Sunday, 4 March 2012

Waiting for the bus, part 1

T minus four minutesT minus two minutes

The time: 19:12:03 on a balmy autumn night.
The place: a bus stop at a busy road in the city.

A man can be seen walking towards the bus stop. He fits in perfectly with the commuter crowd: grey flannel trousers, blue shirt, black leather jacket. Carrying a leather briefcase in one hand and a couple of plastic shopping bags in the other. His gait is determined, yet betrays a certain absent-mindedness. He seems deep in thought as he approaches the bus stop sign. As he arrives, he appears to be reading the timetable. This seems to be taking him a rather long time, probably because he is thinking about something else.

Luckily for the impatient and curious reader of these sentences, its narrator turns out to be of the omniscient kind, or at least to have direct insight into the man’s consciousness, to which we now duly turn our attention.

The man’s thoughts concern his work. He is willing his mind to connect a multitude of facts into a coherent whole. The facts relate to his current project, which has to do with analysing people’s typing habits on mobile phones in order to deduce statistical facts about their buying habits, particularly as relating to hair-care products and luxury package travel. When one puts it like that, the man knows, it sounds vaguely ridiculous; but the fact is that he is enjoying his work, particularly the purely intellectual challenges it provides of trying to remember and apply theorems from elementary probability theory to the data they have gathered, while keeping in mind the likely constraints in computing power which will limit what can be done, never forgetting to balance the accuracy of the predictions with the constraints of schedule. Also, the input data from the mobile phones has some suspicious anomalies which may have to be corrected, if indeed a reasonable way of correcting them automatically can be found; or maybe the intern can be put to use in working through them manually.

These are the matters that have been occupying his mind ever since he has left work twenty-four minutes ago, including on his detour to the supermarket to shop for some groceries.

One and a half minute after the man has entered the invisible frame that leads into the cosy confines of our story, the man now realises that he has arrived at an impasse in his thoughts which can only be resolved by referring to some documents, which he resolves to do tomorrow morning. Having eased his iron grip on his mind, he now relaxes, lets out a small sigh, and starts to look around himself. The people around him are a mix of white and Indian-looking businessmen in suits, and youngsters of varying ethnicities and attire. His glance sweeps across each of them, taking in clothes, stance, features and expression – passing a quick and vague pre-judgement, to be revised instantaneously and minutely with each action, movement or blink of the subject.

As our hero is engaged in this pleasant and mundane activity, we must now leave him, shock-freezing his stream of consciousness until the spring of the next instalment.