The metal box

Most days, I step outside and up into a long metal box that hums. Once inside, I find myself a place to sit quietly for the next half hour. 

The metal box continuously stops and starts, each time adding more people. Most sit but some stand. No one speaks. 

Someone will sit down next to me. I don’t know them and they don’t know me but there we sit, in silence. There’s not really a lot of room, so we try our best to angle ourselves away from each other. This is when having a seat with a view comes in handy. I turn myself towards the outside of the metal box and gaze at the city passing by. 

To help us refrain from speaking and ensconce ourselves deeper into silence, many of us don a pair of headphones; the kind that “cancel” the world around you. This helps us block out others more diligently. Within our headphones we can create our own separate narrative. Listen to our own radio show that tells us what we want to hear.

We are silent and we are deaf, inside this metal box. 

As more people climb in, we become crammed. We try not to touch. We are strangers and need to keep our distance.

We actively avoid eye contact. We’ll look at anything we can, except one another. Again, this is when having a seat with a view comes in handy. Otherwise people will take a small glowing screen from their pocket and, using their thumb, stroke it endlessly to pacify themselves. If all else fails, we’ll close our eyes and pretend to be asleep.

We are silent, deaf, and we are blind inside this metal box.

Lately we’ve taken to covering our faces while inside the metal box. People have a strip of fabric that covers their nose and their mouth. Because of this, we can no longer smile awkwardly if we accidentally break the social protocol. Remember: no touching, no talking, no eye contact.

We are silent, deaf, blind, and we are faceless inside this metal box.

People sit in the silence for different amounts of time. Whenever the metal box stops, it’s an opportunity to get off but how long you stay aboard is dictated by your employer. My allotted time: five hours a week: thirty minutes, twice a day.

When the time does come to exit and step out again into the world, we must do one thing before we go: acknowledge the operator.

And so, as I step down onto the pavement at my final stop, I’ll raise my hand and utter the appropriate daily incantation, “Thank you, Bus Driver.”

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