Tomato Eater

I knew something was off about the guy from the moment he pulled out the tomato.

Look, who eats a tomato that way?  I know, it’s the Megabus, and when you’re paying just ten bucks for an all-night bus ride between states, you get what you pay for.  There are bound to be some crazies.  But here I am, sitting on the aisle seat halfway down the bus, and across from me one row up is some dude chowing down on a tomato like it’s a freshly picked apple.

I couldn’t avert my eyes as he happily took bite after bite out of this tomato.  I did swing wildly with my elbow, however, to alert my traveling companion.

After several blows from my arm, Janie, sitting next to me, finally opened her eyes with a grumble of displeasure.  “Zach, why are you waking me up?” she complained.

“Check this out!” I whispered back.  “This guy’s eating a tomato like an apple!”

When I pulled my eyes away from the sight to look at Janie, I caught her in the middle of an eye-roll.  “So what?” she asked.  “You eat pickles, and I can’t stand those things.  Maybe the guy just likes raw tomatoes.”

I couldn’t believe that she wasn’t appreciating this incredible performance by a wild humanoid.  Now that I looked a little closer, the man didn’t seem otherwise unusual.  He was wearing a rumpled grey suit that looked as if this wasn’t the first time it had been slept in.  He was in his mid-forties, I’d guess, with a pretty significant paunch extending to catch the errant drops from the tomato.

After the man had finished devouring his snack (which took surprisingly little time), he started gazing around the bus, the food boosting his alertness.  Most of the other passengers were asleep, since it was nearly midnight.  His eyes alighted on me briefly, but then slid onward.  They stopped on Janie, however, whose eyes were already sagging again.

“Hey, how’s it going?” the man said across the aisle to us in a stage whisper.  “Where you two headed to?”

Janie pulled her eyes open with a frown.  “Milwaukee, same as you,” she retorted.  “Same as everyone on this bus, in fact.”

The man didn’t seem disconcerted.  “Meeting a boyfriend there?” he pressed.

At this point, I thought that perhaps I should step up.  “Um, no, her boyfriend’s right here,” I inserted, indicating myself.  I thought maybe this would scare off the man.

His eyes returned to me blankly, but the comment didn’t seem to have registered.  “If you need a place to stay in Milwaukee, I can hook you up,” were the next words out of his mouth.  “I’ve got a double hotel room, and I’m happy to share.”

Janie looked at me for help.  I leaned forward, making sure that I was placing myself directly in the man’s vision.  “She’s not interested,” I said flatly.  “She’s already got a boyfriend, who will kick your ass if you keep on talking.”

For a moment, I wasn’t sure if these words were having any effect.  The man’s expression stayed blank, as if he wasn’t understanding what was coming out of my mouth.  Finally, after a long and uncomfortable pause, he sat back in his chair a bit.  “Okay, man, no need to get all upset,” he said before turning to face forward, away from us.

I stuttered for a moment, but Janie’s hand on my shoulder held back my retort.  “Maybe the guy is weirder than I thought,” she whispered to me.  “Maybe that tomato should have given it away.”

“At least we know now,” I responded, settling back into the seat so she could lean against me.  “If we see somebody eating a raw tomato, we should give them a wide berth.”

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