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I was feeling awkward as I addressed the girl sitting across the aisle again, the way I usually felt when trying to talk to girls, but I actually had a reason this time: “Err… Listen, I don’t know how to say this without freaking you out, but I need your help.”

She looked at me sharply and visibly tensed up – I mean what would you expect from a stranger that begins a conversation with asking you not to freak out? You would definitely freak out right away. My only excuse for being such a dumbass is that I was in a state of shock. I nervously sighed, gulped back my fear, than continued talking faster and faster, trying to get my story across before she runs away… Or just tells me to leave her alone.

“Did you see the car accident that happened behind the bus during the last stop? Well, I’m the driver of the car that was rear ended by a semi and crashed into the bushes near the bus stop. I think some bad people are tracking my location and trying to kill me. I am on the run from them. I know it sounds completely crazy and paranoid, tinfoil hat style, but you don’t have to believe me. All I’m asking for is getting me into the subway at the Square One hub. Just the cost of one ticket. I’ll pay you back later today if you give me your contact info. Or you can just get me there and know that you helped someone. If you saw me throwing out my phone into the window you might think I’m a wackjob but you can be sure I’m not just trying to shake a few bucks off you. It was a good phone I just got rid off: fast CPU, Android AI, holo screen, virtual keyboard, glass battery – top of the line. You know I wouldn’t throw it away for no reason. What do you say? Oh, and my name’s Art.” 

If there was any hope for me to sound in any way reasonable and believable while saying that, notes of panic in my voice must have killed it for sure. I think I sounded more like a paranoid schizophreniac running away from a mental institution. Come to think of that, it would be a much better strategy to pretend to be an actual paranoid schizophreniac running away from a mental institution – after all, the cost of a subway ticket is a small price to pay to get rid of a mental maniac. I would be guaranteed to get my ride, and the comfort of several vacant seats on all sides. Well, too late. 

My carefully cultivated tendency to tell the truth in all circumstances, or at least not to lie unless it’s absolutely unavoidable, had played against me this time. Instinctively, I treat every lie I tell as a step towards the “dark side of the force” (insert your favourite Disney takeover joke here),  and telling the truth to yourself and others at least means I’m not going that way. Of course, by itself it isn’t a guarantee that I get to a better place than where I started from – life is a far cry from self-improvement books and motivational speeches, and often as Lewis Carroll has said “it takes all the running you can do to keep in the same place”. Still, I thought it was the best bet in life, and usually it paid off. However, as a result I was a terrible liar. A kid in a primary school does a better job of lying about his missing homework eaten by a dog, than I do when I try to sell even a small harmless lie. So I told the truth, albeit not the whole truth as it would sound even crazier.

“Well, I’m Tia and I have to tell you that this is really weird… “ she replied in an unusually rough and throaty voice after an uncomfortably long pause, “You seem like a nice and harmless enough guy to not freak out and kick you in the balls (I didn’t know whether to feel complimented or offended by this questionable characterisation), but I am not in the habit of paying for strangers’ rides, you know… Let me think…”

Ok, that could have been worse. I should consider myself lucky she didn’t just say “no” and switched seats to get as far away from me as the bus accomodations permitted. There was tension in her voice, even a bit of anger I think, but directed inwards, if you know what I mean. It’s like she was trying to be cool and “whatever” but was annoyed with herself for feeling weirded out and uncomfortable. 

“OK, you know what?” she said, having apparently settled the internal argument, “I don’t feel right about giving you money, but if you’re going in the same direction I am – you can walk with me through the gates. They are fully automated and made by the lowest bidder, so not very effective. I’ve seen people walk through together. With recent minimum wage increases it’s too expensive to keep an attendant on duty to keep an eye on those things. Apparently it’s too expensive to hire any people now,” she said bitterly; there sure was some personal experience there. She continued, “So all gates are automated, the trains are automated, janitors are automated, even rats in the tunnels are automated – I’m not kidding, you should see those maintenance micro-bots after a month in the tunnels. Ha, even most passengers look like they are automated too. Sure, nobody would mind. So if you want to get through the gate with me, you just have to keep really close, it should work. And if you get caught – it’s your problem and I don’t know you. All right?”

She obviously didn’t have any problems with lying. But I guess that way she just got out of the moral dilemma of either potentially being a victim of a scam of some sort, or feeling guilty for not helping someone in need when she could.

“Thanks!” I said. “If you’re going Downtown I’ll take you up on your offer”.

I guess we get by with a little help from total strangers…

7 Comments
  • Konstantin
    Posted at 17:19h, 14 June Reply

    Roma
    The first dialogue (first paragraph) sounds too long. It looks like a single actor play. I think it might be more interactive and give more feeling of the moment.
    First of all the girl should start reacting: to look around and check that she is not alone in the bus so that the sexual harassment is not the most probabilistic scenario, Grab her purse harder. )))) Then she can express emotions that are evolving with the monologue.
    Even if this is a monologue the girl should send non verbal signals.

    Then Art can change the pace from slow and uncertain to rushing. He can wave hands to the window.
    Also his feeling is also important. Not after, but during the speech. For example – awkwardness, regret for so many unnecessary details (about cell phone).
    He can recall Di Caprio in “Catch me if you can” or “The Walf of Wall street”.
    Some of the later thoughts below the pp1 can dissolve it.

    Shorter: Make the girl to play.
    K

    • roman
      Posted at 18:31h, 14 June Reply

      Actually, some of your comments will happen in the next chapter, which will be published tomorrow. I’ll think about editing this one…

    • roman
      Posted at 23:52h, 14 June Reply

      Added some changes to break up my monologue

  • Konstantin
    Posted at 17:39h, 14 June Reply

    “paranoid schizophreniac running away from a mental institution” two times nearby and my spell checker says “schizophrenic”

    Not sure but read a few times the place with “to get rid” and “to get my ride”. Does it sound well?

    The same “to keep an attendant on duty to keep”

    “Apparently it’s too expensive to hire any people now,” she said bitterly; apparently”
    “So nobody would mind. So”

    By some reason I do not like repetitions in the text unless they are reasonably stress an idea like here: ““So all gates are automated, the trains are automated, janitors are automated”.
    I think my school teacher lowered my marks because of them.

    I would do: “you just have to keep really close, reasonably close” and add a description of a gesture to express that she doesn’t want a body contact. May be with a face expression.

    Should not Art feel a relief and higher level of gratitude rather than “Thanks”?

    PS. I like the process. )))

    • roman
      Posted at 17:45h, 14 June Reply

      “schizophreniac” is an individual with schizophrenia, just like “maniac” is an individual with mania. Spell checkers are stupid 🙂
      “Automated” repitision is deliberate, as the expression of excited speech. This is the exception from the rule I guess.
      I will contemplate the rest, along with your previous comment… Good pointers, thanks. I like the process too. 🙂

  • alexanderivanov3897Garvey
    Posted at 13:46h, 25 June Reply

    Just today I saw poster in the subway about you being watched by cameras during attempts to avoid ticketing. So tailgating may not work, especially in the more technically advanced future.

    • roman
      Posted at 14:37h, 25 June Reply

      That’s called “security theater” – it’s useless, won’t prevent the violation, but it’s designed to scare off some people. I’d like to see how they would fine or prosecute anyone based on just camera recording. And how they would find that person in subway crowd. In future as subway becomes fully automated, nobody would keep an officer to catch rare incidents of tailgating. In the worst case, if CCTV face recognition could positively identify a person, he would get a fine in the mail. I don’t think Art is worried about such things at that point.

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