She sat in the same seat every day. I sat across from her. Her backpack was set up against the side, her back resting against it. But she looked out the window, her brown hair shielding her face from view. Her headphones were plugged in, and throughout the ride her phone would buzz with incoming texts.
At her stop she was quick to get off. I don’t know where she stopped walking, only that it was uphill from the stop. Snow, rain, or burning sun, she would begin to walk, and continue until she was out of sight.
At first I was simply being observant, but that changed. One day I couldn’t help, but want to know more, and intervene if needed. That was the day I said hi.
At my words, she turned to me quickly, a small smile flickering across her mouth before she spoke her reply. It was almost silent, but I heard her hello back. And then she was gone again, walking up the road, again.
Her brief smile was beautiful lighting up everything inside her, but everything else showed pain. Her eyes were red, tears present on her cheeks. Her hair had been covering more of her face than normal, in an attempt to hide her broken state.
I didn’t know what had upset her, or how to help, but I wanted to find out.
The next day I found myself searching for her everywhere. In the hallways, in the cafeteria, anywhere I went in hopes of catching a glimpse of her. I didn’t that day, not until we were on the bus again.
I tried to gain the courage to speak again, but I couldn’t, not until she was leaving. I said hi and she whispered her hello back with the sweetest smile.
It became the tradition, most days she seemed happy, but slowly the tears became more and more present.
I found myself searching for her more persistently. I walked different routes to my classes, slower and faster. I would get up at lunch to wander. My mind was slowly being taken over by the mystery that was the girl.
I thought about speaking to her on the bus. Asking for her name, asking how she was, but I could never work up the courage to open my mouth. Not until it was almost too late.
Months passed by and I was nowhere closer to knowing her, or why she cried. Never venturing beyond our simple words.
It was the last day before winter break, the last day I’d see her for weeks. I kept opening my mouth to say something, I was determined to, but no sound would come out. Instead, I just sat there staring at her. It was a cold day, I had my winter coat on, but she only had her denim jacket, the same one she’d worn most days since the warmth of summer had disappeared.
For being done with finals, and free for a time, she seemed just as upset as she had many other days, if not more so. When she gathered her stuff quickly like any other day I finally was able to speak.
Happy holidays I told her. Her smile was briefer than normal, falling away as quickly as it appeared. With a whispered you too she was gone, leaving me hopeless to understand.
Throughout the break she consumed my mind, her sweet smiles, and sad tears haunting my dreams. I knew that the next semester I would have to do something.
On the first day, my dreams were realized. As I walked into my first class, she was there. Her head was looking down, onto her phone. Her hair concealed her features, but that was normal. She sat in the middle, not hiding in the back like many, but not eager to be in the front.
In front of me another girl had entered. She sat next to her and they conversed quietly for a while. I moved carefully, sitting in the back with only one desk between me and the girl whom I was always thinking of.
When it came time for attendance I listened carefully. No one else cared to, except for when their own names were called, but I did.
Ana. So simple, so perfect.
She never stopped smiling throughout the class. Listening when important, but giggling with her friend when the teacher stopped teaching. It was her, and yet the girl in front of me felt very different from the one I saw on the bus. This one was more perfect, but I didn’t know if it was real. I didn’t care if it was real, but I hoped, for her sake. I wanted her happiness to be real.
That day I asked my friends about her. Only one of them knew who she was.
She was a year younger, but smart. That’s why she’d been in my class. She was friends with a random lot, most of which I’d never heard of. She had been to most social events, but her friends from school were never with her. Instead, it was other people, and never the same for each event, always different. She seemed to get along with a lot of people.
She was in her seat when I climbed on the bus that day. She was texting like normal, but her headphones weren’t present, They were plugged into her phone, but just sat lamely on her lap.
Hey, I said. She looked up quickly, her eyes filling with joy. I'm John.
Ana, she told me. Her voice, soft and beautiful. I returned her smile, before sitting down. As I did she put her headphones in, and turned to the window. I watched her for a while, before she turned to me, flashing her smile. With my own we both turned away.
That day when she got off I said bye instead of hi and along with her own parting she gave me a small wave.
We continued like this for the next couple weeks. Saying hello when I arrived before she put in her headphones, and saying goodbye when she got off. She smiled more and cried less, but once or twice I could see slight hints of sadness.
It wasn’t until she spoke in class that it changed. That day when I passed her to sit down, in my self-chosen seat, she turned away from her friend and greeted me. Hi, John was all it took to wake me up from my morning dull. Hi, Ana was all it took to make her smile grow until it filled her eyes.
When I sat down I could hear her friend's giggles more evident that normal, and Ana’s face grew red just slightly. That made me smile. She began to turn to me during class, the smallest of glances to accompany her smiles.
Spring break was near when the next change occurred. Neither of us would make it. After our morning greeting, I began my short trek to my seat, but her friend spoke, stopping me. Sit, she told me. I answered her with confusion. She pointed to the empty seat next to Ana, along with some unheard explanation.
I only searched Ana’s face for approval. She looked at her friend reprimandingly, but when she turned back to me she just smiled, her cheeks tinted red. I took that as an approval and sat.
We didn’t speak directly, but I could feel her proximity, so close to me. I wasn’t able to watch her as much as I had before, but I didn’t care.
That afternoon she didn’t put her headphones in. Instead, she asked me how I was. After I responded though, she didn’t give me a chance to ask it in response before blocking me out with her headphones. That day there were tears on her face when she got off.
For the rest of the year we went on quite similarly as we had before. Only occasionally with the addition of her asking about my well being, but never did I get the chance to ask it in return.
The last day I felt tense. I knew that after that I wouldn’t see her again for months. I knew that she would be haunting me all summer. After first period she turned to me, instead of walking out with her friend.
I won’t be on the bus today. Have a good summer. She told me. She was turning away by the time I had processed her words, my you too, just slipping out hardly noticed as my brain rushed.
Could I let her go like that? But I did, and after composing myself I moved on to my next class.