I sat next to a dying man on the bus today.

I’m probably wrong, but I think a higher power wanted me to. I had a silent but fairly intense emotional breakdown in the morning for a series of reasons (exams, “friends”, my mental state etc) and it was accompanied by feelings of negativity and discontentment. In the evening, I decided to walk for about a kilometer as I waited for the bus to pass by, hoping that the fresh air and scenery would patch me up. When the bus finally drove by, I somewhat desperately waved it over and ran on. The seats were full (coincidentally, one of them was occupied by a lady I’d seen two days ago in the exact same spot) and I decided to stand near the front because my guess was that those seats would free up first (didn’t work out that way actually). As I reached my hand out to the dented blue pole, there was another arm already clutching the bottom. It was a dark skin arm with visible veins but none of that mattered because my eyes were immediately drawn to the bandage wrapped around it with two injection butts visibly sticking out. I placed my arm well above his so as not to disturb him.

The dying man, that is. Speaking technically, we are all dying men, but what made this one different were his sparkling white loafers.

My eyes travelled along his arm and ended on his face. Along the way I noticed details like his deep purple shirt and black scarf loosely wrapped around his neck. And then there were his shoes. Sparkling clean white loafers that didn’t look at all like they had been exposed to Uganda’s harsh outdoor environment. I looked at his sleeping face for a couple seconds and returned to minding my own business. I threw my headphones on and concentrated on trying not to fall over when the bus made sudden stops. I accidentally stepped on the exposed toe of the lady behind me and she looked up at me through her glasses, with wide open glaring eyes. I didn’t raise my hand in an apologetic gesture nor did I say sorry, because whenever I try to talk with my headphones on I end up shouting. So she was probably left with the impression that I am yet another ‘youth’ with no manners.

When we stopped at a traffic light, the dying man in the sparkling white loafers woke up and swiftly pulled his bus ticket out of his shoes and handed it to the conductor. Then he started fidgeting for something in his pocket. His eyes were red, arms shaky, and his forehead dotted with droplets of sweat. When I focused my attention on him again, he had a pack of small clear cylindrical containers with a clear liquid in them. Arm still shaking, he slowly took one out, and then pulled an injection out of his other pocket. He used his small orange raggedy handkerchief as well as his teeth to open the seal on the liquid and then proceeded to fill the injection with the contents of the bottle, and test it to make sure it was coming out okay. This was a painfully slow process and I wasn’t the only one staring. He then opened up the butt sticking out of his arm and presumably went on to inject himself. I looked away at this point because the whole ordeal was too much for me to watch. A piece of me thought maybe I should’ve helped him open the bottle but the simple complete truth was that I was scared. So instead I imagined a photograph out of the scene, everyone staring at the dying man and one girl looking the other with a pained expression on her face.

When I looked back, he had put away all his equipment and fallen asleep again. His grip on the pole was loose, and I wondered if it was painful to grip it. Although I was doing the same thing, I was angry at the other men for just staring at him and not helping. Although I would’ve done the same thing, I was irrationally angry at them for sitting while I had to stand.

I shuffled a few positions towards the back of the bus, trying to avoid being one of the jerks that were staring, without offering any sympathy or help. If I were in his position I’d hate me. I was in my position and I hated me. This was a perfect opportunity to show some humanity but I was scared. I didn’t know what was wrong and for some reason I thought he had a drug problem. It’s a horrible thought but I’m not even certain whether I felt bad for him because he was in pain and discomfort, or myself for being in that uncomfortable painful situation. All the things I’d been whining and throwing a pity party about suddenly seemed minor.

When I finally got a seat, which happened to be across him, I saw the old lady I’d stepped on touch his arm, rousing him out of his sleep, and tell him that she hopes he feels better soon. After a second of puzzlement, he said thank you with a normal composure. I still had my headphones on, and could only read the words from their mouths. I was grateful that the lady was kind, and had said something. Also, I was guilty that I hadn’t.

At that point, I switched my focus to my phone and thinking about how I’m going to write about the dying man until we were almost at my stop. Two other passengers asked him what the name of the stage was and once again he eloquently answered them. His grip on the pole had tightened by now and when the bus stopped, he leaped onto his feet and practically bounced to the door. When I saw this, my heart lifted.

I almost laughed a little.


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