Taking the bus is fun, when it isn’t something you have to do. Until the other day, before the stupid transmission in my stupid car decided to keel over and drop dead, I didn’t need to take the bus. Buses were something I drove past or got stuck behind when they stopped to pick up a passenger. But now, buses are a necessary part of my commute. Three buses to be exact, because that’s how many it’s going to take to get all the way to work.
I’ve been waiting at the bus stop in the cold, dark of early morning for twelve minutes when my second bus comes rolling up. I climb aboard and greet the driver. I scan my bus pass and turn to scout out a seat. I’m on autopilot; it’s too early in the morning to be firing on all cylinders.
That is, until I see her.
Sitting at the very back of the bus, curled in the left corner facing the window is a girl. A girl that makes me freeze in place mid-step.
I can’t take my eyes off of her face, her face that is absolutely, overwhelmingly perfect. Big, brown eyes, bronze skin, a sharp, perfect nose, and her lips . . . I feel like someone has reached into the furthest reaches of my subconscious mind and composed her face from my dreams. There is no light show, the ground doesn’t move underneath me, time doesn’t stand still. In the real world nothing changes. But my world shifts on its axis. Nothing makes sense anymore, because it is impossible that I could have existed without ever having seen such a face as hers. This is the opposite of an allergic reaction. This is it, this is that moment people dream about, that moment people sing songs and write books about. This is what happens when a life is permanently altered in a single moment. This is destiny converging onto itself. This is critical mass, I have just met the one.
Except, I haven’t met her, I’ve only just seen her.
And she’s the only thing I do see. There are at least eight other people on the bus, but I don’t see any of them. Without raising a hand or moving a muscle, she has raided my mind, commandeering my senses and absconding with my very soul. She’s like a black hole, a singularity; undeniable, inescapable, irresistible.
The bus lurches into movement, and I’m momentarily snapped out of the shock. I stagger toward the back of the bus, closer and closer . . . only to fall into a seat diagonally across from her, on the other side of the bus. All the while my eyes never leave her face.
As the bus pulls off I begin to notice the rest of her. There are massive headphones resting atop her head. They’re the over-the-ear variety, the ones that envelope the entire sides of your head almost like a helmet. She wears a grey beanie hat pulled low on her head, with only the barest wisps of slick black bangs sweeping sideways across her forehead. She’s wearing a black leather jacket and a hoodie underneath with the sleeves pushed up to her elbows. She’s got one foot resting on the armrest of the seat directly in front of her, the other dangles just off the floor because she isn’t quite tall enough to reach it. She’s off in her own world, bobbing her head to whatever it is she’s listening to, occasionally mouthing the lyrics. Every now and again something outside will catch her eye, and she’ll stare out the window for a few seconds before slipping back into her rhythm.
Her eyes flitter across the rows of seats and meet mine. I jerk my head away and pretend to be looking out the window. I’m still watching her though, out of the corner of my eye. She’s looking down at her phone now, and she’s biting back a grin.
A grin? Why would she be grinning?
It’s not because of me. It couldn’t be because of me. Why would it be because of me?
Her smile. She’s got one of those smiles that says she knows something you don’t, like she’s in on something and she’s waiting for you to catch on to it.
I’ve brought a book with me, something to pass the time. I don’t even bother opening it. I’m watching her again. I don’t care who else sees me watching her as long as she doesn’t. My heart beats so hard and so fast I feel like there’s two of them in my chest. I have never, not once in my entire existence, felt something like this before. It’s something primal, elementary, from deep within me. It makes no sense. I don’t know this girl at all, and I’ve only been aware of her existence for less than five minutes. But how those five minutes have altered me! I can’t think of anything else, or anyone. She is the world itself. Anything else is just a distraction.
I’m not sure that it’s even physical. I mean, her body isn’t the first thing I notice, or even what I notice at all. She isn’t – as far as I can tell – curvy or voluptuous. She doesn’t look like some runway model either. I can’t isolate or pinpoint the one feature that makes me so dizzy in the head. Because it isn’t just one thing. It’s her. All of her, everything she is, whatever she is.
Whoever she is.
It’s something intangible, something I’ve never felt before. Every fiber of my being aches for her.
