Scary Self-Talker

terror text

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It started with the man in the seat across from me talking to himself, or so I thought, until I saw his ear buds and realized he was on the phone. A thin man in shades and a white button down shirt sat next to me. His right leg pushed into mine—yes, the man-spread—and then the right elbow into my left arm. I gave him a quick once-over, hoping he’d understand that meant “stop it.” He spread for a while, then unspread. Unlike most of the other commuters, he had no “occupation”: he wasn’t reading, talking on the phone, texting, doing makeup, clipping his nails, or perusing a newspaper or kindle. Then it began.

“Whatever you say, dear,” he said. It had an eerie quality to it.

I wondered if he was talking to me.

It was neither spoken in full voice nor a whisper.

I half-glanced in his direction, hoping to see a Bluetooth or ear buds, letting me know that he was on the phone. No Bluetooth or ear buds. His elbow bumped me again, but I let it go.

The muttering continued. I listened to Pandora radio on my iPhone, hoping to block it out. At the “tear drop” toll plaza, it gained momentum.

I had the sense that this man might be unstable, so I no longer even half-glanced in his general direction, fearing that he might lash out. I thought of the man on the Greyhound bus who decapitated his dozing seatmate. Did he have a knife?

I was afraid to doze off listening to music as I often do. Of course, this was nuts, right? Or not.

“If you see something, say something,” says the MTA, and NJ Transit advises us on billboards and the sides of buses to “text against terror.” Well, what do you do if you think your seatmate is a serial killer? I was trapped, a sitting duck.

I vowed to remain alert for the remainder of the trip. I scrunched myself into a tight ball so as not to offend him or let him think his thigh or elbow were in my way. That was no longer an issue. The issue was STAYING ALIVE.

Perhaps if he pulled something out of his back pocket, I could crawl under the seat in front of me or divert the weapon with one of the basic boxing moves my husband taught me.

It seemed we were stalled at the tear drop for an eternity, and my seatmate was not happy at all. The mumbling and shifting in his seat continued. If only I could see his eyes beneath the shades. Maybe I could reason with him, tell him my name so he viewed me as a person, not a potential victim.

If only we could pass through the tear drop. Finally, we were on our way. The muttering was less agitated. Phew! Perhaps he would spare my life.

When we arrived at Port Authority, he jumped out of his seat and forged ahead, which, as a rule, I find rude. Bus etiquette (unspoken) requires one to wait their turn to exit, meaning the people in the front row exit first and subsequent rows thereafter. In this case, I didn’t mind. The sooner he left, the better. Another white knuckle ride with NJ Transit.