First Place – Rebecca P. (11-12th grade category)

First Place – Rebecca P. (11-12th grade category)

I Assume Her Name is Chloe – Rebecca P.

On Tuesdays and Thursdays she would a read a book, always a best seller, always a new one, always halfway through. On Mondays and Fridays, she’d be clutching a lunchbox; she’d look around for a  minute, then lean back on her bus seat and fall asleep. On Wednesdays, she looked out the window staring blankly, a weekly meditation complimented by a stiffness I had seen in few others.

She only ever allowed herself to relax at a certain level of exhaustion. Otherwise, she wouldn’t show any expressions, having recognized that buses are full of keen observers and cruel people like me, who leech our energy from catching the occasional giggle and spotting the offhanded sigh.

She was a worn out thirty-something; having found a lucrative government job, the opposite of the kind of person I’d expect to be in shatters. But sometimes, she’d snap. More than once, I caught her on the phone, relinquishing her hold on some already flimsy part of her life. I sometimes thought she meant for me to listen to her, just so that someone could witness her overwhelmed with pure, raw and unfiltered emotion.

On the last day I saw her, she was clutching her lunchbox as if it held all her worldly possessions. It might have. She preferred not to carry a purse, at least when she could get away with it, and lunchboxes were a perfect replacement. The pastel colored oranges on its print fell into a sweet floral pattern, one I’d seen mirrored on her various pencil skirts and blouses throughout the past year. It was the last day of the school year, the last time my punctuality would be determined by a bizarre pas de deux of bus schedules and downtown traffic.

It was the fifth time I’d made eye contact with her. I’d been looking at her for several minutes, and she had caught me staring. By this point, she had grown accustomed to my style of observation. I said nothing and just smiled. At this point we had acknowledged each other’s existence more than once— the definition of transportational camaraderie. I let the smile fade slowly from my face, and looked back down at the floor.

The next September, I boarded the bus that corresponded with my new schedule. I saw that it was empty, save a few coat-bundled and faceless travellers, buried in their thoughts, determined to avoid my attention. She wasn’t there, and I had no idea what to do with myself. The bus was hollow, barren, and dull. It stayed that way for a long time, and she didn’t ever see me again.