at the back of his neck, going completely unnoticed as he was so intent on the passing view.
There was a man who had almost given into sleep. As the bus would lean into the corners, so would his body. Swaying just a little further than it should, only to lurch back instinctively, wake him slightly and then for him to fall again into that sleepy warm air bus slump.
There were conversations, a couple kissed, others looked out windows and simply mused on a passing world. Not one person held a digital device in their hands.
I patted my bag with my phone inside rather contentedly and perhaps a little smugly. I don’t need you phone, there is life happening all around me and I intend to soak up every little bit of it.
Weeks later on another journey, again on a bus I wasn’t quite so smug. I had succumbed to the phone, and was using the seated time to read an article I had wanted to during the week. I wasn’t updating a facebook status or doing a bus ride selfie. I was reading an article on suicide prevention and mental illness, so in my head I had rationalised the use of my phone. In my head I was smugly using it justifiably.
It was 8pm and dark outside, while I usually didn’t, tonight I was. Completely absorbed in what my phone had to offer. I didn’t notice the young teenaged boy sit next me. I was aware of him sure, but not enough to even raise my head a little. I had my phone you see.
Do you like the Roosters or Rabbitohs?
Eh?? Oh that’s directed to me?
Err, neither…I replied.
Oh…. Bulldogs or Eels? He quizzed.
Um, no not those either sorry.
Any league team? He asked with slight edge of desperation.
No, not really… (my phone gets discretely shoved into my bag at this stage.)
Any sport? he asks, a little deflated now.
Um… I like soccer? I offer
Great, what team? He says with a little spark again in his eye.
Socceroos? I say.
Yeah, me too! We both seem relieved.
Sitting in silence for a bit and I discretely check out his friends who are standing in the bus aisle. They weren’t dressed like juvenile delinquents, they didn’t look high, didn’t smell or act like they’d been drinking and weren’t graffiting the seats while distracting the other bus riders with idle chit chat. I felt like it was my turn to deliver on the conversation front now.
So where are you all going?
Just up to the local park, he said happily, and again we sat quietly.
A little further on and the bus stopped. The stop was his one and the group of friends tumbled out the back doors, into the early evening. As my teen conversation starter got up to go he said politely, have a good night, it was really nice talking to you.
You too mate, you too… my voice trailed off after him as the doors shut.
My brain was a little confused. I wasn’t quite sure of the last time a fourteen year old boy had voluntarily talked to me in a public spot. Not since I was fourteen myself I suspected.
I got off the bus a few stops later, and patted my silenced phone inside my bag. Yep, still there, I hadn’t been unknowingly pick pocketed. I also hadn’t seemed to be the subject of some odd childhood prank, been filmed and uploaded to youtube.
What I had instead was a tiny conversation that had completely thrown me and to be honest, had made my day. While throwing me and at the same time making me happy, in some ways it also made me a little sad. This was our reality now, instead of a conversation on a bus with a young stranger being a normal thing, it was now such an oddity and something to be scrutinised.
As I walked the rest of the way home, I couldn’t help but wonder. What on earth had happened, to the simple art of conversation?