An Encounter at the Greyhound Station

I was told pretty often to not travel by Greyhound. I travelled by Greyhound from Houston to New York City eventually. It wasn’t to spite these people or prove myself, but for the simple reason of cost. Besides, Greyhound buses these days have power sockets and free wifi, how bad could it be? I had rides for as long as twenty three hours. Instead of looking at it as torture to be endured or boredom to be dealt with, I viewed it as an opportunity, an opportunity to lose myself in my thoughts, write, sleep, organize my photos, etc. In fact, I looked forward to it. Such time is precious. Don’t people always complain how they have no time to write their journals or caption their photographs?

On my way to Asheville (NC) from Charleston (SC), I had an eleven hour overnight stopover at Columbia. Since I didn’t want to leave my bags unguarded, I didn’t sleep all night and just waited for the Chic-fil-a to open at 6:30 in the morning. Gingerly caressing my grumbling stomach, I summoned the last reserves of my strength to lift up my two backpacks. As I rounded the block, a man came up to me. He was African-American, not much taller than five and a half feet, and had an amiable look on his face. I was used to people being a lot more friendly in USA than in India on an average, and so it happened that we started talking. And then walking.

We complained about Greyhound, the early morning cold, prices of things, and Greyhound. He had missed his bus, and was now waiting for the same one I was to take.

“I had half a can of beer and I was like woooo… I passed out at the station and missed the dayam bus.”

“Half a can?” I looked at him. Nobody passes out after just half a can!

“Yeah… I got outta prison ‘couple a days back,” he laughed and produced an ominous looking prison ID for my inspection. “After twenty-four years. Couldn’ hold it back man.”

I didn’t know whether to laugh, be shocked, be nonchalant or run away. I chose nonchalant.

“Wow, it must feel good then?”

“Oh it’s great! I mean, look at ‘em cars! And is that a mobile phone in your hand?”

I hadn’t even thought about the fact that this guy must have missed the rise of the internet, smartphones, cars, and a million other things. He had been in prison longer than I had lived. It was as if he’d been in a time capsule. The world at that point of time must have been unbelievably alien to him. I noticed him looking at little things we take for granted and breaking into childish grins. The last of my apprehension suddenly melted away to be replaced by this incredible curiosity. I was hungry for an insight into his daily life at prison, what he thought of his surroundings, and what his plans were now.

We walked all the way to Chic-fil-A, where I decided to buy him some breakfast. It must have been an odd table for a third person to observe, a black man sitting with a young Indian (the age difference obvious), and having perfectly normal conversation. It was an interesting perspective, one coming from a man who was more confused in the world than a ten year old, and yet blending with one coming from someone who was hardened and solidified by twenty-four years in prison, living amongst killers and violators (I later gleaned from him that he was in for twice breaking into a particular building and safe). In that one hour, I learnt that cigarettes in jail went for as much as ten dollars, that he had three kids (the youngest of which had been born when he was thrown in, which meant she was now twenty-four!), that his father died just two weeks before he was released from jail, and that he could barely remember what his mother looked like.

People’s faces reveal various degrees of horror and incredulity when I tell them this, but one thing I learned from my seemingly indefinite Greyhound journeys is that as long as you treat people with friendliness and respect, and make it clear that you see them no different from yourself, chances are you’ll make a friend.

It’s futile for us to even try imagining what twenty four years in prison would feel like, and yet this man was so good natured and well meaning. His sole aim was to go back and spend time with his family and work on a farm. It was at that point of time that I realized what I travel for, and how I still believed so much in humanity and people actively thinking and realizing the importance of certain things in their lives. In fact, I even bought him a Lemonade after breakfast.