He watched the approaching bus slow, then stop, then in the bottom of a pause surrendering it’s doors folding open to him. The airbrakes released, expelling a sigh matching his own. Corralling a deep breath, he looked up and boarded the daily 6.24 Express that conveyed him to work. Sharing a momentary recognition with the driver, they exchanged incomplete nods and muttered greetings. Seeking the midpoint between decorum and indifference, a location ultimately defined by apathy. An exchange that was the baseline of expectation in a society that was losing sight of being polite. Indifferent to each other, yet sharing the knowledge that they each played a role in the other’s day, the same way a bench or streetlight would. Important, yet inseparable from the mundane landscape.
A key domino in the morning, the 6.24 fit best. Eight minutes later, or eight minutes earlier could still work, but 6.24, at this stop, afforded him the luxury of a small cushion of time.
Steadying himself to the acceleration and swaying of his transport he began scanning for a seat, two actually, a vacant bench being his preference. A comfortable cushion between the solitude of his thoughts and someone encroaching upon his morning; away from the draft from the door was a second criterion this morning.
Surrendering to a short bench, already feeling the new day’s weight draining through his shoulders and into his spine, he closed his eyes and inhaled a slow deep breath. He placed his satchel on the vacant aisle seat, he would move it if the bus became busier and his concession became an expectation. Another benefit of the 6.24 was that it was rarely crowded.
This morning there were only five travelling companions, three were regulars like him; people he’d exchange a partial smile and nod with, if their eyes met at all. There was a time when he wondered what each of them did. Where were they going? When he first started commuting, he would notice his fellow passengers. Their new shoes, or maybe just freshly polished, a new skirt or haircut, but that was lifetime ago. Back to a time when his posture would straighten a few inches when he donned a suit and his shoes flashed like his eyes, glistening with pride and ambition.
That was so long ago. Now he faced the expectations of the day, no longer possessing the energy to rage against the tides as he used to, and the desire to vanquish, now yielding to seeking balance. Not necessarily, a solution of fairness, but rather of what might be acceptable. His suit once roaring in the sunlight like polished armor, now falling across his shoulders like a sleeping cat reflecting a life of concession. Concessions that fellow regulars were part of, a surrealism he called ‘morning commute’. As static as the advertising illuminated above their heads.
Life insurance. Debt recovery. Travel abroad. Affordable pay-per-use mobile phones. Family planning services. It was all there, complete with toll free numbers and websites, guiding him through his existence, reminders of the important things. Reminding him of the expectations that we have for society and that society in turn has of us.
Turning his head away and shuddering instinctively, he was chilled only by the thought of the morning drizzle, remembering the cold having penetrated the tiny fissures in his wool coat. He removed his damp gloves and folded them onto his lap. Looking out at the grey that pressed on the outside of the window, he started thinking about the day ahead.
Begrudgingly, at five o’clock he had left the acceptance of sleep to face the expectations of the day, casting the protective warmth of slumber into the examination of daylight. Expectations intrigued him. They flickered in the candle lit corridors of others, casting vague shadows and disguising colors, leaving his path uncertain. His own expectations weren’t even clear. Whatever they were, they were his to possess. Clutching at these fragments, they populated the scorecard by which he navigated through his life; a collection of restless standards to be measured against, judgment always examining him. But still, always the jury waiting to be recalled, hanging in judgment every day. No longer a cause but a result.
Expectations filled the bus around him, ignoring the empty seat beside him or even the benches that remained vacant. His doctor expected him to drink less wine; to stretch regularly, to exercise during the week, and to reduce his bad fats. There were other expectations as well. Friends, family (even some beyond the grave), colleagues, his wife; even his wife all held expectations over him like a sword on a thread. His own expectations often crawled under his skin more than those of others that he faced.
Reeling past the picket fence of stops, names, and places that he recognized but only experienced through heavy glass; the geography of the unknown world within the five kilometers between where he slept and where he labored. These were streets and parks in his hometown equally foreign as the dog-eared and worn atlases that mystified him during school.
