I always have a good time taking the bus into the city for work. Somehow along the downward spiral that is my life, riding public transportation became my refuge. Being surrounded by perfect strangers who minded their business made me feel like I was in good company.
I grew to hate work. It wasn’t only the office and its storm gray chipped painted walls I wanted to escape from, but life itself. I lost my mother to breast cancer last year, I never knew my father, and my only sister was so sick of supporting my dreams of becoming a musician as well as her two beautiful kids and abusive, alcoholic husband.
The worst thing about working as an Administrative Assistant to the Chief Operations Officer at a health insurance agency isn’t the ridiculous pencil skirts with the quarter-length slits, or the Jimmy Choo “fuck me” pumps I dipped into my savings for just be a shoe-in (no pun intended) for this God-forsaken job.
It’s the entitled, old, white men who eye-fondle my tits through my dress shirt. Every day is a fucking adventure.
The journey on the silver line helped me zone out a lot. It was the best time for me to write my music. I’m an indie soul, jeans and t-shirt, pro-cannabis type of bitch. My music is intended to make you feel like one too. The last song I wrote, titled “Skip”, was about my ex-boyfriend, Harvey. He had his shit together, and couldn’t keep up with my “starving artist” needs, like money.
Harvey is the son of French Guinean immigrant parents. He had the sexiest accent and called me “Cherie” instead of my actual name, Kim. He graduated cum laude from Princeton with a degree in African American Studies. He wanted to be a “polished hip-hop historian”, so we connected on the music front. Ironically, though, I was his first black girlfriend–dark skinned at that. I know, blew my mind too. He fucked like a black boy who’d never fucked black girls before, though, so I had to train him up. Eventually we shared a connection with music AND sex.
He left in the funniest way. Got out of the shower only to find a receipt for a plane ticket. One-way. Across the fucking country. He had inconspicuously placed it in my underwear drawer. It was the one type of clothing I washed obsessively, next to socks. But yeah, no call, no text. His departure itself wasn’t funny. In fact, I was heartbroken for weeks. My antidepressants weren’t working, I was single by force, and I had to get reacquainted with sleeping with a cold pillow between my legs. I did laugh once I got over it all, though. I have a terrible habit of laughing at my own misfortune, but they say it’s the best medicine.
Anyway, I had only written the first few words of this new song. The melody was on loop in my head since I’d left the bar with friends a few nights back. A few lyrics and a simple, two-chord track was all I had, but it was a work in progress.
Nervous / Took my sins to about a thousands churches / Took my winds where the end of the Earth is / Built a fence around my heart to keep the hurt in…
I took a sip of the smoothie I made for breakfast. I wanted to be healthy for my next gig. The road got bumpier the closer we ventured into the city, and my cheap mechanical pencil could take but so much turbulence. Conveniently enough, we hit a pothole that caused my last piece of lead to break, and I spilled a bit of my smoothie on my shirt. Great.
What’s even more convenient is someone choosing that very moment to occupy the seat next to me. I couldn’t catch a glimpse of his face, staring is rude, but he smelled amazing. I caught a whiff of apricots and sunflower seeds. He probably carried them in that cloth tote bag he had with him.
He was reading a book titled “1,000 Things You Don’t Care To Know But Should Anyway”. That cheeky title was my kind of required reading. Since I had nothing better to do and fifteen stops before I reached my destination, I figured I’d strike up conversation with this Fall-scented stranger.
“Anything interesting?” I asked, staring at his manicured nails as they traced over a factoid about methane gas.
“Huh? Oh, sorry. Um…,” he shuffled through some pages, seemingly embarrassed to have been caught reading about cow farts. “Ah, here’s one. There are more life forms living on human skin than there are human beings on the planet.”
“Hmm. That makes me want to shower really badly. What else you got?”
He scanned again. “What about, uh….oh!” He was excited about this one. “In 16th and 17th century Europe, cannibalism was common for medicinal purposes.”
“Cannibalism among white people somehow doesn’t seem like a shocking concept to me.”
He gave me this blank stare, then we both giggled. Thank God my dry humor registered well. There was a rugged five o’clock shadow that appeared when he turned and showed me what a pretty open-mouthed smile he had. I could tell that underneath it there was a softness that started to glow as the sun held it through the bus window.
Finally, it was time for me to get off, but not before I got the name of the stranger with the warm smile and book full of interesting facts. Tobias. A name befitting such a friendly yet nerdy face. I told him about the dreadful 9-to-5 I was heading to, and that everything I really am was the complete antithesis of the corporate world. Then I shared some of my gig dates with him. Before I left, I made him pinky promise he’d attend a show, and he even gifted me his book to borrow. It was his way of assuring me we’d meet again.
After a long day of good ole American misogyny, I ventured back home and grabbed pizza along the way for dinner. There were fewer bills scattered across the floor of my studio near the door. I’d been doing great at catching up. I threw off everything except my bra, panties, and the necklace my mother left me, and tried to proceed finishing my song. My next gig was in a week and I needed new material.
Desperate for some kind of inspiration, I flipped through some channels and scrolled through social media to no avail. I picked up the book Tobias gave me and tried to ease my mind with corny factoids. Then something caught my eye. On page thirteen, after some information about how riding rollercoasters could help you pass a kidney stone, was a phone number. It was his. Underneath it read, “hit me up soon?” in the neatest handwriting. How cute. It was pretty late, but I figured “why not?” and proceeded to text him.
Your silver line ⭐️student, ready for more mind-blowing info bits.
Oh? It’s after my office hrs, but…. I can make time if ur hungry for more…
…more knowledge that is. 😜
LOL!! U r a clown for that… but not exactly wrong.
I get that often LOL what do u wanna know?