It isn’t sexual. My mind conjures up none of the fantasies that often accompany the sight of an attractive girl. In fact my mind can’t conjure anything at all. I’ve sputtered to a standstill.
It’s starting to get lighter outside.
I should say something. But what?
Hello. Hello’s innocent enough. Why wouldn’t I say hello? People say hello all the time. It’s polite. It’d be rude of me not to say hello. Good manners demand that I say hello.
No, hello’s too formal. Besides, what happens after I say it? She says it back and we go back to ignoring each other? I couldn’t bare that. But we’re complete and total strangers, and she’s sitting on the other side of the bus. What if she doesn’t hear me the first time? Do I wave until she notices me? Just to say hello, that’s a bit desperate. That might annoy her. She’ll think I have something to tell her and I won’t, and she’ll think I’m strange, or crazy. Or both. Or neither. Maybe she’ll think I’m quirky, and maybe she goes for quirky guys, and maybe she’ll want to keep talking to me. Maybe she’ll scoot over here so we can talk. Maybe she won’t mind if I come over there.
Or maybe she’ll see that I’m a colossal dork with a quasi-crush on a girl I don’t know from Eve and that five minutes ago I didn’t even know existed.
Yeah, probably the last one.
What if she has a boyfriend? What if that’s why she was smiling earlier? What if he just sent her a cute little text, told her some sweet little something? What if she blows me off?
She’d be right to think I’m crazy. Maybe I am. Maybe I’m crazy for her.
Lame. That was lame. I’m no good with coming up with sweet somethings, like the ones her boyfriend sends her. The boyfriend I’m not even sure she even has.
My gosh, I am crazy.
The bus is going up a hill now. We’re at the bridge now. Which means this ride is almost over and I’m going to get off and she’s going to stay on and I’ll never see her again.
What if she gets off too? That’d be so great. What if we end up catching the same bus again? We’d have to cross the street together, wait at the bus stop together. I’d absolutely have to talk to her then. Heck, it’d be awkward not to talk to her then.
I hope she gets off when I do.
My stops getting closer. We’re over the bridge now. Two more blocks until I get off. The sun’s basically up now, flashing yellow rays across through the windows. I’m watching her again. My gosh she’s amazing. I’m so creepy. I hope she doesn’t think I’m creepy. Of course she doesn’t. Because she hasn’t even noticed me. At least I’m sure she hasn’t. What if she has? What if she’s suffering as much as I am, dying to talk to me, just to know my name, to say hello? Does she think I’m cute? Does she even go for guys like me? Does she even go for guys? Geez, I hope she does, on all counts.
One more block. One more block until we go our separate ways. I can’t do this. Because as terrible as not knowing is, it beats knowing rejection any day.
The bus bumps along, carrying me inexorably toward our separation. I feel like I’m being led to my execution. I can see my stop now, looming like a guillotine in the distance. I reach up and tug the wire. The stop alert dings clear and sharp, like a death knell. This is it. I glance over to the girl. She’s oblivious.
The bus begins to slow, and I watch her, desperate for any sign that she’s about to get off with me. She just stares out the window. She isn’t getting off. Cold dread envelopes me like a soggy blanket. This is it. The end. It’s over.
My breathing picks up as the bus screeches to a halt to let me off. I force my arms to gather my things, and my legs to slide out of my seat.
Say something . . . say something!
I feel the last chance, the final opportunity I’ll ever have to speak to this glorious being who brought light to my darkened world slip away. I step toward the bus doors and find myself outside in the open again. I feel exposed, alone, and shaken.
The bus lurches into motion. I watch from the curb, trying to spot her face through the glare of the windows as they slide past. At the last instant I catch sight of her. I will that image into my mind. I can’t let myself forget. It feels like I’ll die if I do.
And then the unthinkable happens.
In the split second before the bus whips past me, our eyes meet. And the barest hint of a smile touches her lips.
And then, she’s gone.
I’ll never know her name. I’ll never know who she was, or where she was going. I’ll never know what it was that made her smile. But I do know one thing. I know that somewhere, out in this world, there is a girl, a girl who changed my life, and she did it by doing nothing at all . . .