I take the same bus to school every day in the early morning. I used to sit in the same seat every time; its worn-out cushion had a little tear in the back of the right hand corner. This seat was next to a window, but I never bothered to open it or look out through it. I had other things to do.
The bus was always silent, except for the occasional snorer up front. I was this bus’s only regular rider, until an elderly couple joined me one day and every day after that. They sat in the same seats, two rows ahead of me and on the left, with him next to the window. Their hands were always intertwined, and they would look out the window together with her head on his shoulder.
Her marriage ring was made out of a bottle cap from a grape-flavored soda pop, and his ring had an orange on it. Their wedding was held one night years ago in the bakery where they worked, with the owner and a few customers in attendance. They took the train going from this small city to the next for their honeymoon. Years of hard work in a drying economy earned them no more than an uncomfortable, scratchy bed in their tiny apartment to sleep in at the end of the day. But that didn’t matter; their real home was with each other. He had promised her they would have a world of their own one day, just the two of them. They talked about going to France, but not to Paris because it would be too crowded. Maybe Chamonix, so they could hold on to each other for warmth, like they always have for the past sixty-two years.
She called me by a different name every day, always the name of flower. I’ve been a turnip, freesia, orchid and chrysanthemum, and many more whose names I could never pronounce, much less remember. She said people are like flowers. Flowers start out as little seeds planted in dirt, whether they like it or not, just like how people have to call this scary and unfamiliar place called Earth home from day one. They get stepped on, picked on, and torn apart, and end up fighting all their life to survive. One day, you have all your petals intact, and the next, you may just lose your closest family member. Nonetheless, we all will blossom one day into the beautiful flowers we are meant to be. Life is like that–fragile and delicate, yet strong and fertile.
I used to do homework assigned the day before on the bus because I figured I had more than enough time to kill, and I obsessed over beating little colorful monsters on my phone. My eyes looked down to my papers and games all the time. But she taught me how to look up. “How are you going to see the world if you look down all the time?” she said in a soft, gentle voice that came to become my blanket on cold, dreary days. “You die when you have nothing more to see. You stop blossoming.”
“Life is its own adventure, lavender. Don’t be too busy partying in your own world that you forget there is a life out here for you too,” she said, winking at me, though not quite succeeding, both her eyes closing and opening quickly. I “winked” back at her, quickly putting my mirror down. When she looked away, I hurriedly tied my hair into a perfectly messy bun. From now on, I told myself, I will not let what anyone says about my hair bother me.
I never learned her name. “You don’t need a name to remember me, do you?” she said, giving me one of her signature winks. I always got off before her, so I never knew where she went every day on this bus either. Whenever I did ask her, she would wave her hand and say, “Destination doesn’t matter, petunia. Count the steps on your journey.” Then she would look over at her husband, smiling, and squeeze his hand.
One day six months ago, she started going on the bus alone. Two rows ahead on the left no longer seated two people. She sat on her husband’s old seat next to the window. An orange bottle cap joined her purple one on her left hand’s ring finger. It was raining that day, but she kept her window open and looked out the entire time, allowing little droplets to water her gently creased face. Oddly enough, she was leaning against the windowsill. From that day on, she stopped talking to me. I went back to frantically doing homework on the bus, playing cooking games on my phone, fixing my hair twenty times because of what someone said to me yesterday, and sleeping because I spent all of last night going through my Netflix queue. My window stayed shut again.
On my seventeenth birthday, she spoke to me for the first time in six months. “Happy birthday, and never forget to see, hydrangea,” she said to me with a small pat on the head and a big smile before she turned to walk out the exit door. She got off a stop earlier than me that day. That was two weeks ago, three-hundred and sixty-three days after I met her. It had almost been a year since we met. Almost. I never saw her again after that.
Maybe she decided this bus was not enough for her imagination and dreams. Maybe she saw enough of the view from her seat on this bus because the window became too small, and it was time to move on since she could not blossom here anymore. I know that she must be in a better place right now where nothing will hold her back from unravelling all that the world has to offer. And I know the man she has loved all her life will be right next to her, taking all the same steps, watching all the same scenes.
I’d like to think of this seat, and this window, as her birthday present for me. I now sit in her seat every single day and watch the same scene she watched from the same window on every single bus ride. I can still see her aspirations, her dreams, her disappointments on every tree, every house, every store, but I know the view in front of me is different from hers. We can see the same crossroads but in different directions, same streetlights but with different timing. And all the people who sit on this same seat before or after me, with their briefcases and backpacks, will watch our scene through their own eyes. But only if they look up. They can see the world the way she saw it-mysterious and magical, meaningful and worthwhile. So this is what the world has to offer me, when I stop going through the motions and start living life.
I love it. And I never want to forget to see again.
By ANGELINE NG