“Breathe next to me. And I will capture a piece of your soul along with mine.” —Marikit dR. Camba
I’m on the #15 bus. It is filled to the steaming brim with people trying to get to their homes on the southeast side of Portland. There are so many people on this bus that people are standing & bodies are aloofly rubbing against each other. All of this is made even more stimulating because it is currently downpouring in monsoon-like fashion & everyone is sopping wet.
I find myself growing excited at the sensual nature of this bus ride — bodies dripping with water, windows fogged, faces & limbs so close to one another that they can feel the heat of the blood coursing through their veins.
I managed to find a seat near the start of the route, but barely. To my left, an older gentleman is playing a word game on his iPad, completely engrossed in bettering his score.
To my right, a young man with a bulging backpack stands in the aisle, his glasses speckled with droplets of water. He isn’t wearing a jacket & is soaking wet. His hair slowly drips onto the palms of my hand. In those droplets, I smell remnants of the product he used in his hair today, which reminds me of being at summer camp when I was 13, & how all the boys, so new in their blossoming manhood, would layer on colognes & aftershaves & hair gels, producing a potent, conflicting fragrance with notes of wild teenaged spirit.
In front of me, a professional-looking man sits & keeps getting text messages on his beeping flip phone that make him smile. And each time he grins, I feel the very little space we have around us in the bus expand slightly with happiness. I notice he has a beautiful jade-green ring on his pinky finger & I admire it.
In the distance, I can hear the chatter of about four or five teenaged girls from the back of the bus who periodically erupt into fits of laughter & talk animately at once about things I cannot make sense of. As I listen to their colliding conversations, I realize that more people have piled into the bus, & it now begins to waft with a plethora of conflicting smells as wet humans on different paths, with coinciding energies, plant their feet against the lurching engine.
I sense an array of emotions emanating from these strangers: hurriedness, apathy, exhaustion, calmness, reticence, eagerness, sleepiness, annoyance, tension, incognizance.
I take all of this in with the knowledge that these strong intuitive perceptions will disperse the moment I step off of the bus.
At this, I look up & scan the faces that stand in front of me. Most of them don headphones & are listening to music, staring listlessly in front of them, focusing their eyes on nothing. Others finger their cellphones, texting, reading, looking at their Instagram feeds. No one speaks to each other, no one glances in the other’s direction.
I am astounded at their indifference, how no one seems to notice this highly sensual, interconnected moment, where we are being inundated with sights & smells & sounds that are stimulating our bodies — or at least mine, anyway. I seem to be the only one with this awareness. Everyone else is in their own little world.
Since this 15-minute bus ride, I’ve found myself fully conscious of the very highly sensual situations I find (& have found) myself in with strangers. These are instances where, if it weren’t for being fully present, they would have slipped by stealthily, labeled as an unexciting part of existence rather than electrifying exchanges of energy, for they are so arbitrary.
Now I can’t help but notice these brief, sensual scenarios. A quick slide of fingers as the cashier at the grocery gives me change; an abrupt shoulder rub with a stranger as he makes room for my passing on a busy sidewalk; a girl whose perfume smells so intense that it gives me a head rush & visions of make-believe carnal activity; sitting so close to a stranger that our thighs touch briefly & I can feel his warmth.
All of this is made that much more poignant when it is considered how much separation we put between us. We live comfortably in our own bubbles with thin barriers enclosed around us & extend only to a few several inches. We rarely make eye contact with those we pass on the street. We rarely comment on (or acknowledge) that there exists others apart from us. We maintain this strict, rigid detachment until we encounter ever so fleetingly a moment where our bubbles burst, one enters inside of our barriers, touches us — perhaps accidentally, perhaps intentionally — & reminds us that there are others outside of ourselves, that we are surrounded by sentient & spiritual beings.
When our bubbles burst unexpectedly & someone comes into our tender zones of existence — & only for a simple reason to give us a dollar that we dropped from our pockets or to ask us the time or to kick the heel of our foot by accident — it can feel alarming, it can feel like a violation. We might bristle. We might tense up. Or, we might welcome them in for a short-lived moment of physical correspondence.
This is what I try to do. To welcome these blissful interruptions, to give sincere eye contact & a warm smile from a passerby, to receive a compliment from a stranger. And I do these things because for a small moment in time, I have connected to another human being, one I do not know, one on a completely different path, one I may never come across again.
I find this to be extraordinary, a blessing. Having this temporary & very rare contact helps me to feel less alone on this giant blue planet called Earth, if only for a few moments.