Privilegee (based on a true story)

I jumped into a marshrutka and climbed onto my favorite corner seat in the back row. It’s a bit higher than the other seats and you feel like you’re sitting on the upper circle at the theater. You can see and hear everything without attracting a lot of attention. Today, though, I wasn’t about to watch passengers.

I untangled the headphones that always managed to tie themselves into mysterious reef knots. It never mattered how carefully you packed them before. Then I found the next MP3 file on my phone and delved into an audio book in English. It required a hell of a lot of effort to recognize formerly familiar words now disguised in quirky pronunciations. I don’t know who invented the rules of English but this person definitely must have had an upset stomach. I had no another logical explanation as to why they mocked the human race so cruelly.

While still in a state of shock over how the word ‘cautiously’ sounded in actual fact, I hadn’t noticed that the marshrutka had not moved in a while. And I eventually realized that the leaflet advertising lessons promising guitar playing virtuosity in record time had been hovering near my nose for a suspiciously long time. I turned my head from the window that the leaflet was stuck to and looked towards the passenger compartment. Something was happening near the driver and it wasn’t a pleasant scene, that’s for sure.

An old man was standing there, waving a pensioner’s card in front of the driver’s nose. He was insisting on a free ride but the driver would not comply. There were only two priority seats, and unfortunately both were occupied. The driver suggested that the old man get off the bus and wait for the next one. This suggestion obviously wasn’t to the old man’s taste.

The old man looked highly strung, while in contrast the driver was the very image of calm. The old man threatened to write complaints to all known authorities, from the boss of the driver to the president of Ukraine. The driver, wordless, offered him a pen.

And the bus still didn’t move. Passions were rising.

The passengers quickly divided themselves into sides. The first side eagerly supported the old man, cursing the driver and government for being so heartless and humiliating poor, defenseless pensioners. The other side wisely reasoned that the bus wasn’t made of rubber and that the driver was duty bound to fulfill the daily revenue target. There was no place on Earth where a retired person could be late on a Saturday morning.

I sat on my VIP loge in the back row of this bus theater. I was not enjoying this stage play at all. The perfect voice with posh English pronunciation was still whispering something in my ear but I was no longer listening to it. The ugly La Comédie humaine had grabbed all of my attention.

The crowd started to demand that the bus continue on its route. Someone yelled at the driver while someone else threatened to help the old man to leave the bus if he couldn’t do this on his own… and suddenly I felt unbearable shame for everything that was happening here. No. I refused to be a part of this crappy play!

I left my seat and approached the driver, holding forth a five-hryvnia note. He took it without a word, tossed it into the money box, and shut the door. The bus moved ahead.

I was back at my seat. No one said a word. The other passengers went back to their private affairs. Someone poked a nose into their phone. Someone looked out the window. Someone else continued their conversation. I tried to concentrate on my audio book again.

“Stop here!”

The bus stopped at literally two hundred meters. The old man disembarked. Only he. No one else. And when he was passing me, our eyes met. I was ready to see any emotion in his stare… gratitude, embarrassment, surprise. But hatred? What the fuck?!

A bit later, I understood the reason. At the time, however, I was dumbfounded at the unpredictability of human nature and just went back to the book. Moominmamma had called everyone to the dinner and I didn’t want to be late.

by TETIANA ALEKSINA
© All rights reserved 2017