Any tips on how to jumpstart the creative side of the brain? Been struggling with this one song…
Maybe a little meditation might help. It’s good for the brain–reduces stress and increases focus.
It was then when I found out Tobias actually teaches yoga and meditation at the local rec center to the elderly. He grew more interesting to me so I decided to be bold, naturally, and call him. Lit a joint and talked with him for hours, not minding at all that it was a Wednesday night and I had an 8am meeting.
When we reunited on the silver line the next morning, we picked up right where we left off. He didn’t mind that I yawned several times and my curls were a bit crazy looking, because the first thing he said when he sat next to me was, “hey, pretty girl.”
I returned his book, which sparked rabbit hole discussions about Plato and NASA and the lifespan of a killer whale. All totally random, yet interesting and stimulating.
“Maybe with all this newfound knowledge you can take on the work day, huh?” he asked encouragingly.
“Wishful thinking,” I replied. “Any bit of inspiration I walk into work with is immediately drained out of me by everyone there.”
He paused for a second, adjusted his glasses to sit securely atop his nose, and said, “You need a day off.”
“A day off would do the trick,” I responded, staring out of the window.
“Come with me.”
“Where?” I whipped my head back around with a raised eyebrow to look at him.
That was all he needed to say to get my mind going. The caged bird in me was desperate to sing. My stop was approaching, but I couldn’t stop thinking of how satisfying it would be to call in sick. I had no idea what Tobias could’ve had in store, but what I did know was that it was already better than another work day.
Before I could blink, we were pulling off from my stop. Figured I might as well take my phone out and send a quick “under the weather” email.
“So… where to now?” I asked eagerly. I was suddenly filled with energy.
“A few more stops,” he said. “My studio’s down by the waterfront. But first… take one.”
He opened up his palm to reveal four gummy bears. I looked up at him, both delighted and confused. I knew exactly what these were, no ordinary gummy bears. “One’s all you need,” he said. I picked up the yellow one and held it at eye level, then fixed my gaze onto him.
We split the candies evenly, intertwined our arms, and downed them. I laid my head against the window once again and hummed the unfinished song to myself. By the time we got off the bus, the gummies had definitely hit. The breeze was soothing and time slowed down a little bit. I developed wanderlust shortly before Tobias slipped his manicured fingers in between mine. I felt static. The good kind.
When we made it to his studio, I was in deep. I could tell the paintings were out of reach and the studio was spacious but they were so close I could taste the cherry reds and mint greens and licorice blacks. He pulled out two yoga mats and laid them next to one another. Luckily I wore jockeys underneath my slacks. He had an extra t-shirt laying around. Convenient.
He said, “sit firmly on your mat, center your body, fold your legs, focus on your breathing, stay quiet, and close your eyes.” I did as I was told. We sat next to each other in silence for what felt like a half hour.
“Three minutes,” he corrected me.
Clearly I was impatient. I was high and feeling chatty. “Can you help me stay focused?” Also, a tad bratty. But Tobias was patient with me. He sighed gently and smiled at me, then he got up and proceeded to sit behind me on my mat.
“May I?” he asked, like the bespectacled, well-mannered gentleman he is. I obliged. He rubbed on my temples with the tips of his fingers, and there it was again. The static. He placed both his hands at the base of my neck, then slowly ran them over to my shoulders.
“I feel like a fitted sheet,” I joked, trying to hide that I was beginning to feel a little flustered. He chuckled and told me I was in good hands. No shit. I couldn’t agree more. Tobias had a touch that was both firm and affirming. The high made it all the more better.
It was one of those moments where words were rather unnecessary. Impulsively, I reached behind me to grab his neck as he rubbed my shoulders. Then, as if he just knew, he began to graze his lips against my neck, then our lips touched until until our tongues danced the tango. I turned around and began to take his shirt off, until he stopped me.
“Yes… no. I mean… I have something to tell you.”
Here it comes.
“Chlamydia? Kids? A girlfriend? Shit, a boyfriend?” I thought to myself. I always get anxious when someone doesn’t just spit it out.
Instead of speaking, he slowly took his shirt off to reveal a huge scar across his chest. I froze immediately, knowing what it meant. He looked at me for some sort of a response, but all I could say was “wow.”
“I’m sorry, I should have told you,” he said, beginning to pull his shirt back down.
“No, no,” I interjected. “I’m sorry. I came on pretty strong there. I hope I didn’t push it.”
Then came an awkward silence, one where we looked everywhere else in the room but at each other. I wanted to reassure him but I felt like too much of an asshole to even know where to start.
“It’ll heal. Planning on covering it with a tattoo. It’s the last thing that’ll ever remind me or anyone else of who I never wanted to be.”
Watching Tobias put his head down like he did broke my heart. I took his face into my hands.
“All I see is the beautiful man that you are, and I know beautiful, inside and out, is all you’ve ever been.” I kissed him, then traced my fingers across his scar. “It makes me think of my mother.”
He looked at me curiously.
“Double mastectomy. She gave us a few beautiful months after that.”
“I’m so sorry,” he said, taking my hands into his. It was very telling how open I became in that moment to connecting with someone beyond sex. It was always either that or music for as long as I can remember. But with Tobias, it was different. He was my breath of fresh air.
We wound up spending the entire day together. I taught him a few chords on the guitar in exchange for the most mind-blowing tantric touch Reiki massage. We smoked a few joints and even cooked stir fry. I didn’t mind sharing my space with him on my day off. After all, he’d given me one thing I didn’t think I’d have: clarity.
He fell asleep around 10:30 that night, right in my lap. Then, something magical happened. I grabbed my notepad and the words came to me. Before Tobias, I felt like I had been floating stagnantly. An absolute stranger on the silver line gave me hope and helped me find the rest of the lyrics to my song.
In his honor, I decided to title it, “Muse“.