Other peoples heartbreak

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The old man on the bus

One day in London, I was taking a bus trip to meet some friends. By the time the old man got on, the only empty seat was next to me. I felt uncomfortable but I'm not going to be an ass about it, so I let him sit.

We got around to talking. When he learns that I'm a writer, gathering peoples soulmate stories to share with the world, he asks if I'd like to hear his.

"I was careless," he told me. "I believed because I had so much time written on my skin that I had forever to find my soulmate and be with them. I was wrong."

"I went to the war full of sunshine and optimism." He sighed as he continued. "I did not return the same. But then I met her," his eyes light up and his face flushes a little. It's as if the mere thought of this woman was enough to breathe fresh life into him.

"She saw all my wounds, all my scars and broken places and she just," he snaps his fingers, "fixed them. Sure, they would never leave me, but she took the barren field of me and planted a hundred flowers." He pauses with a look of contentment on his face. Then it fades and he becomes a stooped old man once more.

"We were supposed to have fifteen more years when it happened. We were driving home from a friends party, fighting. I'd been drinking... back then no one worried about the effect of alcohol on your driving skills." He shook his head sadly and sighed once more.

"A cat ran into the road. It would've been fine even if I hadn't swerved..but I thought .. I could've sworn it was a civilian. My training kicked in and I just reacted."

He stops talking for a minute, his sunken eyes staring at his own bony fingers. I don't have the heart to drag the story out of him, so I let him work through it himself. Slowly, he shakes himself out of his melancholy.

"I still half believed it would be okay. She was lying by the side of the road, blood gushing out of her ... " Hands shaking he takes a deep breath. "It wasn't until I pushed back her hair, to get it out of her eyes that I noticed my arm. The time had gone from fifteen years to five minutes."

He pushes up the sleeve of his shirt and shows me his arm. The numbers are all zeroes and they're purple and black. That's the way they all look when they're done counting down. Like little bruises, adding injury to insult.

He seems both better and worse for having told me his story. I offer my condolences and he smiles. We spend the rest of the journey talking about his wife and their life together. It isn't until the man gets off outside the cemetery that the tears in my eyes threaten to spill.

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