He was prone to explosive bursts of speech and long, pregnant pauses. We sat next to each other for a time before he suddenly detonated.
“Sorry. Sorry. I don’t have many friends so I don’t know what to say.” His face was unnecessarily tense, while he wrung his hands in a display of uncomfortable helplessness. I was taken by surprise. I hadn’t realized that sitting at the only open seat on the bus obligated us to conversation.
“That’s okay,” I cleared my throat. “I don’t quite know what to say either.” He continued to stare at his lap, his face barely moving. I wasn’t entirely sure if I was supposed to be looking at him, he seemed to think that he couldn’t look at me. He sat silently. I inclined my head a small amount, indicated that he could talk. My eyes flitted from the stippled blue seat and back to his face. His jaw was set, and he wasn’t going to say anything anytime soon. I lifted an eyebrow and went back to staring at my backpack straps. Maybe he wasn’t talking to me? Maybe I said something too soon, or broke some unspoken rule and offended him. I kept waiting for him to say something, even look out the window. Nothing. He quietly sweated next to me while I dismissed the odd outburst.
“I’m sorry. I don’t mean to be awkward. I don’t have any friends…” he stopped abruptly, as if that explained something I wanted to know. I stared at him askance. Was he talking to me? It seemed that he was. His eyes were wide, frightened, and still staring at his squeezed hands. A thousand responses flitted through my mind at once, each being dismissed quickly.
You must have some friends. (Rude.)
No friends? No friends at all? (Mean.)
That’s okay. Neither do I. (A lie.)
Finally I blurted out,
“Well I’ll be your friend.”
I snapped my mouth shut and blushed. Stupid! What an odd thing to say. I hardly knew him. He probably wouldn’t want to be friends with me. What was I thinking? We’d only just met. Sort of. I didn’t know his name, he didn’t know mine. I must’ve seemed so weird. The strange mousy girl who would impose, demanding friendship. Now it was my turn to stare at my fiddling fingers.
The bus continued on, past the Century 16 and beyond my favorite sandwich shop, heedless of my awkward situation. He hadn’t said anything. I was still berating myself.
He suddenly erupted again.
“Yeah,” I said, looking at the freckles on his cheeks from the corner of my eye, “Sure. I’m Carmina. What’s your name?”
The tires clunked around the intersection, past the Chinese place with green gutters. I kept my eyes on the window, past his face. The stupid inflatable tube with ripped arms bounced and folded in on itself in front of the T-Moblie store. I sighed and resigned myself to no answer.
His fuse ran out within the next two blocks.
“Hey,” I said. I hadn’t been prepared to continue the conversation. If that’s what it was.
We fell silent again. I bit my tongue. This was so awkward. Do I say something? Just let him sit and quietly implode? I sat there, stiffly. The T-Mobile man danced out of sight. A golf park rolled past. We turned a corner. I sat, tongue-tied, next to a boy who had no friends and no words.
It was my turn to blow up.
“So. What’s your favorite class?” I asked desperately.
He mumbled something unintelligible.
“Oh. That’s cool.” I sighed. This was one bomb whose wires were hard to cut. It seemed that he was out of fuel. No more explosions from him.
The yellow lines whipped past us on the asphalt. Trees loomed, grew, and receded with little fanfare. I wished I had the window seat. I wished that the boy next to me would stop being so petrified.
Tick tick tick tick tick tick tick tick tick tick
“My favorite class is autoshop. I wanna become a mechanic. I dunno if I can though. I take a GTI class. My teacher is nice. Most of my teachers are nice. I really like working with cars. Homework is hard, but autoshop doesn’t have much. Mechanics don’t make much money. Or they do. I forget which-” he fell mute again.
My eyes got wide, and I looked at him just as he trailed off. “That sounds cool,” I said. “Autoshop sounds like fun.”
A long pause.
Fire in the hole!
I still see him, that kablooey boy, sometimes. No one notices where he walks. He gets jostled a lot. But he makes a crater with each step, every footfall a minor blast. It pockmarks my heart, and the trenches in my mind. I remember him, and his explosion of words. I remember him telling me about how great his mom is. How he used a new hair gel that day but no one had noticed. Your hair looks nice, I’d said. He’d smiled and I almost cried.
Sometimes I watch him when he doesn’t know I’m there. I watch him laugh and smile at something someone else says. But he still never talks. And I wonder, Is that a friend? Do you have a friend now? I hope you do. Sometimes I almost reach out, and tap his shoulder. Sometimes I almost say, “Hi. Remember me? I’m the friend you made on the bus.” Sometimes I almost rupture the safe bubble I’ve put between myself and those I don’t entirely understand. Sometimes my inhibitions go up in flames and I say hello to those who look as lonely as I feel. Sometimes.
I walk down the halls of my highschool, and am confronted with a battle field. Trenches everywhere. Only the nerds in this encampment. Drill team’s tents are stationed over there. Invisible, but painful barbed wire blocks the pathway between the basketball players and the drama club. You don’t often see it, but the ruts we’ve worn ourselves into have turned into ditches, and the tears are about ready to overflow. Each person, each heart I see, is an imminent explosion. Listen to me. I’m important too. I’m more than I appear. Tick tick tick tick tick.
Soon the dynamite will fall, and the destruction will be vast.
My heart is ticking just like a bomb, and it’s about time I listened.
Time to go KABLOOEY!