Literary Orphans

The Silent Minority by Paul Costa

The sandwich didn’t look like much at first.

The hands which held it belonged to a man sitting near me on the bus. I sat at the back, facing forward. He sat in front of me in a seat turned perpendicular to mine so that I had a side profile view of him.

He had a young face, medium length blonde hair, a baseball t-shirt with sleeves coloured orange with the torso white, and a simple pair of blue jeans.

I vaguely remembered seeing him once before, reading quietly on a green field one sunny day, wearing the same clothes, but I hated him; I cannot remember why, and I struggled even then to articulate my distaste logically to a friend.

He leaned forward with his elbows resting on his knees. His feet pressed flat against the floor.

He held the sandwich in his left hand as he sat this way. I didn’t see him take it out and I didn’t know if he’d already been eating it when he got on the bus and sat down. One triangle cut half had already been eaten and digested; the other half poked a quarter of the way out of a plastic zip-lock bag. It consisted of pale cold cuts pressed between two slices of whole wheat bread cleanly spread with mustard.

All this appeared generally normal, except that he showed signs of profound pain and discomfort while he ate the sandwich.

I hesitate to call it “his” because if he’d made it entirely on his own, and the desire to eat it was fully his, I imagine that he’d show some joy or satisfaction as he ate. It appeared instead that eating the sandwich was a matter in which he did not have the final say.

He chewed slowly, with his mouth closed and stretched down into a contemptuous frown.

Sometimes his hard eyes stared out at the world blurring by the window, at bare trees with clusters of rusted branches, endless powerlines, 1980’s home satellites dishes, and monolithic brown apartments spaced far apart from each other as their stark geometric lines stood against the formless, omnipresent gray sky. Other times he looked down and to the side at the sticky black floor of the bus with a collage of transfers and candy wrappers pressed onto its surface.

He swallowed the bite in his mouth. He closed his eyes and shook his head. A shiver snaked through his body. He stared straight ahead at nothing in particular, set his mouth into a frown again, hesitated, raised the sandwich to his face, hesitated again, and tore a bite out of it with his teeth. He lowered the remaining sandwich without looking at it, resting his left arm on his knee again.

He chewed slowly, with his mouth closed and stretched down into a contemptuous frown.

He rolled his eyes up and muttered incoherently to himself. In his mouth I saw quick glimpses of the mutilated sandwich rolling around stubbornly in its moist, massacred, and shapeless final form. He exhaled heavily through his nostrils. His eyelids dropped apathetically over the top halves of his eyes as he swallowed again.

I never spoke with him because I felt completely unsure of how a man so singularly dedicated to a task such as his might react—he might offer either an epiphany, or confirm that epiphanies have long since abandoned this place.

On that afternoon I began asking myself “what sort of malevolent force compels his continued consumption of the sandwich?” before recognizing that force, with a start, as the same one driving me towards my own destination, or lack thereof.

Somehow I knew he would take another bite, but I made no effort to stop him, because I’m a firm believer in individual freedom. Ever since I once met a recovered addict who maintained his sobriety by listening to endless conspiracy theories on internet radio I’ve accepted that the best way to get on with things is to hurl oneself fanatically at a cause, any cause, because on contact with them I believe we’ll find that their surfaces—which we assumed were carved from noble granite—are actually made from an inflated nylon which will bounce us back just as we accept the arrival of our sacrificial death by high velocity impact, and that afterwards we’ll wake up shocked, slightly humbled, and capable of nothing but a dry laughter, without which we would only hear a silence echoing with our amplified faults.

I realized that he’ll continue eating his sandwiches of compressed suffering just as I continue blindly traversing the remote city limits on public transit with no clear destination but an escape from the present moment.

I hope I’ll see him again sometime, and maybe I’ll even take the chance of speaking with him, when I’m certain that I’m traveling during the darkest night, on a bus bathed in the loneliest blue light, on a regional road running through the furthest industrial fields, in the all-consuming nightmare of wakefulness while the city dreams in its deepest sleep, at the lowest point of my own journey…then I’ll reach out and speak with him, and maybe even make a connection, once I finally feel objective, undeniable despair reach up out of infinite and touch my shoulder.

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Paul Edward Costa has published fiction, non-fiction, and poetry in publications such as “Timber Journal”, “Entropy”, “Thrice Fiction”, “Emerge Literary Journal”, “The J.J. Outre Review”, “Songs of Eretz Poetry Review”, “The Bramptonist”, “The Bookends Review”, “Alien Mouth” and others. He is also the founder of the ongoing “Paul’s Poetry Night” spoken word series in the Greater Toronto Area. At York University Paul earned a Specialized Honors BA in History and a BA in Education. He is a writer and a high school English teacher with the Peel District School Board. Visit him online at https://m.facebook.com/PaulEdwardCosta/

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–Art by Kaia Pieters