I'm sure because I'd never spoken to them, and because they never seemed to notice me. It's hard to notice me when I'm sitting two rows diagonally behind (always behind) in the bus. Actually, it's just very hard to notice me. I don't quarrel with the driver or engage neighbours in raucous conversation. I get in at the first stop, make my way to the back, and bury my nose in the Russian masters. The closest I had ever got to those two was when one day, the rain was so fierce that it blazed in through the cracks in the windows on my side of the bus. I had to stand behind them for the rest of the journey.
So how was it that I, a distant voyeur, consider myself part of that menage a trois, you ask. It's hard to explain, and I'm aware I'll come out looking like someone who needs less of an over-active imagination and more of a life (a pretty accurate representation, by the way). You see, the first time they spoke to each other, I was there. On the second day, when they wished each other, I was there. (All right, that doesn't quite work. I realise I better start elaborating.)
That day, she was wearing a red top. She had hair the colour of chocolate, the dark kind that is supposed to be good for you. Curiously, her hair was framed by one of those large and awkward headphones, instead of the sleek earphones everyone had these days. She was a little plump, but undeniably pretty. Of course, I had noticed this, but realistically, what am I to do about that? I go back to my gulags.
He, however, did something about it. I was already aware of his propensity to seek seats besides the ladies, even when there were entire empty 3-seaters available. He was a snaky little pinball, bouncing from slot to slot, trying to find the jackpot. I noticed how he, grey sweater and cargos, squeezed in beside her on a two-seater, and pulled out a book. "The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People". So at least he wasn't very effective yet, I mentally chortled. On the commune, Ivan Sergeyevich paused in annoyance for me to finish.
When I looked up again, the headphones were off, she had her head down and seemed to be (from where I was sitting) fiddling in her bag. I heard how it started.
"You want a pencil?", he asked.
She smiled: "Do you have one?"
"Sure. It's sharp, unlike me."
Ten minutes later:
"I usually start with each 3x3 block and then move to the rows", he said.
"Really? I take each row, then put down each remaining possibility".
"I'm sure you get messed up with the numbers. There's hardly any space in the margins. Instead, why don't you... um, can I show you?"
She handed him the pencil and the newspaper. She was smiling. You can look at the outline of a person's cheek in profile and easily tell if they're smiling.
This is how all little love stories begin, I said to Anna Andreyevna, as I closed the book and looked out at the drizzle.
The next day, to tell you the truth, I had forgotten all about them. I had had a late night and the Russians stayed in their dachas that morning. My eyelids only opened when the driver braked hard at the ineffectual's stop. This time, the space next to her was occupied, but - note dear little Petra, note Cupidski's little intervention - she was on the aisle side, and the 3-seater to her right had exactly one place left. He swung in on the edge of that seat, pulled out Covey (merely for cover, no doubt, he'd remained on page 3 yesterday), and turned ever so slightly to his left. I looked up at her at that moment, she (headphones on) serendipitously turned right, he looked right into her eyes. They smiled at each other, spontaneously. I did so too. It was a moment of pure romance-in-a-chance.
I don't know if it was that lucky threesome, but I felt I had been appointed guardian angel to the pair. So what if he needed self-help off a shelf? Or passionately sniffed out empty seats next to girls? Eros had left me in charge. Clearly, I was to play the appreciative referee at love-all.
Tatiana, I must confess. In between reading how Vladimir and you raised three fine children in the taiga, I tried to keep an eye on them, I really did. But then it looked everything was going well. For several months, a diet of sitting together, followed usually by a dessert of coffees in the company cafe, seemed to work wonders. He got her a pair of Sennheiser earphones, they plugged it in each morning, one ear per partner. I even heard her teaching him the lyrics to "Norwegian Wood". So I didn't quite realise when it was that they unplugged the music. I only noticed when one day, he plonked himself beside me, even though she had a vacant seat next to her. Her gawky headphones were back on. She looked out at the people outside fighting the puddles as it began to thunder down. Thanks again to the broken panes, he and I had to stand. I moved ahead to be by her shoulder, while he receded further into the bus.
I swear Pyotr, it wasn't a lost drop of rain spray. It sprang from her eyes and fell on her "Large Book of Sudoko Puzzles".
When you intern with the love gods, you have to learn how to handle liaisons going sour. How bad are we supposed to feel bad? I had to think what I could do under these circumstances.
It took me a while to make up my plan of action. It involved some shopping, but soon, I was ready. So Kolya, until that day, there were three of us in that relationship.
The next day, it was raining hard again. He came in, and purposefully ignored the vacancy next to her, sliding deep into the window seat on the opposite side, opening the long neglected Covey, resuming page 3. At that point, I bid farewell to the cossacks and arose.
"My seat's wet. Do you mind if I sit here?"
She shook her head and gestured to the seat beside her.
My bag was open and as I sat down, a couple of books fell out.
"Oh, your bag's undone".
"Ow!" I had hit my head on the handle in front of me as I bent down.
"Oof. Let me help you". She pulled up "An Illustrated History of The Beatles" (I hoped she wouldn't notice it was just a day old).
"Here. Are you OK?"
"I am, thanks for asking". I rubbed my forehead.
"And this." She handed "Sudoku for Dummies" (one day old). This time she was smiling. You know, it's far easier to tell when someone's smiling if they're looking at you.
"Don't worry, we all need a little help from our friends, don't we?", she said, with a twinkle. "Who's your favourite Beatle?"
"You're a Beatle-maniac too?", I asked, incredulous.
"And you need to throw that Sudoku book away - it's useless. See, what you do is, you start with the 3x3 blocks and..."
As I gave her my pencil, I couldn't help turn and look at him, wet and shivering (with cold? with anger?) by the window, glaring at us. Not everyone is fit to be a Guardian Angel, I suppose.
So babushka, now there was just the two of us in the relationship. Believe me, it's much easier to keep count that way.