Sunday, 22 November 2009
"Love built on beauty, soon as beauty, dies" John Donne 1572 - 1631
I've always enjoyed traveling to work on the bus. A short brisk walk to the bus stop, a nod to the other regulars as I board, then an easy journey into town that deposits me just outside my office building. This was the only way for many years. That has changed now though, since I met Jim Harrison.
He got on a few stops before me and rarely occupied the same seat from one day to the next. I never noticed at first, certainly not until we sat together, that always just in front of him was the prettiest girl on the bus.
It wasn't long before I was sitting by his side on a regular basis. This put a bit of pressure on me as I liked to drift off into dreamland as I rode the bus. Not so with Jim! As soon as we were seated, out would pour his inane talk, on what was for me, the most boring subjects. I had to endure the winning goal at football, his opinion on women drivers, and some wisecrack about the government. Despite all this he had a charm about him that made it difficult for me to look for another seat. Whenever he winked and beckoned me as I got on the bus, I automatically sat by his side.
After a few journeys with him I noticed that apart from his mouth, his hands were busy too. While I was occupied watching the passengers board and alight from the bus, he was attending to the lass sitting in front of us. I stared in amazement the first time I saw him do it. He actually stroked her hair as he prattled on about scoring three strikes in a row at bowling. As my jaw dropped in disbelief, he added, "It's a wonderful feeling." I wasn't sure whether he meant the strikes or the girl's auburn hair. I was speechless.
On another trip, as we were settling down, he took a bolder step and just lifted a different girl's tresses, just to feel them in his hands. Do you know? She hardly noticed, probably thinking that he was merely brushing by her to get to his seat. I remonstrated with him when we were alone.
"Jim, you'll get your fingers burnt one day, get caught, and then you will be up on a charge for harassment." Jim showed no remorse. "Womens hair fascinates me. It's their loveliest feature. I just can't resist touching it."
He was very skilled at the game. The casual touch; lifting it slightly as though it were in his way; bending down to breathe in it's scent. I watched in awe at a master at work. All the time he talked incessantly; this was such a good cover. Who would believe the two men talking volubly about sport or politics would be up to such tricks. If ever she did notice and turn around, there I would be, a dupe to his activities, making any contact seem quite innocent.
He had no preference for colors. Blonds, brunettes and redheads all got the same treatment. Their hair had to be long though. The longer the better in fact. He confided in me once that he fantasised dating a girl with hair down to her waist.
Whenever he went overboard and made it obvious what he was doing, the fates once again were on his side. This was the case when a striking Eurasian girl sat in front of us. She had long, jet black hair, that spilled right over the back of the seat. She was a stunner. What a temptation for Jim! He couldn't wait to get his hands on her. Unfortunately he did so in such a way that she noticed right away and turned around almost at once. Jim was talking away as usual, this time, about a three car pile up on the freeway. She scowled not a Jim, but at me! I was so embarrassed, that I colored up immediately. Like a fool, I mumbled an apology stuttering, " Sorry, it was an accident," virtually admitting my guilt. Jim, meanwhile was doubled up with laughter in his seat.
As we got off the bus, I said, "I'm a married man , Jim. How could you do that to me? You really are going too far, getting me involved." He grinned cheekily. "Don't take it all so seriously. Couldn't you see she was flattered really, but she had to put you in your place."
"Put ME in my place." I almost shouted, while other commuters hurrying on their way to work, turned to see what all the fuss was about.
"You touched her, not me."
"But you got caught," he said with a smirk to finalise the conversation.
I was posted away from the city for a few months and when we returned I resumed the bus journeys into town. I didn't see Jim the first couple of days but finally caught up with him on the Wednesday. I noticed at once he behaved differently. For a start there was no girl sitting in front of him, and he was reading a Sue Grafton detective novel that I had recommended to him. His hands were fully occupied with holding the book and turning the pages. He was pleased to see me and asked about the trip. He told me of his own promotion and that he was now sharing his flat. I was surprised me as he was always so independent. I was itching to ask him where the latest pretty girl with long hair was, but the two passengers in front were not talking and would hear anything we said.
On the walk to the office he announced he was engaged. I raised my eyebrows in disbelief, but managed to quickly cover my surprise. "Hey! Well done." I said. Then quickly added, "I bet her hair reaches right down to her ankles." He shook his head. "I was a fool chasing after that dream. Do you know, every girl I dated with long hair was a pain in the butt."
I couldn't believe my ears, but he went on. "Hair can put a real dampener on romance. If it wasn't the shampooing , the drying or the brushing, it was some other damned thing. I never realised how much money they spend on that part of them. Every girl I went out with had the sort of hair that demanded attention, whatever we did."
"But you were obsessed with it." I said. "Didn't you say to me, that in the look. the touch, the scent of a woman's hair was true perfection."
Jim shook his head, as though it wasn't him who had said those words, but explained. "Of course I could expect some inconveniences, but what capped it all was not the time spent preparing the hair before going out or not being able to go swimming because of her hair had to be protected. It was something more personal." I looked at him sideways as we walked to work.
"Yes, you know. When you are close together, and getting romantically inclined. Naturally I'd be stroking her hair and before long she would be saying, 'Careful, Jim, that you don't get it tangled.' He continued, "I'd be bent over her kissing her nose or something, and she would come out with, 'Watch it, Jim, you're leaning on my hair'". Luckily, I managed not to laugh. So Jim carried on.
"I realised what an impossible fantasy I had, when one evening I had this real beauty with me. We were sitting down, you know, just touching and talking, when she reached back, undid her hair and let it fall all around her. This I thought was paradise. It flowed over her shoulders, down her back, followed the line of her breasts, I really was in seventh heaven. But then when we came close to each other, her movement caused her unrestrained hair to form a tent with her inside, and me on the outside. I couldn't see her face. I could hardly see the rest of her. I was like making love to a yeti."
This time I couldn't resist laughing out loud. Jim laughed too. "So, you see I've changed," he said.
He then showed me a photo of his Maria. She was a delight. She was small and had dark eyes, with an impish face and smile. And her hair? Well it was even shorter than that of Jim's. It was styled in a severe urchin cut. I looked at Jim. He grinned back at me."Well, that's life," he said. "She's a beauty, the best there is."
I believed him.
Illustration from postcard of Juliet by Angelo Asti c 1900