The Red Carnation
There is no sun today. It hides behind bland clouds and howling wind, it hides just like I do everyday. It doesn’t feel like the calm before the storm, but a disaster I can already feel.
I put my hands in my pockets and shiver as I wait for the bus to come. I’m the only person at my stop, which is nice but also horribly lonely. I get my privacy,--meaning that no one will judge me when I hum the Bill Nye theme song--but it’s kind of scary waiting at a place all on your own, in complete isolation. I mean, every time I hear one slightly suspicious noise, I clutch my phone tightly so I can call 9-1-1 as soon as possible. This might just be me overreacting, but you get the point now.
After what seems like hours of waiting, my bus arrives. It’s Bus #42, which smells really nice in the inside but is usually crammed tight with passengers. That’s okay, though, because most of the people are polite and don’t bother me.
But none of them are nice enough to pay attention to me, the lonely girl who sits in the back (even though she hates the back of the bus) and is too shy to even make eye contact.
As I get on the bus, I see a vase of pretty, red flowers next to the bus driver seat. Everything else on the bus is dull and gray, but the flowers, I think, are a nice touch.
For some reason, today feels like a good day to read on the bus, so I pull out my favorite book when I get to the last seat in the bus. Almost immediately, I feel the book being ripped out of my hands,
“Hey!” I make a strangled sort of noise. “Give that back!” A high schooler has my book--she’s too pretty, I decide, and her hair is so seamlessly perfect, it makes my hair look like a bundle of straw.
“I was just looking through it,” she gives me an annoyed look, and then tosses the book back to me. I run my fingers over it, making sure nothing’s damaged. The girl gives me a funny look, as though I’ve sprouted an extra pair of legs.
“God, it’s just a book,” the girl rolls her eyes, but a smirk creeps onto her lips. “I didn’t do anything to it, trust me.”
“Yeah, right,” I mutter under my breath, as my fingers find the flimsy, back cover of the book.
Almost half of it is torn off.
I turn to look at the girl, whose smile is sickeningly sweet.
“Why...why did you do this?” I whisper, tears filling my eyes. I look down at my shoes so the tears won’t spill over, and I won’t be flooded like I usually am.
She hesitates for a moment, then leans over the aisle as though she’s about to tell me her darkest secret. “The author who wrote that book ruined my life”, and that’s all she says.
I just love the people on my bus.
Finally, after a good half hour of waiting, the bus ride comes to an end. The Horrible Girl had already left when we reached the high school, but now that we’re at the middle school, I can finally get off.
Just as I reach the door, I see the bouquet of bright, red flowers next to the bus driver's seat. The color pops out at me, but not in an unpleasant way.
“I like your flowers,” I smile at my bus driver, Mr. MacNaughton.
“Well, I needed something to brighten up this place, and these carnations do the trick,” he chuckles, but then his face becomes serious. “Do you mind staying a bit after everyone else leaves?” His voice is low, but I can hear it well enough.
“Oh, uh, sure,” I say, confused. Maybe he’ll give me some tips on how to grow carnations or something. Or maybe I’m in trouble, which has never really happened before. I sit in the front seat as a few other people pass by me, and then the bus is empty. Mr. MacNaughton waves them all ‘goodbye’, and then he turns around to look at me.
“What’s your name?”
“Okay, then, Ellie,” Mr. MacNaughton begins, “nice to meet you.”
“Nice to meet you, too,” I grin sheepishly. It’s weird to think that even though Mr. MacNaughton’s been my bus driver for three years, we’ve never had a formal introduction until now.
“Is that book of yours doing alright?” He asks suddenly, and I raise my eyebrows in surprise.
“Oh, well, it’s...okay,” my voice comes out tinier than I expected. “How do you know…?”
“I saw Grace take it from you,” Mr. MacNaughton explains, pointing at the mirror above us. I guess the Horrible Girl’s name is Grace now. “Next time, tell me about it, and I’ll hook you up with a seat up in the front.” He winks at me. “There’s a lot less fooligans up here.”
“Oh, thank you,” I say gratefully. The seats in the front are usually filled, but I know I’d rather sit up there instead of in the back. “Uh...is there anything else you wanted to say, Mr. MacNaughton?”
“Yes, indeed there is,” Mr. MacNaughton pulls a carnation out of his bouquet. “Here you go, just for you.” I take the carnation and stare at it incredulously.
“Oh, Mr. MacNaughton, you don’t have to--”
“I insist,” he says firmly. “It’s the least I could do.” He opens the door, and I gingerly walk down the steps.
“You have a good day now!” He calls out to me, and I smile, walking to the front entrance of my school, smelling my red carnation.
I expect the afternoon ride home to be boring, as usual. Instead, I’m greeted with a new bus driver, an odd smell in the air, and hardly anyone on the bus.
“Where’s Mr. MacNaughton?” I blurt out. The red carnation is clutched in my hand as I face the substitute bus driver.
She gives me a grim look. “Mr. MacNaughton has been relocated to a, er...a new position.”
“What do you mean?”
“Mr. MacNaughton is not a bus driver anymore,” the substitute says through gritted teeth. “My name is Ms. Campbell, and I will be your new bus driver from now on.”
I open my mouth to say something, but no words come out. I simply walk down the aisle and find my seat all the way in the back. I don’t know why, but I feel guilty sitting in the front without Mr. MacNaughton. I pull out my book and glance around. Grace isn’t here (thank goodness), so I flip to the page I was on before my book was ripped:
I am among many
But my thoughts are alone
I don’t live with plenty
But I ignore hunger and cold
I don’t like my life
Or my friends
Because I have none
My acquittances are many
But I only like one
And they don’t know me
I don’t know me
Who is that? Me?
We are specks
In a universe
Bigger than we
This particular poem, I’ll admit, is somewhat depressing. Actually, very depressing. But it’s my favorite one--not for any particular reason, except that it’s comforting to me on days like this. Maybe because the verses fit well together, or more likely because it’s reassuring to know I’m not the only person who thinks that at the end of the all, everything we’ve all done will have been for nothing. Once the earth has been completely destroyed and everything, there will be no one left to remember your legacy. No one will remember the most famous person that ever existed, and they certainly won’t remember me.
But right here, right now, I can do something.
Right before I get off the bus, I thank Ms. Campbell and then hand her my carnation.
“I want Mr. Macnaughton to have it, if he ever comes back,” I explain, “can you put it back in the bouquet?”
“Oh of course, dear!” Mrs. Campbell gives me a big smile. “That’s very thoughtful of you.” I smile sheepishly and when I get off, I sigh and look around my bus stop. There are no clouds today. They hide behind bright rays of sunshine and the chirping of birds.
It feels like the calm after the storm.