Friday, 17 June 2016

The Tram Man

I am coming home from work, which requires a tram, and then a train ride. I am tired and not feeling well, so as soon as I board the tram I find a seat. For some reason, I don't sit at the seats closest to me at the end of the tram where I boarded, which would've been far more convenient. Instead I turn right and walk towards the middle of the tram and see three empty seats. There are four total, two across from two others, and there is a man in one of them. He is plump, his grizzled face looks unshaven for about the last decade or so, he has a large knapsack with him, and his most recent shower appears to have been a questionable amount of time in the past. Also of note: he has no shoes on. It is 15 degrees Celcius outside. Not exactly barefoot weather.

My first thought is, "Why are all these people standing up when there's three available seats right here? What are they afraid of? That he's going to ask them for money? Assholes." I sit down at the seat diagonal from him and notice that there is nothing unpleasant or malodorous about his immediate vicinity, as my presuppositions about "such characters" would have expected. (Judge me if you like, I'm just being honest).
No sooner do I lean my head back against the wall, and close my eyes, that I hear, "Hello."

I open my eyes and see that the man is looking at me, leaning slightly forward, with a rather inquisitive smile on his face. His eyes are deep and soulful; not a hint of crazy.

"I am so sorry to disturb you, because you do look very tired" (Thanks, buddy) "but I noticed you appear to be wearing a kind of uniform"(yeah - also known as scrubs) "Do you happen to work in a hospital?"

"Yes", I reply simply, but with kindness so as to not deter him from continuing. I was mildly intrigued as to what may come next. I also had just gotten on the tram at the stop right in front of two hospitals, so that may also have been factored into his deduction. Then again, he does not strike me as someone who pays much attention to things like time and space, so who knows.

"Have you studied anatomy?"

"Yes." (please don't ask about genitals, please don't ask about genitals)

"Do you know how much a colon weighs?"

I smile and somehow avoid bursting into laughter. I can only imagine what the eavesdroppers may be thinking. Oh wait, they're too busy looking at their goddamn phones to notice. "No, that's not my area," I say with what I imagine is a rather bemused expression. He then goes on to ask me how much I think it weighs, in pounds per square inch. I tell him that I have no idea (I'm practically laughing now) and that I work with tiny babies.

"You don't happen to know a proctologist, then?" He says, appearing to mirror my expression, as he is now bemused; his face in a state of laughter, but he remains calm. I shake my head. In sudden seriousness, he says, "May God -- not a he or a she, there's no gender, people think there is, but there isn't -- may the God of Nature and all things bless you for what you do every day." I thank him with the utmost sincerity for his kind words. Then the real fun begins.

He asks, with no transition of subjects whatsoever, "Do you think the gains of growing up outweigh the losses of childhood?"

Without missing a beat, I say, "Yes." If I was intrigued before, he now has my full and undivided attention, excepting the occasional glance out the window to make sure I don't miss my stop.

He sits back, "Mmm." He nods, seemingly in agreement. Then he follows it up with another home-hitter, "Children have 'imagination', adults have 'mental illness'." He looks away for a moment, a half-smile of cynicism on his face.

It's my turn to be the mirror. "Mmm," I say, nodding and thinking, my friend Brian is gonna love this.

He interrupts my thoughts with the next question: "What if children were the teachers, and we adults," he says, pointing to me, then him, then everyone, "were the students?"

"That would certainly change things up," I reply.

But before I can say, "Sounds like you want to go to Nevernever Land", he says, "You know the Bible says Adam is the first man?"

"Yup." (Just go with it, Gretchen.)

"But it doesn't say he's the only man," he looks excited now. He starts to ramble on a bit about mankind popping up all over the place at the beginning of the world, the Jewish think they're the special ones, etc. I try and keep up with his mind, which seems to be a skipping record. He tells me about how he lived and studied in Israel for 10 years, I ask him what he studied, he tells me he studied the Bible, and that there's many more books than just the Bible. I say "Yeah, like the Apocrypha." He's very impressed with this and asks me how I know this... blah blah blah...

Then he says: "There's 12 people all holding hands around a tree. If you asked them to draw what they see, would the pictures look the the same? No. Are they seeing the same thing? No. So why do we think we only need one perspective to see the whole picture? We look at a tree, and we think we have a good idea about what it looks like, but we don't. We need all 12."

"That's right," I agree. "That's a great analogy."

"How many of them do you think would draw the roots?" He says, leaning forward again.

"The imaginative ones," I say. "Or rather, the insightful ones."

His eyes light up. "Yeeesss, the insightful ones. Children are insightful. Adults are insane, but children? No, they are insightful. They understand more than we do. Did you know there are actually 12 senses? We have organs that detect five of them, but we have 12 --"

At this point, the tram is coming to a stop at Melbourne Central Station, and it's time for me to depart. I begin to shift my things to signal that this is my stop, and he looks a bit sad as he mumbles, "Oh you have to go, I see," or something to that effect.

I stand and reach my hand out to shake his, and say, "I wish I could continue this conversation, but unfortunately, I need to go."

He waves my hand away and says, "No, no, I can't, it's in the Bible, I can't."

"No hand shake? Okay, well it was lovely meeting you."

"May the God of nature and the God of all things bless you." He moves his head as if we were to kiss on both cheeks, (though he was sitting and I was standing several feet away), and then he bows slightly with prayerful hands against his forehead.

As I walk towards the station, I begin to write this story down in my head, and then I realize: I don't even know his name.