How many of the day’s travel companions knew these streets? Did any of the childhood palms that had once softened and curled the pages of the primary school atlases move past their dreams into the world around them? Had any of them seen those exotic destinations, or did they move from city to city and from job to job. Or did they end up like him with unrequited dreams of travelling to marvel at soaring mountains, mirrored in the lakes below; or the crowded markets screaming with new fragrances and a cacophony of unfamiliar languages. Contemplating the sign across the aisle, maybe he should have invested in lake property.
Eyes flickering in lassitude, with the knowledge he was drawing near his destination. The acceleration and deceleration becoming more frequent, the low apartments having grown into office towers, he would now gather his gloves, his satchel, and his resolve. Express 6.24 was tipping, about to tumble the next domino, as was his expectation, as was any day.
Walking past empty cubicles that would slowly become populated over the next ninety minutes, the tea was hot through the paper cup and felt warm through his leather gloves, he entered his office and set the paper cup onto his desk. Removing the plastic lid, and setting it beside the cup, he removed his gloves, turned his computer on, and hung his coat on the back of his door. Beside his gloves, on a spare client chair, he folded his scarf, and placed his woolen cap, building momentum for his morning.
A cursory review of email brought the news of the day, foreign markets, and the summary of his schedule sent from his assistant Pam. He managed this information automatically, while he returned to his contemplation of expectations. Lining up four pens; three black and one red, alongside two mechanical pencils, he took a sip of his tea. Nodding half to himself, half to his desk or the tea, or to an idea; yes, expectations align society. It was how roles become defined and how relationships form. Without some semblance of order, life would be an ornate box, full of surprise. One could turn it, shake it, and examine a parcel for hours without knowing if it contained trash or treasure.
Some people like surprises, he supposed but usually only if it was of little consequence, other people just lacked responsibility; these were people who expectations fell away from like a harvested crop. Falling without consequence to the ground, only to be gathered later and milled for flour.
Checking his watch, he heard a knock on the doorframe, as Pam seeing he was neither on the phone nor with anyone, entered and said, “Good morning sir, I trust you’re well. I have your briefs and an updated schedule, printed.”
“Thank you Pam. Yes, I’m well. You?”
“A touch chilly, but doing well sir. Is there anything else for now?”
“No, nothing for now. Did you cut your hair?”
“Yes, sir. Tuesday.”
“It suits you. The color is — is”
“Thank you sir. They say a change is as good as a rest.”
“I suppose so. Thank you Pam.”
“Sir,” she replied as she retired from his office.
Taking a larger, more committed, sip of his tea he began reading the briefs. An extension of his expectations, he would review the materials without trying to settle upon a conclusion, making notes of questions that arose and identifying the larger issues at play. Matters that would be answered to his satisfaction before an answer was settled.
Confirming the time on his watch, he completed his study of the briefs, checked email again, and took time to survey the headlines again until he was ready again to review his notes.
Twenty minuets later a soft chime from his computer alerted him that he was expected elsewhere, looking up from the briefs he asked, “Pam, the files have been sent up?”
“Yes sir. Room 1503 this morning. I’ve a fresh pad of paper and pens here for you. You’ll just need your briefs and the schedule,” the voice came from beyond the open door.
“Very well. I’m heading up now.” Standing up, he straightened his tie and smoothed his suit, then made his way down the corridor towards the elevator bank. The cubicles were now filled and buzzing away with the activity of the day. He exchanged some cursory greetings and nods and then entered the elevator alone, again only with his thoughts, his expectations, and arm full of materials.
The elevator opened leading onto a narrow corridor and he proceeded to a door marked 1503. He stared at the black number embossed on the cream painted door and then down at his shoes. “I really ought to send these out for a shine,” he thought and then he sighed and drew in a deep breath.
He pressed the button to the left of the door and awaited. A uniformed commissionaire opened the door away from him, nodded and said, “Good morning sir.” Then turned and addressed the room, “Court in session. Please rise for Judge Thomson presiding.”
Looking across the crowded courtroom, he tried to imagine how the expectations trapped behind the eyes that were facing him could be reconciled with those of his own.