PASSENGER


It was just before noon on the bus. The men sitting in the row behind Jacob were all from different countries. Jacob didn't notice. All around him people were speaking to each other. Jacob couldn’t understand any of the sentences even though the sentences were in English and he could hear and understand all of the individual words. It felt like it was two nights ago again. Two nights ago he had found himself lost in his own house; it had been too dark to tell one room from another. After working for five minutes he came to understand one whole sentence. He was comforted by it. The sentence was “every time he feels a heart palpitation he has to clutch his chest but I told him there’s no real reason for that since that’s just skin he’s touching". He thought about using the sentence in a novel.

*

Sitting on the bus Jacob felt exactly as he had felt at Ana’s apartment an hour before. This worried Jacob because at Ana’s apartment he had confessed to Ana that the only thing he knew about himself anymore was that his feelings towards everything around him were due to change in a matter of hours. After saying that Jacob immediately felt tired and had to leave. He didn’t apologise to Ana because he imagined that she would put his sudden departure down to his mood swings.

*

Jacob felt like staying on the bus until it reached the ocean and then finding a ship and leaving without telling anybody. Then he remembered that his usual stop was the last stop. He thought that if he had a gun he could make the bus driver drive to the ocean. If only he had a gun. Realistically Jacob didn’t think that he was extroverted enough to hijack anything; you had to shout things. Besides, he had no money for a ship. He rested his forehead on the back of the seat in front of him. He wondered if people would think he was troubled.

*

Jacob thought about the plane crash videos on YouTube that he had been watching the night before. He had been watching them with Ana because they had been entertaining. He started to wonder what he would do if a plane crashed into one of the fields next to the road. He might point and shout and go crazy or maybe he would just accept it as totally natural by making a small shrug and then focusing on his feet. It is, after all, natural. He wondered whether there would be passengers who would die before the plane actually hit the ground due to a sudden confrontation with their own death. He decided that a thing with consciousness could never confront its own death. The only things that can confront death are unconscious things that are somehow connected with the dying process—a plane crash, a heart attack, a shotgun, or a poison tree. Then he thought, “we can never know the future” and made himself stop thinking.

*

Jacob pressed his face flat against the window of the bus and focused on the animals passing by in the fields. There were some cows. The window was cool against his skin and he leant into it heavily. He felt as if he were pushing everything in the world back with his cheek and the coldness of it. The noise of the bus was louder with his ear pressed against the window and all of the conversations around him quickly became silent. He felt a disdain for everybody else on the bus which made him say loudly in his head “motherfuckers”. Nobody else heard the soft ballooning noise of the engine that Jacob felt he could jump in and out of. Nobody felt the vibrations which turned his lips into puffy jelly and stirred the thick bones around his mouth and shook his skull. Nobody noticed that there were animals outside who probably loved him. Nobody understood that clutching the chest because of a palpitation is as normal as taking the bus home instead of staying with the only person in the world to whom you think you might possibly be able to say “I could love you”.

Jacob thought about how when people say “in the world” they only really mean “in my experience of the world”.

*

The scenery of the mountain that the bus was climbing was dreary and it made everybody depressed. Factories which made food colouring, silage plants and fields dotted the slopes. Over three more hills there was a city in which Jacob had a room. The city had become a city without anybody ever realising. The habitants chose instead to remember it as the tiny hamlet of four hundred years ago and went about their lives as if it were such, without noticing that it was now a city of eighteen million people. Ana lived in a small town.

*

There was a woman sitting directly in front of Jacob. She was reading a leaflet from a non-governmental organisation. Her hair was bristly and wild and it spilled over the headrest into Jacob’s “space”. The hair was not shiny. The hair was inches away from Jacob. Jacob could reach out and touch the hair. The hair was so close and the woman was so close. Jacob had to touch the hair. He wanted to rub his face in the hair and completely disgrace himself. Then he would jump out of the bus very quickly and let himself be run over by it. Yes, this is what he would do. Jacob was excited. He wondered if she would notice him touching her hair. Probably not. Maybe he could do it for hours. Perhaps he could stroke her fingernails at the same time. Although maybe she would notice after all. You can’t feel your hair, no, but you can feel it moving about.

Jacob touched the hair and the woman didn’t turn around. If Jacob had wanted to he could have grabbed the hair with his fist and pulled it down towards the floor with all of his strength and the hair would not break because hair is as strong as a telephone directory and could support a hanging man. He would then throttle the woman with the other hand. In a very specific way Jacob did want to do it. He thought about how if he did it he would ultimately end up walking off the bus in the exact same way as if he didn’t. This was an exhilarating but devastating thought. Jacob felt exhilarated and devastated. He felt like he was confronting his own death. He felt like a small blonde child badly injured in an accident at DisneyLand.

*

Jacob thought about Ana. He tried to make a sentence out of his thought. He gave up after trying for twenty seconds because all of his sentences had the word "ashamed" in them. Today Jacob had touched Ana with more violence than usual. This had surprised them both. As he did it Ana's eyes turned up to look at the light fixture. Her feet looked another way. Jacob wanted to ask her if she felt good but he didn't. Jacob liked Ana but her room was in another town and this made him feel out of control. After they had spent some time fucking he would have to take the bus past fields and factories for over six hours.

