Thursday, 7 January 2010

The Game

The Game

Nexis Pas

© 2010 by the author

A fantasy

“Yes, officer, I recognize him. We ride the same bus in the morning sometimes.

“Well, no, I don’t remember everyone. Of course there are the regulars, and I recognize them, but this man--Mr. Williams, you said?--I remember him because of the game.

“It’s just a game I play on the bus on the way to work in the morning. A silly game to pass the time. Do you ride the bus? No. Well, there are several ways you can pay. Cash. Or you can buy a card for a set amount of money. Or you can get a Tap Card. If you pay cash, you have to put the money in a slot that has some sort of reader in it. But the machine doesn’t work very well. It rejects the bills and the coins about half the time. And so the person has to put the money in again, and that takes time. When they first put the machines in, people found out very quickly that if you use an old bill, the machine would reject it. They would insert the same bill over and over, and the machine would keep rejecting it. Finally the driver would get impatient and worried about the schedule, and then he would let them ride for free. But then the bus company cracked down, and now people who pay cash have to insert the full amount or the driver won’t let them ride. But it still takes more time, and so I lose a point if someone pays in cash.

“Some people buy a card worth ten or twenty dollars. That card goes into a special slot, and the fare is subtracted from the card. The machine makes a chirping noise as it reads the card and then a bell dings when it’s finished. That takes a bit longer than the Tap Card, but it’s faster than paying cash. So I get half a point when someone uses one of those cards. Of course, occasionally the money on the card has run out, and the person has to pay by cash, and then I lose a point and a half.

“Then there’s the Tap Card. Those you just tap against a special place on the machine and it records the fare. My Tap Card is a monthly pass, and I can ride anywhere on the bus or subway for the month. I just have to remember toward the end of the month to go online and pay for the next month. It’s very convenient. It’s all electronic and I just use my credit card to pay for it. You can also load whatever sum you want onto the card. If you don’t ride the bus or subway often enough to make the monthly pass cheaper than paying each time, that’s what you should do. The Tap Card’s the fastest way to pay. So if someone uses one of those, I get a full point.

“But sometimes, someone gets on and there’s no money on the Tap Card. So they have to add money. And that’s a complicated procedure. You have to push a button. Then you tap the card on the reader. Then you insert the money. Of course, sometimes the machine rejects it, and you have to do it again. Then when the machine accepts the money, you push the button again. Then you wait until a light glows green, and you tap the card again twice, once to load the money onto the card and once to pay the fare. A lot of people can’t do this and the driver has to explain the procedure or help them do it. Even when the person knows how to do it, it takes time and holds the bus up. So I lose two points if someone has to add money to a Tap Card.

“That’s the basic game. But I started adding bonus and penalty points. Like if someone is talking on a phone, I lose a point. Or there are these two guys. They really annoy me. But they don’t ride every day. So I lose a point whenever one of them gets on the bus. One of them gets on at the same stop as me. Him, I just lose a point if he’s there. The other one is more annoying. I lose a point if he rides the bus, but I gain a point if he’s not there that day. Why? Well, for starters, he always takes up two seats. He’s always carrying a back pack and usually a large paper bag stuffed full. I mean, how much stuff does he have to take to work each day? And half the time, he sits down for a few minutes and then he jumps up and takes his coat off. I lose an extra point if does that. Then when he gets to the station, he always wants to be the first one off the bus. Sometimes he even pushes people aside so that he can get off first. The man who gets on at the same stop as me also likes to be the first person off the bus. Some days the two of them line up and are the first two people off the bus. When they are, I lose all the points I’ve accumulated for that day. This is probably more explanation than you wanted. I’m just a little nervous. It’s not usual for the police to knock on the door and start asking questions.

“How does the game relate to Mr. Williams? Well, he’s worth five bonus points. You see, he doesn’t ride the bus very often. Maybe once or twice a month, he’ll be on the bus when I get on. So it’s unusual to see him. I mean if he rode the bus every day, then he wouldn’t be worth as much.

“No, he’s the only person I get bonus points for. In fact, once he rode the bus two days in succession, and I got ten points the second day.

“Why him?

“Well, I suppose there are other people who ride only once or twice a month, but he’s the only one I remember.

“Because, well, it’s because the first time he rode the bus, I noticed that he watches men, particularly middle-aged men. He always sits on the bench at the front next to the front door, one of the seats that faces sideways rather than forward, and I so I can see him. If a middle-aged man gets on the bus, he stares at him and examines him. He did the same to me the first few times he saw me. If a young guy gets on the bus, someone closer to his own age, then he just glances at them, the way you do anyone who gets on the bus.

