I slouched in my seat, legs crossed, pondering who this guy was and surreptitiously trying to see if he was still watching me, squinting out of the corner of my left eye, as he'd seemed to try to hold my gaze when I first said hi. He seemed like some messianic version of an old friend, or like the box guy, i.e. the Christian seminary student who sometimes sits outside of Ursa's with a white box covered in rhetorical questions, waiting for random people to engage him in conversation about God. Perhaps this mysterious guy was the one who would grant me knowledge of God's "good news," effecting my conversion. Perhaps he wanted me. Who could tell? I waited to get off the bus until it had already gone past my usual stop, as I was curious about this guy. When I finally got up to leave, as I turned to get another look at him while shrugging on my backpack, he simply said, "Bye," with what might've been a slight smile and an earnest look.
It's not much of a story. It's a really short sound bite—hello, goodbye—something small that happened on the way home from class. Yet it left me with dozens of questions: Who was that guy? Does he just sit there and say hello to people? Does he only say hello to girls, or even just certain kinds of girls? Perhaps he chooses people he feels sorry for in some way, or people he finds attractive or who he thinks might be fascinating to talk to. Maybe he just talks to everyone. Did he say hello to the girl who was on the shuttle before I got there? Why was he wearing headphones if he meant to talk to people? Was he trying to start conversation, or is his goal simply to elicit this kind of existential confusion in those he meets? Maybe I was part of a psych experiment, part of a protocol, however short-lived. Perhaps it was a test of my humanity: Would I say hello back? Perhaps he was just on his way through, going somewhere else, and decided to cut through the boredom by saying hello and getting reactions from people. Some people, I suppose, might have a problem with that, saying, "What? You can't just talk to people!" Oh, but he can.
The situation was just like the kind of thing I keep trying to do, talking to people I don't know. Yes, I know, how dare I do such a thing? I'm one of the few people I know who actually meets people that way, like characters in novels do, by simply telling people things while waiting for food or walking or sitting on a campus shuttle bus. That's how I met the random guy-with-a-cell-phone named Anthony who one roommate kept seeing around—as a friend and I were laying bets as to which typical-guy name he possessed, whether Scott, Chris, Jason, Chad, Matt, or Mark, I just decided to ask him, at which point he not only told me his, but asked mine in return. These things happen.
Now, though, I want to ask this guy who he is. I want to run into him on campus and stop him, make him chat with me for awhile. I wanted to just stay on the bus and keep that open potential there, especially considering I had two hours left at the time, anyway, before I would've been home if I'd decided to actually go to class. Perhaps that was his mission, to see how much curiosity a simple greeting could inspire. Perhaps so.
Maybe he didn't really exist. People like that can't really exist, anyway, neh?