A crumpled cardboard sign lies at his feet, something is scrawled on it. Occasionally he turns about, addressing a pedestrian; none acknowledge him. His ranting grows more impassioned, his gestures grander, the longer you watch him. He pauses occasionally for effect, in a professorial manner stroking a beard that looks as if it’s made of cigar ash, with his other hand a fist pressed against his hip and pulling back an overcoat bearing the satiny sheen of of caked-on dirt; sometimes he nods with pursed lips, as if to punctuate some earnest and frank aphorism; he sighs as if having unloaded a weighty truth.
You can’t help yourself; you move in closer to try to catch what he’s saying. Bits of it come through the crashing, rising and falling sound waves of traffic and the continual hum of everything else: “…representation; representation not of reality–no! Representation of representation…” he repeatedly reaches a climax of excited declamation, then falls back to a quiet, musing tone, gradually ascending until reaching the next peak, against which the flood of his thoughts spends itself like a crashing wave, and back again, on and on, important-sounding and nonsensical: “…closed to the real; not an alternative, no; a refutation…” Everything is so very important, so vital, so much the release of concentrated and long restrained energy that you think at any moment he will simply blast off from his feet, whistling and spiraling in a failed arc like an errant firework, to smash himself against one of the buildings nearby.
He sees you watching him; his eyes somehow grow even more intense; he is delighted, enlivened anew, as he addresses you directly. You are across the broad and busy boulevard from him, but, unnerved, you find yourself stepping back slightly, alarmed and repulsed but more curious than ever.
He breaks into a chant. He is increasingly agitated now, from all the way across the street you can see that he is trembling. You can’t hear him, the wind-noise of the traffic seems to be coming out of his mouth as he repeats a single word over and over. Pedestrians are starting to notice him now, people are watching him warily as they hurry past behind him, cutting him a wider swath. He is leaning back, as if to give his words a higher trajectory to carry them farther, leaning back dangerously, deliriously, until finally he falls to the ground, and your stomach contracts in response to the crack of his head against the pavement.
Now a few people have stopped; most are merely staring; one man is kneeling near the fallen man. You move toward him reactively, without thought, stepping off the curb; as your foot lands in the street it somehow makes the sound of a foghorn; how odd, you think in the fraction of a second within which this occurs. But the sound is not coming from the ground, it’s coming from the side; still held within this clear, surreal pixel of a moment, you turn to face the noise.
The bus is so large, so impossible, you think that you are hallucinating; because if it is that near, coming that fast, it can only mean…
There is a flash of white, followed by a freeze-frame snapshot, the photo-finish produced by billions of synapses in unison sounding their last alarm, of what you know is your final glimpse of the world: the driver’s mouth in a little o, obscured behind the sunlight reflecting off of the big, flat windshield, and the destination sign above it. In this boundless split-second of final consciousness, only vaguely aware that you’re tumbling headlong in space, you realize the word over the windshield is familiar, and another realizaton follows, as now you find you’re reading the lips of the street corner lunatic after the fact, because this is the word he was repeating; it’s not possible, it simply cannot be, but there it is in black and white, printed on the brow of the bus that is bearing down on you: