When I was younger, the bus I rode home from school stopped showing up and my entire run was placed on another bus. It became apparent after fifteen minutes that this new arrangement wasn’t going to work. We were squished together and tempers were running high from the heat. Towards the back a girl shouted, “What are these rich kids doing on our bus? They already have everything they want, why do they have to come and take our bus too?”
I didn’t think I had taken anything from anyone, and my family was far from rich. I felt like telling that girl, “If I’m so rich, why don’t my parents just hire a chauffeur to come pick me up?” but I didn’t. That just wasn’t my way.
After everyone from the new bus had been dropped off, the driver told us that we would have to wait at the school and that she would come back to us after she dropped off her usual students. This statement was met with a few groans and mutters, but no one openly protested. Those kids hated us and we hated them right back.
The next day, I sat outside by the bus loop and watched the buses drive away. It was hot outside and the sun was already raising a sweat on my forehead, even though it had only been a few minutes since I had left the school building.
“You look uncomfortably warm,” a voice said from behind me.
I turned around and saw a girl holding a ripped umbrella over her head for shade. She sat down on the curb beside me and held the umbrella so it concealed me from the sun too.
We sat in silence for a few minutes; it was slightly awkward since I had never met this girl before. The strangest thing was that I’d ridden the same bus as her for years and never really noticed her. Now that I had, I wondered how my oblivion was possible since she looked nothing like anyone I had ever seen.
Her hair was dark and cut short, not in the stylish way, but as if done at home with a knife. She smelled a bit too. Sort of like dirt and sweat and cigarette smoke. Her pants were so ripped up that it was a miracle they still clung to her and her shirt was smeared with paint. On her feet she wore black converse high tops. These were the most peculiar things she wore, for while the shoes were old and had long ago worn out, the laces were fresh and bright with rainbow stripes.
“Where’d you get those laces?” I asked.
“Stole ‘em,” she replied.
The two of us were silent again.
“They’re gonna come for me,” she said.
“The nice people. They said they’d come back. I don’t know when though. I hope they do soon.”
“Who are the nice people?”
“People who care.”
She seemed to want to say more about the Nice People, but didn’t know how to explain.
The bus arrived soon after and we both got on. At her stop, the Girl With the Rainbow Shoelaces was the only one to get off. I wanted to see where she lived, but saw no house nearby. As the bus pulled away I saw her walk into the woods by the side of the road. Maybe she lives back there and I missed her driveway I thought to myself, although something told me this wasn’t the case.
Every day after that we would sit together on the curb and wait for the bus to return. She would talk a little more each time about the Nice People She told about how they would come and say they would one day take her somewhere better. Eventually she admitted that she could go with them any time she wanted, but hadn’t gotten the courage to tell them she was ready yet. She said they needed her to show them something, but that she was afraid to. She never told me what they wanted to see, but whenever she mentioned it she glanced down at her hand, which was covered in burn marks.
We carried on in this way for a couple of weeks. It was friendship, no strings attached. If we saw each other in the hallway, neither of us would deign to acknowledge the other, but after school, waiting on that curb, we shared something. Whether it was my easy willingness to believe in her tales about the Nice People or maybe just because I was someone to talk to, this girl held me in her confidence as her only friend.
Then one day she was gone.
The next day too.
And the day after that.
Never again did I see The Girl With the Rainbow Shoelaces, but I had a feeling she had finally gotten the courage to go with the Nice People