10 PM, Thursday. Still a few minutes to go, so I walked into Kramerbooks. I glanced through the section on politics and history, looking at the covers and picking up books which looked interesting. I would be able to see it arrive through the window. Eventually it did, the always reliable No. 42.
I put my earphones back in and walked out into the DC cold. I got in line for the bus, turned up the volume, and watched my breath condense, and then disappear into the air. I jumped on board when my turn came, and scanned the inside for an empty seat. The bus was packed, but there were a couple of open seats. Spotting one on the right side, I moved towards it. As I was about to sit down, I realized that it was between three friends who were engrossed in an excited conversation, which I would likely interrupt by putting my large frame in between them.
I sat down for a second, then quickly got up and changed to a seat on the other side. Over the headphones their shouts came: “Its okay, you can sit there!” I took my earphones off (wondering if I was hearing things since people dont usually talk to eachother on DC’s public transport) and they repeated the sentence loudly from the other side of the bus. Amused, I said, “Thats alright, it seemed like you guys were having an intense discussion and I didn’t want to interrupt.” They were three girls, somewhat punkish looking, and probably of college age. It was otherwise quiet on the bus.
“That’s alright, you can join the conversation!” they shouted back. There was silence for a split second. I could sense the whole bus looking at us. People stopped fiddling with their phones, an octogenarian lady looked up from her book, her eyebrows raised in a quizzical expression above the silver rim of her glasses, a few gruff looking men at the back turned their heads. Before I could say anything, one of the girls asked: “Broomstick or flying carpet?”
The late-night bus crowd once again turned its attention to me, waiting for an answer. Well, what the hell.
‘Flying carpet of course!” I responded.
Then I realized that the conversation was bigger than the four of us. Two or three other people also chirped up. “Ah, I knew it, good choice,” said one. “No, no, he’s got it all wrong, broomstick is much better option,” said a guy in a leather jacket.
“Why?” came the second question. They were all laughing by now, this had clearly been going on for a while.
“Well, I think it is quite clear. A flying carpet is much more comfortable to sit on, and, you can take a friend along for the ride!” was my response.
This caused the guy in the leather jacket to squirm a bit, perhaps thinking of himself on a broomstick, he stated begrudgingly “Yeah you do have a point there.” “But a broomstick is much more maneuverable,” countered one of the girls. “Plus, you can always seat someone behind you.”
“I still think the broomstick is much better,” said the other girl indignantly, clearly sensitive about the subject.
“Come on guys, Aladdin?” I asked.
“Oooh yes!! Aladdin!” I gained a few converts on the other side. Clearly the broomstick lobby had this debate all wrapped up before I got onto the bus. There were a few nods of approval from the audience.
“Quidditch!” the passionate girl retorted. “How could you forget Harry Potter?”
I laughed. Yes, how could one forget about Harry Potter. “So do you guys just do this for fun, get on a bus and start conversations with complete strangers?” I asked. “Better than riding the bus in silence, isn’t it?” they responded. There were chuckles of approval in the audience.
“I don’t think I can ever forget Harry Potter,” I continued. “Do you want to hear an interesting fact? I once played the role of Ron Weasly, in a Harry Potter-inspired play.”
“Which book was it?”
“Take a guess about where the play was held?” I asked them.
There was a short pause.
“Islamabad, Pakistan,” I completed the sentence. “Didn’t think that happened, did you?”
There were amused looks all around. “The global influence of Harry Potter!” two of the girls said excitedly.
I saw my bus stop emerge through the window. “Guys, my stop is here, but this has been a truly interesting bus ride. Next time, I expect to see you all on a flying carpet!” Several people in the audience burst into laughter, and just like that, a moment of impromptu communal enjoyment transpired.
So, what do you think, time to exchange the silver corolla for a flying carpet?