“Leah, listen, I have a degree in psychology and communications,” he begins, leaving no room for an interjection, “I’m six feet tall, I’m handsome and I dress well…” he proclaims, without an ounce of self-awareness for his sake, or for ours, the passengers of bus 36, caught in traffic on route 461 from Or Yehuda to Tel Aviv.
His voice, an unremarkable drone of slow, soft and monotonous, is locked in a heated battle with the distorted, echo-y sounds of Boney M’s “Rasputin” coming in (and out) of my shoddy headphones with a frazzled connection.
Rah, Rah, Rasputin, lover of the Russian queen.. Garbled garbled… Russia’s greatest love machine…
“I know that if we meet in person,” I want to turn around and get a good look at this public transport Prince Charming, but he’s sitting right behind me as he whispers sweet nothings in Leah’s (and my) ear, “your life will change. It will,” he says, and just to qualify it he adds, again, “I studied psychology and communications. You just have to allow yourself to experience new things. That’s what I’m here for. “
The bus inches forward as the harsh rays of sunlight find a sliver between two clouds to sear my face. I was the first passenger on the bus, and of all the seats, I had picked the one that he would sit behind and the only one with a laser beam of sunlight. My freakin luck.
“Just the other day I was sitting with my mom…,” he says and by this time I’ve completely abandoned my headphones, the Russian Tsar and all notions of doing anything but hearing how this plays out. Can it be that she’s actually interested in this Lothario of Or Yehuda? Or maybe – this thought begins to creep up in my mind – maybe there’s no one on the other side of the line. Lots of junkies ride this line. I’ve seen (and heard) stranger things on this bus.
“She said to me, George, I want you to get married,” and he pauses, but not long enough for Leah to say anything. “If we can meet, I know you’ll see what kind of guy I am. I don’t want to play games. I want to get married within the year if I can find the right girl. I looked at your pictures, you look really nice. Have you looked at mine?”
I crane my neck to take a look but hesitate. Much like the double slit experiment in quantum physics, perhaps George would act differently if observed. Astonishingly, NONE of the other passengers on this love cruise seem to notice him. “There’s just one thing I need you to do.” His tone shifts and I sit up in my seat. If only I had popcorn.
“I need you to unblock me from Whatsapp. I want to meet up today but it’s hard communicating on this app. Can you unblock me?” Silence. This was an unexpected turn of events. Why had she blocked him on Whatsapp? How had he managed to call her if he was blocked? And most importantly, why on earth was she still talking with a guy she had blocked?
“Listen, Leah” He says, as though interrupting a child, “let’s meet today and then we can take it from there. I know that once you see me…” I try to angle my phone to get a good glimpse of George, but the sun’s furious rays are blinding. I can barely see myself. “You’ll be pleased. I’m a very, very good-looking guy. I wear designer clothes. I’m six feet tall. I have a degree in psychology and communications…”
They’re going in circles as the bus inches forward. Route 461 is weird in the sense that if you look to your left you see the Khiriya, a landfill that has been up-cycled into an eco-park, and on the right, you see a mini-Serengeti, the Ramat Gan safari, with a dazzle of zebras grazing beside some oasis. Stuck in the back of the bus, in a long line of unmoving cars, the lion tries to position himself for the kill.
“It’s making me…uncomfortable that you won’t unblock me on Whatsapp. I’m a serious guy, Leah. Just ask anybody. Ask my friends. I don’t play games. I wanna meet someone that wants to settle down and have kids. I don’t smoke, I don’t drink. I exercise…” No smoking and no drinking? That doesn’t sound like much fun. But I guess some people are into that shit. “If you’re serious – and it sounds like you are – I suggest we meet up today and see if there’s any point in moving forward. I’ve seen your pics and you’ve seen mine, you know I’m serious…”
The bus lurches forward as it weaves into the public transport lane and zips past trash mountain, past the zebras, and past Ramat Gan stadium. The harsh rays of sunlight have disappeared and the weary commuters reluctantly press the stop button. It’s just me and the heartbreaker, sitting in the back of an empty bus.
“I know you have a birthday coming up in a few days” he begins. How do you know that, I wonder? It’s incredibly creepy that you know that, and it’s even creepier that you brought it up on the call, George, I’m thinking. But he doubles down. “Can we celebrate your birthday together?” he asks. Seriously? She’s blocked you on Whatsapp, what are the chances she’s spending her birthday with you? “Darling, I want to make you happy, you know, take you out, buy you something nice…” His hand gestures a flourish and he completes the motion by reaching up and pressing the little red square “stop” button, as though it were choreographed.
This is it. The moment of truth. I open TikTok in a frenzy so he won’t suspect that I’ve been eavesdropping on his smooth operation, but it backfires. The most inappropriate of videos shows up on my ‘for you’ page – just as our eyes lock. Casanova shoots a judgmental glance. This is awkward.
“Listen, Leah, I’m getting off the bus now. Are we meeting today?”
He’s not six feet tall. Probably about 5 feet 9 in heels. He’s wearing an Adidas tracksuit and flip-flops. He smells vaguely of off-brand vodka. He twirls a cigarette, which he lights as he hops off the bus.
“No doubt this Rasputin had lots of hidden charms
Though he was a brute, they just fell into his arms…”
* * *
The following is a work of video art titled: “Nobody wants to be alone”