The Ride of Our Lives
When I was eight, I took the school bus to school and it was only because of that that I got to meet Ainsley, the girl who lived one road away at Block 472 and who went to the class next to mine. I thought of her as a boy because of her very short-cropped hair, her careless gait and the way she responded with matter-of-fact precision that were all sort of different from the other girls I knew.
Over time, she would walk over to my block when the streets were still quiet at 6.05am so we could wait for the school bus together. Soon, she grew more tender (but only with me) and she would laugh at my jokes, call me everyday, write me notes in school and surprise me with letters she put into my mailbox.
Back then, I hadn’t realised that girls could fall in love with girls and the only clue that remains today which makes me think I might have feelings for Ainsley beyond mere friendship was the fact that I thought of her as a boy. Of course, it was unusual that even happened at all because we were in an all-girls school. But to me, Ainsley was like the boy that nice girls met according to TV sitcoms and proper storybooks.
One morning, while making our way side by side to our classrooms, my hand brushed hers and in that same instant, she held onto it tightly and protectively. Like she would break it before she let anyone break me. My heart constricted for just how completely she held it as she did my hand.
How I loved our bus rides together where we sometimes did our homework , read and folded colourful paper stars to add to our collection.
In that bus, we shared our snacks, our stories, our woes, and our togetherness without a care for the rest of the students. Except for that weird girl Cynthia who always sat at the back and who believed she was an alien who needed her watch to trap energy from the sun and the moon as fuel for her life.
When I was fifteen, I took the public Bus №76 to school and how I loved that bus. In my opinion then and now, taking the public bus beats taking my former school bus hands down because obviously, then, we had more eye candy to supplement our teenage daydreams and fantasies.
I boarded Bus №76 everyday at 6.25am and it wasn’t long before I started developing a crush on a boy whom I called “Blue Cap”. Well, because that was what he wore everyday. It was his only way of standing out from all the school uniforms we had to wear, and I knew that. He was actually one half of a pair of twins, but that, I didn’t know.
Every morning, I stood alongside the crowd in the bus and began my 30-minute routine of sneaking peeks and glances at him, mostly through looking at his reflection in the window, without knowing that a seat or two away, his non-identical twin was wondering why I kept watching his brother.
“I always knew when you were watching me,” he would tease me years later. “I was just pretending to be asleep.”
“Good to know you noticed me too,” I held my head high as best as I could.
In those years, we learnt to fold paper cranes. Complicated, small creatures with too many steps to master. And we handed these tokens to special friends, like our best friends, our boyfriends and boys who wanted to stand out with blue caps.
When I was seventeen, I took the Bus №132 to the junior college I was attending. Classes began at 07.30am and ended at 04.45pm most days. The days were long but never long enough to stop us from living them out.
Sometimes, I read in the bus but mostly, I found it distracted me from observing: Budding relationships, teenagers trying to appear way cooler than they were, flirtations… we were all hormonally- and emotionally-charged beings who had no idea of just what was coursing through our veins and how we were merely at a pit-stop in our lives before real life began.
Every morning, our school principal would passionately yell at us, “You’re wasting your potential!” If we had considered dreaming and processing ideals a waste, then I guess yes, we were outrightly bleeding our potential away.
Soon, I was taking the same bus home with two of my best friends, one of whom I was in love with, and the other who had recently been crushed by a failed relationship, and who couldn’t eat, couldn’t sleep till he dropped off and who was always late because he couldn’t wake up.
There in the bus, we added up the random digits displayed at the top right hand corner of our bus tickets and if they totalled ‘21’, we were allowed to make a wish and that wish would come true. We folded origami hearts with those tickets and stuck them into the seats in front of us, maybe thinking that someone important in our lives would pick them up and begin to know of our presence in the world.
Wasn’t that what youth was for? To have flaming desires, eternal hope, wild fantasies and fearless imaginings?
We were all young once.
When I was nineteen, I stopped taking the bus. My boyfriend drove me everywhere I needed to go and when he left me, I avoided anything that afforded me too much time to remember, bus rides included.
When I was twenty-four, time was for me, the most precious commodity and I didn’t have the luxury of keeping still or daydreaming in buses anymore.
When I was twenty-nine, I bought my first car with a boy. A small, silver Suzuki Swift, secondhand, just barely two years old and which cost us $32,000. The evening the car arrived, I wondered what sort of commitment I had gotten myself into — to service such a hefty loan and to co-own such a big responsibility with someone I had only known for months.
When I was thirty, that same small, silver Suzuki Swift got dressed up with flowers and tagged with a ‘Just Married’ sign as we drove off into our future. With our exchange of “I Dos”, it became the smallest and lightest of our shared commitment and responsibility.
When I was thirty-two, we added the first babyseat to our car, and the second two years later. I started to yearn to take my babies on bus rides.
We drove people around here and there in our family car and we ferried boxes of gifts and hand-me-downs around. But never again, would we meet random strangers on any single ride.
Just last week, the husband and I took the bus “just for fun!”, we had declared. On that ride, we laughed at all the silliness of our youth, and tried to remember how to fold any origami at all. We realised we had never taken the same bus before and we forgot to notice any random stranger there with us on the same ride.
Someday, I will board a very special bus and find myself counting out coins to deposit into a celestial box full of old and new currency from around the world.
Somewhere toward the back of the bus, I will spot my place among strangers who somehow look familiar and acquaintances whose paths I had crossed.
There, that weird Cynthia alien-wannabe may be. Only this time, she will truly be all aglow with the best radiance that she had collected from the sun, the moon and all the wishes she had succeeded in plucking from the stars.
I will see an old man with his family watching me as I approach, who will wink at me and in that wink will be saying, “I always knew you were watching me.” I’ll probably pat him on this Blue-Capped head as I walk past.
“Over here!” a friend will call out. Relieved, I will squeeze my way over, plonk myself into any available seat and ask, “Are we all here?”
“No, not yet.”
Somewhere within, I will feel a vague anxiety about my kids, but soon I see them getting on the bus and I know with conviction that they’re going to be alright. I resist the urge to call, “Put on your seatbelts!”
Enthusiastic hellos and group hugs are exchanged as passengers hop on at each stop. The bus will move on its way filled with full hearts and satisfied souls.
I will finally settle down enough to notice the seat in front of me and how stuck at its back are tiny, white folded paper cranes and hearts. I will pull one out, unfold it and count the digits on the top right hand corner of each ticket to a wonderful total of ‘21’.
And I will make one more wish.
“Mummy, what did you wish for?” my youngest will ask with grand curiosity, having quickly dashed over to find out.
“You can’t tell your wish or it won’t come true,” her older brother chides.
My husband who has just boarded the bus will bend low to kiss his children as he sits down beside me.
“Well, wish came true,” I will smile.
“Are you crying?” my son asks suspiciously.
“Nope, not at all.”
I will pick up my husband’s hand and hold it to my heart, clasping tightly onto it like the rest of my life depends on it and comprehend somewhere within that maybe every casually-met acquaintance, every relationship entanglement, every dream we ever dreamt, have all been thoughtfully designed and threaded into the fabric of our lives just so we would end up here together for one final ride of our lives.
“Come on, sit down and put on your seatbelts.”
“Whyyyy,” they will complain but know to comply anyway.
“‘Cos it’s time to go.”
It will be the best ride of all.
This story was first published on P.S. I Love You.