“Yeah, I guess I was looking at him or I wouldn’t have noticed that.

“Sure, he’s good-looking, but that’s not the only reason. It’s just that, that he smiled at me. The bus went over a rough patch in the road and the driver was going too fast. Those buses don’t have good shocks, and they bounce around a bit. The bus was really shaking. He looked around and saw me and smiled. And I smiled back, and we both shrugged our shoulders. That’s all. So I just, well, I guess I felt that he had singled me out. That’s when he became a five-pointer.

“No, I never spoke to him. It wasn’t like that.

“He just seemed like a nice young man. That’s all. You’re trying to make this into something it wasn’t.

“I wasn’t stalking him. I didn’t even realize he lived in my neighborhood till I saw him on the street one day. He was always on the bus when I got on. I didn’t know where he lived. He could have gotten on at any point along the route before I get on. I didn’t know he got on at the stop before mine.

“I just saw him one day. I was coming back from shopping. And he was walking along Englewood Avenue. It’s on my way back to my place, and I just happened to be walking on Englewood at the same time.

“No, I wasn’t following him. He was preceding me. We just happened to be walking along the same street at the same time. I didn’t even know he lived there. He could have been visiting someone for all I knew.

“No, it’s not the only street I can use to get to my place. It’s just the one I happened to take that day.

“I did not. I never spoke to him. That’s a lie. He didn’t even look at me. He just walked into an apartment building. You’re making that up to try to make me confess to something I didn’t do.

“No, I didn’t make a habit of loitering on that street. I just said that I walk along that street sometimes. It’s the most direct route to Beacon Street from my place. Look on a map. I can’t avoid Englewood if I want to get to Beacon.

“Yeah, well now I know what building he lives in. I didn’t before. And it was just an accident that one day I happened to look across the street last Sunday as I was walking past, and I saw him at the window.

“Big deal. So I waved. It’s just that I feel that I know him. Of course, he didn’t know who I was. Why should he? We just happen to ride on the same bus once or twice a month. I wouldn’t remember him at all if it weren’t for the game.

“How could I look in the window? It’s on the fourth floor. I’m not that tall. This is getting ridiculous.

“I am not stalking him. I’ve seen him perhaps two times this past month.

“Yes, I live alone. What of it?

“Yes, I’m gay. What has that got to do with this? I suppose you think that just because I’m gay, I chase after every young man who crosses my path. It isn’t a crime to be gay, and if cruising were illegal, you’d have to arrest every man, straight or gay, in the city.

“There is nothing unhealthy about my interest in Mr. Williams because I don’t have any interest in him at all. Look, are you charging me with a crime? Because if you are, I’m calling my lawyer, and I’m not saying anything more until he arrives. If you’re not, you can leave.

“What’s the point of the game? Well, I keep track of the points. It’s silly but if I get more than twenty points, which is rare, I count on having a good day. If I get more than fifteen, the day’s going to be better than usual. More than ten, it’s going to be an average day. Less than ten, not so good.

“What was my score this morning? Eighteen, I think. I don’t keep track. Something like that.

“Yeah, well, this hasn’t been a better than average day, has it? Things were going all right until you knocked on the door and started asking me these questions. A visit from the police is hardly a great way to spend the evening.

“How would I know where Mr. Williams works? He gets off the bus at Brighton Centre. He could take any one of dozens of buses in any direction from there.

“He’s what? Oh god, look, officer. I didn’t mean anything by it. He’s just part of a silly game. That’s all. I wasn’t chasing him. Jesus, he’s a detective. Oh my god.

“He wants to meet me? A date? Why didn’t he just ask me himself? What’s the point of scaring the shit out of me? I thought you were here to arrest me.

“He needs to be discreet? What the fuck sort of game are you two playing?

“Who are you calling? And what do you mean it’s ok to come in?

“Do you mean he’s been outside this entire time?

“Oh, hi. Yeah, well, it was kind of an unorthodox approach. I’m not very happy about this.

“Are you leaving?

“What did he mean that he had served his purpose?

“Oh, thanks. But you didn’t have to bring a bottle of wine, Detective Williams.

“David. Thanks, David. I’m John. But I guess you know that. Well, can I offer you a glass of wine? Or I have some beer. Or whiskey.

“Wine it is, then.”