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 Of Buses and Boxers

It was a surprisingly warm March afternoon. The sun had appeared from a lengthy stretch behind the clouds, and the occasional crocus could be seen peeping out of the end-of-winter slush, sending hope to those afflicted with cabin fever. I gazed out the bus window at it all in disgust.

The positive change in weather had the rest of my busmates dancing in their seats, but only made me more deeply mired in a foul mood. While pleasant outdoor conditions such as this usually would have made me ecstatic, I felt too wronged to be won over by the universe’s seemingly harmless gift of good will. Seeing how this day had so easily gone sour, I figured the positive abnormality in the climate wouldn’t be lasting long.

A variety of factors contributed to my foul mood. The first and most prominent was that my Aunt Janice had stopped by this morning and dropped off an early Easter present. She usually gave the best gifts, but had unfortunately opted to do the opposite this time. When I had told her that I loved superheroes, I was expecting Avengers action figures or an X-Men DVD to be dropped off this morning. Not a package of Superman underwear. Boy’s Superman underwear.

The second and most humiliating factor was that today I had been chosen as Levi Chung’s milk bottle victim. It was tradition that every Friday a student would be singled out and christened by Chung's container of 2%. Everyone had laughed, the dairy dousing had left me with a sopping wet head for the rest of lunch, and for the remainder of the day I went about smelling like the underside of a cow.

The third and most frustrating was who was subbing for our regular bus driver. It was none other than the infamous Nickelback. He was called so because that was all he ever played on his mp3, so loudly that you could hear strains of it filtering out his headphones from the other end of the bus. He was also practically blind despite possessing glasses the size of Kilimanjaro. Add together his poor vision and the rock music blasting in his ears and you got a driver about as aware of his passengers as Henry the Eighth was aware that the male decides a child’s gender.

The fourth and final reason was my location on the bus. Sensing my prickliness, no one had dared to invite me to sit with him or her, thus I was forced to sit alone in the middle of the vehicle, the quiet loners spread out in the front and the noisy “populars” crowded behind me. The latter was taking full advantage of Nickelback’s obliviousness by being more vocal and rowdy than usual. I tried to ignore them, partly because I disliked them on principle and partly because they all had guffawed the loudest at Chung’s stunt.

However, despite my efforts, I could not refrain from turning around when Hunter Kesto crowed out, “Hey everybody, watch this!” One did not simply ignore Kesto. He was the top dog, the big cheese, the king bee of Chimer Elementary. His presence demanded your attention, and one usually had no issue with supplying it. There was a certain magnetism about him where even if you claimed to hate him, you could not help but comply when he called for your attention.

Once he was sure that everyone within his vocal range had his or her eyes fastened on him, Kesto proceeded to execute an action only he could have carried out so perfectly. Chimer’s gracious ruler stood up in his seat and stuck his upper half out the window, shockingly breaking two of the cardinal bus rules. After kneeling up in my seat and craning my head around Dinah Chevy’s oversized cranium, I could make out an unwrapped twinkie clenched in his hand. With a curl of the wrist for effect, Kesto then lobbed the pastry at the vehicle directly behind us.

It was a beautiful sight, really, the way it arced through the air and then hit the center of the Honda Civic’s hood with a satisfying smack. What was an even more lovely picture was the way the driver’s face went from shocked to appalled to furious in a matter of seconds; face turning a captivating shade of vermillion.

Perhaps if the driver had just indignantly shaken her head and allowed us our immature fun, I would have had a run-of-the-mill sort of miserable day. Instead the businesswoman began to honk her car horn loudly, attempting to get Nickelback’s attention. Fifteen pairs of peepers swung to the front seat. Nickelback the music was still thrumming. Nickelback the driver was still steering obliviously.

            Upon realizing that the proper authority figure was actually being an improper authority figure, the entire back of the bus descended into chaos. Anyone with a snack to spare handed them back to Kesto, whose erratic aim led to the Honda’s front looking like the bottom of a diner floor. Other people joined in on the brazen rule breaking, sticking heads, arms, even feet out the window and using them to ridicule the driver, whose facade was now a bright plum. Her horn thumping had also increased in pace and volume, and was beginning to sound like a cacophonous version of Beethoven’s Fifth. My peers loved it, and soon all the back-seaters were in on the taunting, making obscene comments to the driver on her vehicle’s paint job and informing her that her face resembled a fruit. Despite my foul mood, I oserved with interest. unruliness  and food fanfares in the cafeteria were common; on buses, not so much. It wasn't until Nelly Dimalo pulled a notebook out and made the suggestion of sending the Honda a message that I actually got involved.

