Every morning, there is a girl who boards the 7:43 bus going southbound on Chateau Road. She’s dressed very nicely, in heels and a business skirt made of polyester. Her hair is long and combed and she is likely named Emily, or Madeline, you know, something sweet and gentle. She lights a cinnamon candle every other weekend.
Part of her routine (apart from the candles and such) is to browse the internet in the morning on the way to work (seeing as she doesn’t need to pay attention to the road, since the bus driver is kindly providing such a selfless service). Emily, therefore, catches up on her friendships, wishes some happy birthdays, likes a photo or two of Eric (her recent crush), who last night went to a Flounders game (since they were in town). Emily studied urban planning at a university near a river and now designs algorithms that mitigate metropolitan traffic based on a steady flow of information gathered at downtown crosswalks.
Since Emily has to catch up with so many friends every morning, she rarely has the time to look up! And before you know it, the 102 meets the red light on Jayanti street, propelling Emily straight into her office building and onto her favorite plaid desk chair.
She is cozy in that chair.
This morning, however, something very peculiar stumbled onto Emily. Just as she finished tagging the last ‘w’ of a very long ‘aww’ on her first-grade teacher’s new profile photo (a darling shot of her daughter dressed to the nines at the Christmas orchestra recital), a bizarre gentleman with light gray scruff and a funny umbrella sat down next to her.
At this moment in time, time itself did that funny Houdini disappearing act and held its breath under a glass ocean.
And nothing made a sound.
And all the leaves on all the trees turned their attention to the corduroy red vest in Emily’s not-so-unoccupied neighboring seat.
And nothing continued to make not a sound.
And the quirky ensemble of blue sneakers and pinstripe dress pants on this strange man clashed like the timpani of a Rockefeller symphony, and yet absolutely everything was as silent as an elf, suspended like snowflakes in humid air.
Emily blinked twice.
Suddenly the wheels of the bus turned over like jelly donuts and everyone inside caught their breath again. Poor Melinda Cobbler lost her Tic-Tac in all the gasping, sending her into a fit of wheezes. Time-stops are rather ungentle with the elderly. And the near-sighted fellow with the case of the mid-December sniffles nudged right into Emily’s left shoulder, semi-accidentally.
“Oh, sorry there. Pardon.”
Emily looked up.
“Right, I’m sorry about the shoulder nudge! I didn’t mean to get your attention. Well, that’s not what I meant, rather–“
“No no no, it’s quite alright!” she responds, with a slight giggle.
And back to the photograph of the prodigal violinist she goes, her thumb hovering over that fifteenth ‘w’, the one with the most sentiment, after all. Crunch crunch crunch, sings into Emily’s left eardrum, crunchity crunch crunch crunch. From the corner of her eye she spots the man’s rapid jaw gnawing through the morning’s batch of salted almonds.
“Oh pardon again. I’m racing today!”
Explains the sneakers. What an odd man, Emily thinks, her gaze trickling down into her phone. But right before she presses ‘post,’
“Would you like some?”
Emily looks up.
“Almonds, I mean. Here, they’re scrumptious!”
“Oh no no, thank you. I’m quite full.” she responds again, this time without a giggle.
“You know, squirrels are nature’s greatest foragers! They can survive an entire winter on nuts alone.”
Nuts, Emily thinks. Nuts is exactly right.
“And when all the snow melts, well. Sometimes a squirrel just plain forgets where he buried all those acorns. And so grows the forest! Now ain’t that something?”
Emily’s thumb hovers viciously above the glowing screen.
“Do you have a glass of water?”
“Excuse me? A glass of water?”
“Salty leads to thirsty!” says the man, shaking the ziplock bag.
“I’m sorry, sir. But no.”
And turning away into the window, Emily slips back into cyberspace, into her routine. The lowly rumble of traffic eases her mind and washes out the chewing of her outlandish encounter. Soon enough, she forgets entirely that anyone else is on the bus at all. Mrs. Cobbler is still coughing into her petticoat.
Emily snaps her neck back to the man, only to find he has opened his banana-yellow umbrella in the walkway of the bus. Washed red with embarrassment, her eyes dart to her lap. Bonkers, she thinks, this fellow is truly mad.
“Does anyone on this bus have a glass of water?” sings the gentleman in the blue sneakers, spinning his umbrella above a befuddled crowd of busfolk.
“I would much enjoy just a sip of water!”