A work of fiction where breaking social norms turns out to be the path towards true contentment…
by: Chris Klassen
I drive a bus, in a sketchy part of town on one of the most dangerous routes available. I drive it at night, five nights a week, from one in the morning until seven. The route passes burned out houses, questionable industrial malls, pawn shops, and gun stores. I get spit on regularly, verbally abused constantly, and assaulted occasionally. My nose has been broken, my eyes blackened. Twice my face has been slashed so that I needed stitches. Once I got beat up so badly I had to stay in a hospital for a week, bandaged, drugged and hooked up to tubes. I’ve been driving this route for years. I love it.
Naturally, the question is why. What could my background possibly be that I ended up making my living in this way, and enjoying it at the same time. Was I raised in an abusive dysfunctional home? Did I have alcohol and drug issues? Did I experience some sort of debilitating family tragedy or have a mental condition of some kind?
To the contrary, my family was loving and kind. My parents were sweet and generous and upper-middle class. Everyone was healthy and happy. We had money, a nice house, and two cars. No one drank or smoked. We celebrated all the holidays every year. It was idyllic. I have two college degrees from the most prestigious school in the country, one in philosophy, one in economics. My IQ is Mensa level. I was a chess champion by the time I was ten.
After graduation, I quickly obtained a job at an investment firm and a ridiculous amount of money started rolling in immediately. Within a year, I was bored out of my mind and disgusted with all the people I worked with. I was surrounded by beautiful, well-coiffed, well-dressed people who were young and completely superficial. The type of people who would smile to your face and stab you in the back at the same time. Their priority was getting rich and acquiring stuff. I endured for two years before I had to get out. It was spirit-crushing. The passengers on my bus, they may be drunks, criminals, amoral, and certifiable degenerates, but they’re sincere. If they hate you, at least you know. If they want to kill you, they’re honest about it. People in suits around a boardroom table are far more dangerous than the passengers on my bus.
It’s a dramatic career change from investment banker to bus driver, that’s for sure. In fact, it’s about as extreme as it gets. Couldn’t there have been a more moderate step, you may ask. Maybe so. But I didn’t want moderate. After two years of corporate superficial crap, I wanted the exact opposite. I needed whatever was most pure and honest, no matter how base. So I applied to drive a bus with a ninety percent decrease in take-home salary and a one hundred percent increase in physical danger. I requested the most precarious route available, the route that no one else wanted. And now I love my life.
On my second night on the job, an obviously drunk passenger boarded my bus. Splotches of red wine stained his shoes and it was clear he had wet himself sometime earlier. He could barely keep his balance and had no money to pay the fare, but I didn’t care. This was exactly what I was hoping to experience. I let him board the bus, stumble all the way to the back, and pass out. He stayed there for five hours, throwing up once all over himself. It was beautiful. It was a pure and unpretentious moment. He was one hundred percent true to himself. It was the most honest thing I had ever seen. No one in a corporate office was ever this honest. I knew at that instant that my life had become completely existential. Whatever happened at the moment, no matter how degrading or animalistic, as long as it was pure, was fine.
A few weeks later, around two in the morning, a couple of teenagers boarded my bus, a girl and a boy. They sat down on a seat near the front and started making out. The boy was straddling the girl and they were getting passionate. They were being true to themselves in the moment, no argument there. I sped up until the bus was traveling about thirty miles an hour above the speed limit. They didn’t notice, they were too into each other. Suddenly I stomped on the brakes hard and the couple slammed violently into the back of the seat in front of them. The girl’s head smashed into the mouth of the boy, knocking out his two front teeth. He started to bleed and she started to cry. They swore at me and got out at the next stop. Why did I do this? Because I did. Because it was a genuine impulsive reaction to the moment. It was pure and honest, admittedly in a severe sort of way. I didn’t do it to hurt them, that wasn’t the point. I just did it, to feel that instant of existence in a way I had never felt it before.
There’s a curious and pleasant byproduct to subscribing to this philosophy. Not only do you have total freedom, but you can also obtain an invigorating burst of adrenaline. It’s a quick high. When I slammed on the brakes and saw the effect of my action on those teenagers, I felt a sense of power, and I loved that sensation.
Only once, so far anyway, have I been real close to the edge. Sure, I’ve been beat up and hospitalized, you know that already. But this one was well beyond that. One summer night a year ago, a man boarded my bus wearing a black ski mask and waving a revolver. He stuck it right under my chin.
“Give me your money,” he demanded. I pulled the bus over onto the side of the road. No one else was in it at the time.
“I can’t,” I lied. “The fare box is locked and I don’t have the key.” I stared at him. It was a pure beautiful moment, one that I had never experienced before.
“I said give me your money,” he said again.
I reached into my pocket and pulled out a couple quarters. “Here, chump. Take these.” I smiled and threw them in his face.
The man swung the butt of the revolver into the side of my head, cracking my jaw and knocking out a tooth. Blood started coming out of my mouth and, when I smiled, it dripped down my chin and onto my shirt. He positioned the gun in front of my forehead. I could see he was already starting to get a bit nervous. His hand was slightly shaking. Obviously this wasn’t going as he had planned.
“I’m giving you one more chance,” he said. “Give me your money or I’ll kill you.” He wasn’t going to kill me, I was pretty sure, but if he did it was alright. If he did, it would have been fitting for that moment.
I stared back and wiped some blood from my chin with the back of my hand, still smiling. “Don’t you love this?” I said to him suddenly. “This is the essence of life! Embrace it! If you want to shoot, shoot. If you don’t want to shoot, don’t. Make up your mind. Either one is fine with me.” Of course he didn’t understand. After a few moments of silent showdown, he turned away and exited the bus. When I got back to the depot, I had no option but to report the incident to my bosses. I couldn’t hide my swollen bloody face. They gave me six weeks paid leave and all the medical treatment I needed. When I finally returned to work, they asked me if I wanted a different route, something safer during the day. I said absolutely not.
I’m sure the people I used to know — former professors, friends, and family members — would be shocked and dismayed at how I’m living my life. And they’re right to feel this way. Their mindset won’t allow them to accept any form of existence other than their own, and that’s okay. Their views are as valid as mine. Am I wasting my education and my IQ? Not in my opinion. At home I’m reading Aristotle and writing a thesis on Schopenhauer, just for fun. Couldn’t I be working for a food bank or an anti-poverty organization and using my abilities for good? Sure. But who’s to say that day won’t come? For now though, I just want to get back on my bus.
Chris Klassen is a hobbyist writer and resident of Toronto, Canada. After graduating from the University of Toronto with a degree in history and living for a year in France and England, he returned home and worked the majority of his career in print media. He is now living a semi-retired life, writing and looking for new ideas. His work has been published in Short Circuit, Unlikely Stories, Fleas on the Dog, Vagabond City, Dark Winter and Literally Stories.