She never minded riding on the bus, though many dreaded it. At all ages and all stages of life, they looked upon that public mode of transportation as one to deride and fear, not to mention be disgusted by. Who knew what could happen on that blue and white monster that braved the paved sea day in and day out? Who knew what exactly had passed through those aisles, sat on those very same broken-down seats?
The girl found it quite exciting, actually. It never got old; the dollar twenty-five she paid every morning was completely worth the ten-minute ride over to the Hampton Charter School. The blue mushroom tops of the seats, the silver streamline of the poles, the harsh brilliance of the fluorescent lights. Every day, it was always the same. Ten years of riding the bus to school on her own, and still she found it amusing.
As she stood in her standard place near the back of the crowded bus, she would daydream about the people sitting around her. How was the old man who ran the downtown bookstore faring with his family? He probably spent the night on the couch again, she thought, as he rubbed his neck every few seconds. But why? What was the cause of that fight, in any case? Perhaps his wife was sleeping with her coworker again. What about the Latina woman who sat staring out the window? What was she thinking? Was she reminiscing about the life she left far away over the border? Did she miss it? Was she even an immigrant? How could one know? And that quirky lawyer who sat at the very front of the bus, even though she wasn’t old or handicapped. Didn’t most lawyers talk on the phone almost constantly? What was she doing, resting her shiny black briefcase on her lap, staring off into space with glazed eyes?
All of these things the girl wondered for approximately seven minutes of her bus ride, until the giggling gaggle of girls she called friends swarmed on and turned calm into chaos. Their chatter filled the bus with noise, and the girl, normally quiet and introverted by nature, perked up to talk about the meaningless nothings of teenage-hood with them.
But her attention was never fully with them, no matter how hard she tried to stay engaged in their conversations. Her mind always wandered from the navy and gray uniforms over to the front of the bus, where he sat.
A lot of the time she made speculations about the others on the bus, but most of the time she thought about the man – he was too old to be considered a boy – who sat in the second row of seats, right by the plastic window. She wasn’t sure why she thought about him specifically, but she knew that something about him drew her in.
It was probably because he was so different from everything she had ever known. She was the type, who, when riding on the bus, sometimes fantasized about the germs that resided on the seats and railings. She hoped that maybe, if she sat on a certain seat, she would contract herpes. Obviously she knew that she couldn’t, and obviously she didn’t actually want a chronic venereal disease, but isn’t everyone allowed to dream? It would give her something to talk about, something to make her stand out from the back of the crowd, something to build a reputation off of. Maybe it would break the monotony of her perfect life with no siblings, no problems, and parents who loved her in the most gentle and supportive ways parents could. She could mix it up, create a little drama, start a life as a new person. Someone bad. That was who she was. Someone who wanted to be interesting.
And he? He was interesting, in every way possible. The clothes he wore were always different. One day he’d be wearing a black trench coat, the next he’d have a forest green pinstriped shirt and bright blue fedora. Sometimes he held or read a book, one with a provoking title and a picture of an author who looked equally intriguing. No matter what, his iPod was always in his ears – no doubt playing interesting music. Something alternative. His music taste was probably very eclectic.
He wasn’t really that attractive, but there was something in the way he held himself that emanated the idea that he was desirable. His bright blue eyes analyzed everything they lighted themselves upon. His black, unkempt hair and his rough, unshaved cheeks suggested a night was spent doing things one would like to hear about.
At least, she knew she would like to hear about them. She would die of happiness if he talked to her.
She always fantasized about him. Sure, there were other boys around, boys who were real and funny and attending high school just like she was, but they seemed so vapid compared to him. College boy. The term seemed so cliché, but at the same time, so attractive. He was someone mature, someone who knew or at least had an idea of where his life would take him.
He got on the bus at 7:36 am, in front of the coffee shop that was the stop right after hers. Where he got off, she had no idea, but the occasional sweatshirt he wore led her to believe that it must be at Riverside, a block away from the college.
Maybe today she would stay on the bus too late just to find out. Maybe she wouldn’t.
They didn’t know each other, but there was definitely something there. She could feel it, and she knew he felt it too, at least a little. He glanced over at her from time to time. They smiled at each other. At one time, he had almost been on the verge of saying “goodbye” when she got off the bus with her friends. But he didn’t.
She didn’t even know his name, but he was always there in the back of her mind. Her secret infatuation. Bus Ride Boy. The one who everything and anything could be possible with, if they just tried to make it work. She perked up every time he walked on to that bus in the midst of the early morning rush. She knew that someday, somehow, the two of them would have something. All it would require was just a little patience, and for the right time to roll around. On that day, she’d bravely leave her circle of friends and boldly stride over to him, shake his hand, and ask him if he’d like to see a movie. She would do it. She would. She was just waiting for the right day.
She never sensed that something was wrong on that first day that he missed the bus. Sure, she was a bit disappointed that he didn’t make it out that morning, but it wasn’t like it meant anything. Perhaps he didn’t have class. Perhaps he slept in. There were plenty of plausible explanations for why he wasn’t on the bus that morning. She kept her cheerful façade, though perhaps underneath it she was a little disgruntled.
But this morning, the girl doesn’t even bother trying to seem cheerful. Her friends talk more quietly around her, all of them dancing around the subject of what’s plaguing her. They know about her infatuation, and they know that he hasn’t shown up on the bus for the past week. Something must be up with him, but they are too afraid to ask the girl what it is.
She has seen the paper this morning, over a breakfast of cereal and mango juice, and she can’t shake the image from her head. It should be nothing to her, she knows, but she has carried the idea of him with her for so long that it had seemed inevitable to her.
She sits, for once, staring at the seatback in front of her with soulless eyes. How could it have happened, she wonders. And why was it necessary? What good would possibly come from this?
The part that kills her was that there had been a business card in his pocket when they found him. Call me, it said on the back. He was intending to give it to some girl, the police speculated, though they had no idea who it was. None of his friends knew of any girl who had caught his interest. “Jim was always a quiet guy,” they said about him. “He never talked about love much.”
Jim. Only now does she know his name.
It is 7:43 am when she and her friends exit the bus, a bit quieter today than they normally are.
Perhaps she will have brushed off the idea by tomorrow. Perhaps she will grieve for him for a week, or a month, or maybe more. Perhaps she will feel wrong for missing him when she was never close to him. Maybe she will attend his funeral, though she knows she has no right to be there. But maybe she does.
Maybe I’m just crazy. Maybe my mind just wanders a bit too much for it’s own good.Probably.
I pick up my black briefcase, straighten my spine, and step off the bus into the cool morning air.