A few years back The Mrs. and I ran an experiment. Actually, “The Experiment” was forced on us by our economic situation which was our way of telling other people that we were dirt poor. Don’t be mislead by the word “were” in that last sentence because we still are. But back then, we were as poor as two orphan twins sharing one pair of pants.
When our car situation got dicey we decided that I was going to start commuting to work on the bus. Yeah, sad ’cause no one else in the world rides the bus but me, right? Um, not so.
In my egotistical, youthful mind, nothing said “you’re poor” like riding the bus. But I had to take one for the team; swallow my pride, put a bag over my head and hop on the bus. And to prepare myself for that dreadful moment knowing that it was going to be worse than that time I got caught staring at that girl I had a crush on in fourth grade, I had to psyche myself up. I had to get myself into the zone so that when I stepped onto public transit like the rest of the beggars I would be okay. I would meld into the fabric of life woven by the other losers who could not afford a fancy sports car or a lifted truck.
I got my blood running that night by envisioning a young Kenyan villager, running across the Savanah, his feet blistering from the heat of the desert sand as he tried to outrun lions…and other Kenyans. And I had to tell myself that my life as the peasant riding the bus could be worse. Whatever. No worky.
The morning dawned and I heard a chorus of sad sobs coming from my own mouth as my wife dropped me off at the bus stop. Everyone who was already standing at the bus stop gave me a look. A look that basically said, “How pathetic is this guy? His wife is dropping him off?” I fully expected the beefy guy in the white-ish dress shirt and Utah Jazz necktie to ask me if my wife had packed my lunch too, but he didn’t and I’m glad. I would have gone ghetto on his buttocks!
The bus adventure turned into quite an educational experience. And an entertaining one as well. I began having conversations with the regulars like me. I never learned their names but I knew their lives, their passions and their families. I gave them pet names like Mary Popp-Its. She was a slight woman. An immigrant from El Salvador whose husband had abandoned her and their four young children shortly after arriving in the United States. I called her that because when she walked her sneakers made a distinct popping noise. She always offered me food. She was very generous and thoughtful.
There was Rico Swandive, a young man from Pakistan who had an affinity for hair gel, never buttoned the two top buttons of his faux silk shirts and missed the last step getting off the bus the first time I saw him landing in a pile of gel, teeth and gold chains on the sidewalk as the bus pulled away. Rico must be providing the brain power for a large corporation somewhere today because when he wasn’t asking me questions about my family, he always had his nose in a book emblazoned with words like Physics and Mathematics.
I had frequent conversations with Stormin Mormon. He read the Book of Mormon every morning and feverishly shuffled through his Sunday lesson materials on the ride home. We got off on the same stop and even worked in the same office complex (different companies) but the guy was a sprinter in a business suit! I’ve never seen a guy walk that fast in loafers. He was a kind man with a kind smile and a positive outlook on life that he often shared with me.
For two years I rode the bus until I was laid off from that job and the bus route no longer accomodated my schedule at my new job. I woke up one morning realizing that I would probably never see those people ever again. But they shared a part of my life and they taught me a lot about myself. I had judged them and I people like them who rode the bus. I judged them harshly only to be put in my place by their kindness, generosity and good nature.
That lesson became equally important later in life when my younger brother Tusigafa (he was well known by his middle name Kepi), was released from prison and he couldn’t find a job because of his past. I was biased of course but no one really knew the person he really was, only the person they assumed he was. Yes, he had made some serious mistakes, hence the time spent behind bars. But I always hoped that people would give him the chance to reveal who he really was, not the heavily tattooed guy with long hair, the tabacco stained fingers and limited corporate vocabulary.
He would have been 34 years old today. He was every bit as generous as Mary Popp-It, as street-smart as Rico Swandive was book smart. Like Stormin Mormon you couldn’t keep up with him. And he had a quick smile, a huge heart and he wanted to fix others before he tried to fix himself.
We all miss him dearly. My sister wanted me to write something about him. But it evolved into a self-revelation about the things in his character that I lack. Like the bus experiment, I’ve tried in earnest to remove the pride from my heart that my brother never had in his. I wish he was here, but I’m reminded of him often when I see the good in other people.
Happy Birthday Tusigafa Kepi Matua – Always in our thoughts. Never forgotten. We’ll meet again some day. Ia tu Ioeva i lo tatou va!