Everyone agreed that they definitely should, partly because Kesto said so. It was decided that a sign would be stuck on the back window utilizing the plethora of chewed gum located beneath the seats. Therefore, the driver would be forced to stare at the message the entire time she was driving behind us. Only one question remained: What to write? 

Suggestions such as “Buttface Mcghee” and “Your mom is ugly” were made. A few had some merit, but were vetoed by Kesto. Judging by the look on his face, he wanted this to be good. He was running this show, and darn it, he was going to make it a memorable one. Chung, whom I noted with alarm was sipping a Gatorade (It wasn’t always milk he dumped) suggested “Tootface.” Kesto turned his eyes toward the ceiling. “Seriously,” he wailed, “Doesn’t anybody have anything GOOD?”

“You’re more full of hot gas than your car is.” I don’t know why I said that. I don’t know where it came from. I didn’t even realize I’d spoken it until I took notice of every one of the backseat kids was staring at me, Kesto included. A sudden panic gripped me, and it took every ounce of self-control I possessed to not slide down onto the sticky floor. A quick survey of faces showed that the majority of them looked baffled, either out of ignorance as to my statement’s meaning or surprise that I had spoken. The rest looked…impressed?

None other than King Kesto broke the spell. "That’s pretty funny, Laurel,” he laughed. And with an authoritative air he turned to Dimalo and instructed her to write that phrase down in big blocky letters. I slunk back down into my seat as he began recruiting people to collect still-sticky gum from the underbellies of our benches. 

Once hidden away from my peers’ line of sight, I began to contemplate what had just happened. I'd said something funny and the populars’ had liked it. Kesto had liked it. He’d called me funny. A  compliment. Kesto had given me a compliment. Kesto never gave anyone compliments. Usually, it was the other way around.  I then realized that I, Laurel Winters, geek extraordinaire, had done what no one, whether they were above or below me in the social pyramid, had ever done before. I had attained praise from Kesto. There'd been witnesses. Peeking around the corner of my seat, I observed the populars. Most were  embroiled in the mechanics of the sign plot. A few caught my eye and nodded appreciatively. Some looked jealous. Chung was  chugging his Gatorade and giving me the evil eye.

A warm sensation (pride? triumph?) blossomed in my gut. Despite my usual distaste for the so-called social elite, there was something about pleasing them, especially Kesto, that made me feel like I’d achieved something great. I knew this didn’t mean I was now involved with them, but for just a moment, I’d won their approval. There is an innate part of a human, I suppose, that recognizes the layer of comfort and protection that came with being on top, and for a second, I had been. The triggering of this instinct of survival of the fittest (or in this case, cleverest) was enough to boost my mood. I watched them putting their plan into action with a sense of contentment, knowing I had proven useful to the pack. Outside the sun still shone with warmth that had been lost for months.

            That peace of mind I’d  found seemed to last mere nanoseconds. For a short period, I cheered with the others as Kesto slapped the sign up in the back window, chortled with the rest as the driver went  ballistic on the wheel. But then, what we all least expected to happen happened: Nickelback took notice.

 I was the only one close enough to observe how he managed to become conscious of our doings. It happened like this: Nickelback, in releasing an enormous sneeze, thew his head back so far that he caught a blurry glimpse of our shenanigans in the back mirror. He also splattered several large gobs of snot and spit on the windshield and let out a string of curses.

This conversation then ensued between Nickelback and a kind front-seater by the name of Sarah Sharper:

Nickelback: What are those kids up to?

Sharper: I don’t know, sir.

Nickelback: They messing with  the window? That’s probably a @#$% safety hazard.

Sharper: I don’t know sir. Would you like me to check for you?

Marcus Creeper then told Sharper to shut up, and in response she began to cry. They would begin dating two months later.

Nickelback then began shouting out the few names of the back-seaters that he actually knew, but it wasn’t until he turned off his mp3 that we heeded him. The disappearance of the background noise of 90’s Canadian rock stunned us all into silence. Still driving, he informed us in an annoyed tone that whatever it was we'd put  on the back window we needed to remove, because otherwise the police or government or his employers or whatever was “Gonna hand my rear to me on a plate.” Nickelback then returned to the vocals of Chad Kroeger.

Someone took it down; I don’t recall whom. Everyone was quite shocked. Nickelback interacting with his passengers was a rare occurrence, and it turned out he was rather frightening when irked.The honking of the lady continued despite us taking the sign down, and I considered how despite stopping his music, Nickelback had made no comment on it when he had paid attention earlier. I was wondering exactly how deaf his beloved band had made him when Dimalo pointed out something jarring: “Laurel’s stop is coming up.”

