The man on the bus

by Bruin Fisher

I'm still a tourist here, really. Although I've lived and worked in Kuala Lumpur two months now and I'm learning to call it 'K-L' in conversation, I still watch through the windows of the bus in fascination at the sights and sounds of this big, modern, beautiful city on my journey to and from work each day. Sometimes you get to see a glimpse of the older, colonial town, with its picturesque villas, now falling into dilapidation and decay, no doubt slated for demolition and to be replaced by gleaming office blocks. There's not much of the older city left. I'm not sorry – this is a vibrant and exciting city that has shaken off its colonial past. The orchid gardens, the Islamic museum, the cityscape dominated by the twin Petronas towers pointing skywards and linked at the waist like a pair of lovers holding each other – these are the defining characteristics of today's K-L. I love living here.

So, this Thursday morning I've surprised myself. I've spent half the journey watching my fellow passengers. In particular I was watching one passenger, the shy young man who was sitting across from me, who held me captive with his big brown eyes, wide brows, perfect complexion, short black hair, wry smile. He got off the bus at the last stop, but I can still picture him in my mind. Don't get me wrong, although I was struck by the beauty of his face, there was nothing prurient about my interest. I don't have delusions of youth, or attractiveness. It would be interesting to talk to him, I'd like to know how he lives, what his circumstances are, though I'm sure he has friends his own age.

I wonder where he comes from. Everyone here seems to come from somewhere else. About half the population seem to be Chinese, and the rest are a big melting-pot mix of Europeans, Indians, Australians, and ethnic Malaysians. Those big brown eyes and coffee complexion could be from India, I think.

Will I ever see him again? Unlikely, I think. Nevertheless, I'll make sure I catch the same bus for a while. Tomorrow is Friday, the Islamic Sabbath so I have the day off, but I'll be looking out for him on Saturday. I get Sunday off too, which is nice. This Islamic country is very tolerant of other faiths. It's a wonder I don't get Saturday off as well in case I'm Jewish. Does anyone celebrate their sabbath on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday? We could have the whole week off!

So, I'm a little past my prime myself, but I still like to look at beautiful things. Who doesn't? And from a purely aesthetic standpoint the guy is certainly beautiful. I don't mean any harm by it and I certainly don't wish my travelling companion any harm. But if I see him again it will please me.

A whole week has gone by and I haven't seen him again. It's ridiculous – I've spent my bus journeys watching the door of the bus, checking everyone who gets on or off. I've seen people of all shapes and sizes, but not the boy I'm looking for. It occurs to me that he might make his bus trip once a week rather than every day. If so, today's when I'll see him. And I'm just a little excited. How sad is that? I've rationalised, reassured myself that it's because I'm a stranger here, I don't have friends yet, I'm lonely. It's quite understandable, nothing to be ashamed of. But the truth is I'm laughing at myself inside. I'm a grown man, there are any number of serious issues for me to fret about, and instead I'm worrying about a young man I don't know.

But, there he is – queueing for the bus behind a very large woman who's having a little trouble negotiating the step. The driver is patiently watching her heaving herself laboriously into the bus, while the bus is causing an obstruction to traffic, and the drivers of other vehicles are patiently waiting for the bus to move. Everyone is very patient and tolerant – at least compared to London.

You don't often see obese people here – perhaps it's the diet, I don't know. But there's a lot of respect for older people, I think, and now a man gets up and helps her to a seat. Only once she's seated can the slightly built young man make his way down the aisle. I'm watching him, smiling. He catches sight of me, there's a glimmer of recognition, I think. He walks past several empty seats and sits next to me. “Hello,” he says, in lilting, perfect English, and fixes me with those eyes, just for a moment, before shyly averting his gaze.

May 2009 

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