I’ve avoided him, since the first day I clocked him, the second time I climbed on to this piece of shit bus, on my third day in this piece of shit job.
And I’ve seen him on board every day since. In the same seat. With the same empty seat next to him.
Because everyone else on this thing avoids him too.
Like a Jehovah’s Witness.
Maybe that’s why he’s laughing, because Jesus, or whoever it is they bang on about, is by his side filling with him the good word, and it is as good as he had hoped. And instead of knocking on your door relentlessly, wanting to share it all and read to you from his good book, he’s decided to keep all that goodness to himself.
That would be one reason why he’s laughing.
But all the time? This guy, he’s laughing every day, every time I see him.
All the goddamn time.
Nobody, including me, looks or stares for fear of making eye contact.
It is Tuesday. And true to form, it is standing room only.
I would rather be standing anywhere other than here.
And I do mean anywhere.
In the dock awaiting sentence.
Over a trapdoor with a noose around my neck.
In the middle of the tracks watching the lights on the front of the approaching express train get brighter and bigger.
Any of these locations would be preferable to the one I am in now. Because any one of them would prevent me ending up in the next one, a place in which I’m going to feel my will being drained out of my every pore over the course of eight excruciating hours.
At least if he was laughing out loud, I could put my hatred of this journey, of him, and everyone else on board, if I am honest, down to annoyance. But it’s not hatred, I realize.
I can’t remember the last time I smiled, let alone laughed.
I’m beginning to think I’m the one that’s unhinged here, not him.
What’s his secret? What’s he got to be so fucking happy about?
I’ve already sat down in the perpetually empty seat next to him and am asking.
In those exact words.
“What have you got to be so fucking happy about?”
It takes him a couple of seconds.
For a moment I think he can’t hear me, or is simply surrounded by a force field of madness that puts him on some other plain, one my words will not be able to pierce and get to.
But then turn his head away from the condensation-covered window he does and faces me.
He’s still laughing.
His neck quivers, his shoulders shake.
The way his back moves involuntarily up and down makes it look like he’s a riding a horse. He’s doing everything he can not to laugh out loud, I see now, his lips pursed trying to hold the giggles back.
He reaches into the pocket of his overcoat and comes out with a slip of paper.
“That better not be a lottery ticket,” I say, wanting to scrunch it up into a Powerball of my own and pile-drive it down his throat, ending his laughing once and for all.
He keeps laughing and shakes his head, pointing and prodding at the paper for me to read.
It is not a lottery ticket.
In fact this is what it says on the paper.
IT IS NOT A LOTTERY TICKET
It is a handwritten note. He motions for me to turn the note over.
Two more words are written on it.
“I know,” I say to him.
“What do you know?”
He goes into his pocket and comes out with a bunch of these notes, hands me another.
“I was wrong. You are the crazy one.”
He hands me another note.
I AM NOT CRAZY
He immediately hands over another.
I AM INFORMED
And then another.
OF IT ALL
“Jesus,” I say. “You carry this little Bob Dylan show around in your pocket waiting for some dope to sit down and talk to you?”
He shakes his head, all the time laughing, and hands over another note.
NOT SOME DOPE it says on this one.
JUST YOU it says on the next.
“You knew I was going to be the one who finally caved in and starting talking to you?”
He nods and opens the next note up for me to see. OF COURSE
Then he starts dealing them out to me like a hand of cards, face up.
I TOLD YOU
I KNOW EVERYTHING
THAT’S WHY I’M LAUGHING
I CAN’T STOP
I HAVE THE SCREENPLAY
I KNOW WHAT’S AROUND EVERY CORNER
I KNOW WHAT YOU’RE GOING TO SAY
He points at random people in the bus.
WHAT SHE’S GOING TO SAY
THAT’S HE’S ABOUT TO SNEEZE
The man across the aisle does sneeze. Right then.
I HAVE ALL THE ANSWERS
I KNOW HOW THIS THING ENDS
He goes into that coat again and pulls out huge wads of these notes and never stops laughing.
Tears roll down his face.
I remember seeing this documentary once about a guy who couldn’t stop sneezing, who was plagued with suicidal thoughts as a result. I wonder if all this laughter, if not the result of insanity, could be driving this guy to it. Are these tears of laughter or despair?
I didn’t notice the carrier bag at his feet. He picks it up and puts it on my lap.
THESE ARE YOURS
I look inside. The thing is packed with hundreds, maybe thousands of similar notes.
He stands up and I let him out.
THIS IS MY STOP
“Why? Why me?”
He hands me four notes, one after the other.
BECAUSE YOU LOOK…
LIKE YOU NEED A LAUGH
THE GREAT MYSTERY OF LIFE…
IS THAT THERE ISN’T ONE
With that, he loses his struggle to suppress the giggles, letting them loose and out loud, the passengers on the bus parting like the Red Sea to let this Moses of madness through as fast as they can.
I reach into the carrier bag, take out the first note that comes to hand and read it.
I start to laugh.