My stop. It was the first one on the route, but still twenty minutes away from the school. Our bus was the source of transport for the kids who lived the farthest away. There were actually only two stops it made, my single stop and then a dump of all the rest at a housing development.

It dawned on us all exactly what this entailed. The bus was going to stop. I was going to get off the bus (phew) but everyone else would be stuck on said stopped bus, with an irate motorist behind us, who would then have a better chance of alerting Nickelback of our mischief. He might then become really mad, plus the driver would be able to get the school’s phone number off of him or something of the like. The threat of karma doing its duty hit us like a ton of bricks.

We had approximately one minute to think of a plan. And by we, I mean them. Seeing as how I’d be home free, I saw no need for me to feel worried. Now that the top dogs no longer seemed so safe and secure, I had no interst in associating witht them. And they wouldn’t rat me out, I was sure of it. One does not achieve a high social ranking if one is a nark.

However, my resolve to resume my uninvolved status was not a sentiment shared by the populars. I suppose I should’ve seen it coming. I had a hand in the affair; there was no concealing the part I had played from the lot of them. They had numbers, something which I lacked, and were desperate. Desperate enough for Dimalo to suggest this to me: A sneak-jump-run.

This trick was favored by the school’s daredevils: one would sneak up the aisle while the bus was still moving, crouch behind the driver’s seat, and once the vehicle stopped and the door opened, leap down the stairs and bolt to their house before the driver could chatise them. With Nickelback it would be a piece of cake; he wouldn’t notice me at all. This trick was being utilized solely for a quick getaway, theoretically one speedy enough that the lady wouldn’t have time to obtain Nickelback’s attention. After that, the rest would get off at the development and scatter before the lady could make a second attempt at enlightening our clueless chaffeur.

I was about to protest, but then Kesto informed me that he already had two pink slips and a third would mean detention, and my resolve crumbled under his groupies' hard stares. It may have also had something to do with the fact that Chung had menacingly pulled an apple juice from his backpack.

Tightening my own knapsack about my shoulders, I crept down the aisle and kneeled behind Nickelback’s chair. Easy-peasy. I actually had a conversation with Shaper and Creeper.

Sharper: What are you doing?

Me: A sneak-jump-run.

Sharper: Don’t jump!

Creeper: Yeah, do a flip instead!

Me: I can’t, I’m wearing a skirt. Also, that’s just dumb. One of you tell me when my stop’s getting close.

Sharper: I will.

Creeper: Shut up, Sarah. I will.

Twenty seconds, later, Creeper hissed “You’re up” and I felt the slowing of the bus and the creaking of an opening swing-door. Inhaling deeply, I shot up from my post and leapt. At this exact moment, grand misfortune befell me. The businesswoman had evidently grown tired of playing nice, and with full disregard for road safety, pulled into the opposite lane, rolled up to Nickelback’s window, and honked loud enough to interrupt his tunes. With an obscene exclamation, he jerked the swing-door handle in surprise, and mid jump the now-closing door knocked me sideways. I inelegantly landed on the dusty ground with an “oof,” my skirt hiking up in the process.

Dazed, I did not realize what had occurred until I raised my head and looked back past the front of the bus; past a pink-faced Sharper and a gaping Creeper. The whole of the rear end was gawking at me. I stood up as fast as humanly possible, trying to act as nonchalant as possible, as though I hadn’t just flashed my knickers at fifteen of my peers.

You can probably guess what sort my mother – whose mantra was “Always show your appreciation" – had made me wear.

In an imitation of Kesto’s earlier stunt, Chung stuck his upper torso out the window and lobbed an open, half-full bottle of apple juice at me. “Nice boxers, Winters!” he guffawed. The rest of the bus joined in on the taunting, save Sharper, bless her heart. Fortunately for the rest of the kids, livid lady driver settled for screaming some choice words at Nickelback and then sped away. He hollered some back and then turned in my direction. After observing that I had safely exited the vehicle (or at least exited it) he shut the door and revved the engine. I was left standing in exhaust, listening to the taunts of my peers fade away along with faint notes of  “Edge of a Revolution.” Before turning my back, I caught Kesto’s face in the rear window. He held up a piece of notebook paper with the hastily scrawled question; “Did those come with Batman ones?”

I trudged up the driveway, my dank mood fully returned. My mother greeted me at the door, telling me that Aunt Janice had dropped off another package while I was gone. For a moment my day seemed to brighten. Then I opened the box, and much to my chagrin, produced matching Superman briefs.

I pu them on the next morning anyway. Male underclothes weren’t that uncomfortable, I’d discovered. And if this were the universe’s way of telling me I’d never quite be a schoolyard sovereign, why not enjoy it?

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