Wednesday arrives and my only thought is that I’m looking forward to taking the bus at noon. I didn’t know there would be days like this—days when the only thing I look forward to is the bus, and the only positive thing I think about myself is that I have clean hair. A new month arrives and I realize that the last month passed in the wish that it would simply pass.
One summer I took the bus to work every morning. One day, I realized that the bus route had changed; the ride took longer, and the bus drove along different streets. I had become accustomed to the old route; every morning after I wondered about the lengthened trip while marveling at the unfamiliar houses and trees.
A girl often rode the bus at the same time as me. She looked about my age, and she always took the bus to the old people’s home. She sometimes fell asleep in her seat and startled herself awake exactly at the appropriate stop. She often wore ear buds while looking distractedly out the window. She usually carried a notebook, brown or light blue, in which she either read or wrote. She wore keys around her neck, which jingled when the bus went over a bump.
We gradually became aware of each other, without speaking or even greeting. Each shared bus ride was like a ritual, carried out according to established rules and customs. I always boarded ahead of her and sat with my hands folded in my lap, my head resting against the window, as she boarded. As she walked towards her seat, we sometimes caught each other’s eyes; however, it was customary—and indeed required—to break eye contact. Speaking was absolutely prohibited, but it was quite permissible, actually expected, to acknowledge one another secretly and to devote attention to that moment.
The girl slumped half-asleep in her seat, and the keys around her neck jingled over the bumps. When we came to her stop, she sprang to her feet and hurried off the bus, in her haste, leaving her notebook behind. I snatched it up and bounded after her.
No sooner did I get off the bus and start up the sidewalk than I stumbled on a poorly-placed paver and fell onto my palms; the book, however, landed in the street. It lay open in front of me and before I knew it I had read the pages:
I didn’t know there would be days like this— days when the only thing I look forward to is the bus, and the only positive thing I think about myself is that I have clean hair. A new month arrives and I realize that the last month passed in the wish that it would simply pass. I wonder if it’s good for your skin to cry yourself to sleep every night.
I stood up and dusted off my knees. I had lost sight of the girl; the bus, too.
My footsteps echoed in the street, and my cigarette smoke curled up toward the blue sky. The notebook was in its place in my bag. I had handled the book again and again; its pages were covered with a tiny script, and doubtlessly full of secrets. But I hadn’t dared read it since the accident on the pavement.
I was sitting on the bus with my hands in my lap and my head resting against the window when the girl boarded the bus and looked at me. The bus came to her stop, and she got off; I followed her discreetly as she walked in the direction of the old folks’ home, and then I watched her disappear into the building.
I went in and found myself in an enormous lobby. There were high ceilings and wood-paneled walls. A painting of a ship in rough waters hung on one wall. An enormous chandelier hung from the ceiling. On the other side of the lobby, there was an entrance that opened into a dining area, a kitchen next to it. I glimpsed a few teenagers working in the kitchen. They were listening to the radio, fooling around and talking loudly, sitting on tables and laughing.
Suddenly, the girl came up the stairs from the basement and stopped right in front of me. She held a coffee cup; she was wearing slippers and work clothes that were too big for her, white pants and a salmon cardigan. She was obviously taken aback at the sight of me.
I have your notebook, I said hurriedly. The light blue one. You forgot it on the bus, and I’ve been waiting to bump into you so I could return it. When I gave her the book, her expression softened.
I really like notebooks, she said without looking at me.
The aroma of coffee rose from her cup.
Thanks, she said and smiled at me.
All of a sudden a teenager in the kitchen burst out: Oh I love this song! And turned up the radio. Two girls jumped down from the table onto the kitchen floor and belted out:
And if a double-decker bus crashes into us, to die by your side is such a heavenly way to die!
We contemplated the group for a minute.
I can’t stand teenagers, I said, just to say something.
I’m always going to be a teenager, she said.