She was close to me, so close. Even though the bus seat was wider than most, she sat closer to me than to the window. As I sat in the aisle seat, I tried my best to keep the appropriate space between us. My mother taught me to keep a polite distance from strangers as to not seem like a pervert.
I was a mama's boy, according to everyone. Inevitably, the next words from their mouths would always be "She died too young." It's true, I was raised by my father. He was a man who tried his best, but could just never see my point of view. Our father son relationship was like that of Mayonnaise and Miracle Whip. We both seemed similar at face value, but for those who cared to dig deeper, the differences were glaring.
She leaned closer as the bus driver took a sharp turn and I caught a whiff of her perfume. I couldn't name the scent, a flower or a fruit maybe, but it took me back. It was the smell of sitting on my mother's lap at Sunday morning service and of being at the end of the kitchen counter in my high chair as she made fresh rice crispy treats. This girl made me feel closer to my past. I thought, as I closed my eyes, that if I played my cards right we would be very close in the future. When I opened my eyes I realized by her face that in actuality all I had done was become unnervingly close in the present. I leaned away from her at the same time that the bus hit a speed bump and I flipped into the aisle. With a shocked expression she extended her hand and I grabbed it for stabilization. Her grip was soft and comfortable. It transported me back to a time of nightmares when my only solace was a warm pat on the back by a maternal hand. The soothing pats always relaxed my muscles and sent me safely to sleep.
A strong tug pulled me out of the past as the girl wrestled my limp body back into the seat. She seemed amused by the strange guy sitting next to her on the bus. Clara was the name she offered me as she shook the hand that she had just used to pull me into the present. "She's either an anchor or an angel" I thought briefly. I wasn't really sure where that thought came from, but as it exited my mind through my left ear, I decided that it was the perfect description of her, of Clara.
She smiled at me expectantly. It took a few excruciating minutes for me to realize that she wanted my name in exchange for hers. Of course I gave it, Rufus Thompson. I gave my last name along with my first in the hopes that if she liked it enough, she would one day keep it as her own. After hearing my name she giggled. That short little laugh was a time machine to my past. It was so similar to chuckles I heard erupt from my mother when she pushed me on the swing or splashed me in the pool. I laughed back at Clara with a sound that was half prepubescent boy/half ax murderer. It was amazing that one little laugh could cause so much chaos in my mind. Clara was no longer giggling. She only stared into my eyes.
I stared back at her and a million ideas raced through my mind: Clara, how much younger was she than me, if she were younger at all. Clara, what a name! What a girl! She partly made me think that reincarnation was possible but at the same time proved that it wasn't. After seeing and smelling and hearing her, I truly believed that no one in existence had ever been like Clara. There were things that reminded me of my mother: the perfume, hands, and laugh, but somehow they all still seemed to be distinctly Clara. Wonderful Clara! Beautiful Clara! She was the girl who sat close to me on the bus, the girl with the strength to pull me up out of the aisle, and, most importantly, the girl who made me wonder if a long term relationship could be forged from a 20 minute bus ride.
My thoughts started to overwhelm me and my breathing quickened. Over Clara's shoulder I saw my bus stop whiz by, but I didn't care. I wanted to know where Clara was going. I wanted to GO where Clara was going. If it weren't the creepiest move ever, I would follow her anywhere. For the next fifty years I'd follow her if she let me. But for now I would just settle for watching her eyes as they watched mine. Oh Clara........