*

Jacob reached inside his blue shoulder bag. When he was mugged in October the muggers stole the bag and emptied it. They then threw the bag into a hedge. The police found it. When this happened Jacob thought “the police are good when you need them”. Jacob pulled Hemingway's Fiesta: The Sun Also Rises out of the bag and tried to read some of it. He stared at the sentence “Budapest is absolutely wonderful” for an unusually long period of time. He couldn't help thinking that the whole party would have been a whole lot better if that book had never been written, or at least never read. Jacob had a sudden urge to kill himself in front of everybody on the bus.

Jacob didn’t have a gun. Jacob wondered why people didn’t kill themselves in front of each other more often. Jacob realised that the only way anybody was ever going to know him properly was is if he were to die in front of them. It was the same for everybody. The bus passed another group of school children standing still in a field. He thought of the words “dying in private is the ultimate death” and scribbled them onto a page of the Hemingway book that was completely blank save for the words “Book One”. Jacob felt superior to everybody on the bus.

*

The bus pulled into the terminus station. It was six hours since Jacob had got onto the bus that morning. Jacob stepped off the bus and tried to thank the bus driver. The driver was struggling to swallow an anti-anxiety tablet and didn’t notice. Outside the sky was huge and thick and solid. It looked as if planes would get stuck in it. The twilight had stained the industrial area a shade of orange that Jacob had never thought existed. The air on the bus had been pale and had tasted like nausea. Outside of the bus the air was broad and when he breathed it in it felt like it was polishing the inside of his head. It might have been air pressure. The men from the different countries had gotten off the bus at different points along the journey. It was very cold.

Jacob walked along the street towards his room. He passed two men outside a cafe having an argument in Portuguese. Jacob couldn’t understand Portuguese. He pretended that the older man had spilt a drink all over the younger man’s body and that they were now making declarative sentences to each other in a magical-realist style. The younger man said “you poured a river all over my body this evening in which no moon was reflected”, and the older man replied “yes but the stars”. Jacob thought that that was stupid and felt confused. He started to feel anxious that his whole personality and method of confronting reality over the past six months came only from listening to various podcast interviews with well-known authors of literary fiction. He felt as if he were a walking, breathing collage of the non-literary ideas of famous authors. One of these interviews was with a young Latin American writer who wrote novellas. Sometimes he would put the podcasts onto his iPod, open up a word document and try to write sentences whilst listening to the podcasts. Then he would stay up all night distressing that people would think he was plagiarising somebody.

*

As Jacob entered the gate to his room a woman who lived in the room above him walked out of the gate and smiled at him—she smiled at him in the same way everyday. At night the woman’s boyfriend would come over and they would make terrible noises. Jacob could never tell whether they were noises of pleasure of or terror. There was a time when the noises started to enter his dreams and everything that was in his head would gather around the scream and structure around it. One time he dreamt that the noises were the cries of the hundreds of people that he encountered every day in his daily life, all screaming together at the same time and smiling. Jacob wrote a story about this dream that didn’t say at the end that it was a dream.

*

Occasionally Jacob would have the sudden urge to stop a person he passed everyday and question them. He would ask “if you had the ability to choose everything that was going to happen to you in your day, would you choose to still walk past me and smile at me as you’ve done for years?”, or “do you sometimes think about my face when you’re drunk?” Jacob was 97% certain that if everybody he saw everyday had the ability to choose everything in their lives they would not choose to bump into him. That prospect made Jacob’s chest feel as if it were a long piece of heavy fabric he was dragging behind him.

*

Jacob was sitting on a computer chair facing the wall. He wanted to call Ana. He couldn’t find the cordless main-line phone. Eventually he found it by ringing it with his mobile phone. It was hidden beneath the pile of clothes on his floor. He now had two phones. Before he hung-up he held up a phone to each ear and screamed into them. There were three screams. He couldn’t tell which scream was the loudest. He let the screams hang in the air for a little while before he hung-up.

*

He concealed his number by dialing 141 and he then dialed Ana’s number. The phone rang three times. He hung up as soon as she answered. When the line was dead he screamed his own name into the telephone like he was testing the echo of a cave. Nobody could hear this.

*

Jacob realised that he was afraid of people like him, the kind of people who hang-up without saying anything. He knew that Ana was also afraid; he was acting like a serial killer. She was trembling underneath her pyjamas waiting for the man with the previously unassuming disposition to jump out of the cupboard. Jacob felt as if he was going to be violently sick. He was staring at his reflection in the window in new and radical ways. He was still holding the phone up to his ear. He was still afraid. When he screamed he had scared himself. The scream had reminded him that there was still something to afraid of.

*

The voice of the robot woman was telling him to replace the handset. He hung up on her. The robot woman never felt afraid. Unless she did, but then she would have to always feel afraid. Robots cannot change their feelings. When their faces change it’s just their faces that change. The robot woman had no face. When Ana was speaking on the phone to Jacob he could tell her facial expressions from the shape of her voice but he could not prove this. Whenever Ana went away for a long time he would forget her face but when she came back he would always recognise it.

*

Jacob was sure he would die that night and felt comfortable. Jacob lay sprawled out across his bedroom floor and felt all together like a jpeg. His fingers counted his ribs. Blood was now in his fingertips that had been in his penis. He was listening to gangsta rap from the 1990s. The light was too bright. Music is loud in bright light. He got up and switched off the light. Sound waves move differently through darkness. Jacob moved to his bed. His heart will not be paralysed tonight.