“Over there’s the broken machine. Right at the end.”
It wasn’t even planned. She just appeared as I was doing my laundry. I looked at her, she back at me.
“Yes, I’ll use this one.” I pointed at the machine in front of me.
“This one has a weird smell. Like someone made love inside,” she giggled.
I didn’t find her funny, but I laughed along anyway. Anything sexual must be laughed at. It’s sort of a rule in college.
She wore an aluminium coloured top that glistened with innumerable sparkles. She was like a star trek character and I the earthling. Her ears were pointed, her nose flat. That was not the only thing about her that was flat; her voice was on the lower end, dull and perpetually half a key below what one would consider normal, like a slowly deflating balloon. Her eyebrows complimented the sad aesthetic, drooping precariously past a certain angle, making her look perpetually gloomy. That was what I noticed, anyhow.
I put my clothes into the love machine anyway. No one could possibly have had sex in there anyway.
“I’ve never actually seen you before,” I started.
“Neither have I.” She admitted. “I thought everyone would know everyone here.”
“You know, I read somewhere that you can ever know 150 people in your life at once. Any more than that and your mental faculties will be on overdrive and you start going crazy.”
“I must be very sane then,” she laughed.
“No what I’m saying is, by knowing you I’m getting closer to that magic 150 mark. I’m getting a bit closer to insane.”
Woah. Stop. What was I doing?
Rewind to a sunny afternoon at my neighbourhood bus stop. I was sipping on an ice cold milo in a celebratory Mcdonalds cup. It was scorching and I wanted nothing to do with the weather.
I kept my free hand safely tucked into my pocket, adjusting the side of my underwear and attempting to untangle my earphones at the same time. I have my ways to pass time.
An old lady slips by and asks me for tissue. She is old, almost as old as time itself. Wrinkly and frail, she hobbles like a stage coach down a rocky road. She does not have a walking stick to aid her, perhaps as a stark refusal to admit to her old age. It’s like how some dogs still sit with their legs spread out, a relic of their youth imperceptibly hard to shrug off. Of course, I digress.
She looks earnestly at me as I tell her that “no auntie, I don’t have any tissue.” I say this in uncomfortably broken Chinese, thinking of what to say next.
“No matter,” she spoke. We stood in uncomfortable silence. The bus could not take longer.
“You studying?” She asked me.
“Yes.” Keep the replies short, I reminded myself.
“Nice. My grandson is only Primary five now. I have a granddaughter who’s Primary three. I really hope they work hard. You know how hard it is to do well here.”
“Yes, very hard.”
“Parent support is very important. Good role models, you know?”
“Role models, yes.”
“If your parents don’t push you I assure you it would be hard for you to do so well.”
“Yes, my parents were good. They pushed me.”
“Sometimes I wish for my Grandchildren to have had the opportunity to be raised in a better family.”
At this point it was getting uncomfortable. The tremendous shade she was throwing at her own family made me uneasy. Where was the bus?
“But the blame goes down generations you know? It all points back to me. The way I raised up my child affects the way he raises his children. It all comes back to me, but now that I’m so old it’s hard to go back in time and change all that.”
“It can’t be that simple, can it?”
“Well, after you go through so much you realize a pattern in the way things work. It’s not always true for sure, but it’s hard to break out of a cycle once you’re in it. You don’t even know you’re in it.”
The bus came.
“Thanks auntie, I really hope your grandchildren do well.”
“They’re still young and naughty.” She laughed.
“They’ll grow out of it. I was a terrible child to raise as well.”
The bus door opened, along with it came the liberating blast of air con.
The laundry cycle finished, and out flowed thoughts of the bus stop auntie. I marched back to the laundry room, opened the hatch and piled the damp clothes into the flimsy clothes basket.
“Hey there,” came a voice from behind. It was Star Trek girl.
“Done with drying?” I asked.
“Yes, one step ahead of you,” she remarked proudly.
I walked over to the dryers and shoved fragrant fabrics deep into the chasm. She opened the hatch of the adjacent dryer and out gushed a wall of heat.
“You know, I was just thinking about what you said.”
“Did I say anything?”
“About the 150 people you meet in your life and how any more would be too much.”
“Do you think the random strangers we talk to along the way count?”
“I don’t know. I think it depends on whether you’ll ever see the stranger again.”
“You know you can’t see a stranger again right?”
“You have a point. To be a stranger is a one time affair.” Or was it?
“What I feel is, that you don’t get so many chances in your life to talk to people. Everyone’s too busy waiting for the next bus.”
“Funny you’d say that.” The last item was in, and I closed the hatch.
“Nothing, just, funny.”
This story is entirely fictional. No such exchanges occurred in any laundry room or bus stop, only through places and people I make up in my head.