By Lerato Mensah-Aborampah, Lesotho
The bus stops, rather abruptly, as the red light pops up. Palesa does not move. She is still staring out the window. I cast a subtle glance at her hands that are holding on to her backpack on her laps. They are short and coated with transparent glossy nail polish. I know because my sister does the same too. Girls are not allowed to wear nail polish in their school uniform, but most obviously get away with the transparent one. I also notice that her right palm has inscribed on it, tally marks in black pen. I would like to initiate some conversation but I decide against it and it is not because I am scared or anything. I just do not know what to say. I look out her window too. I see my mother’s office building peeking from behind the shopping complex building. I imagine her typing ferociously at her computer, waiting with anticipation for the clock to strike half past four so that she can go home. Any time after four ’o clock is not my mother’s most productive time and definitely not her ‘happiness-at-its-peak’ time. I smile a bit at the thought of her (my mother, I mean, for clarity’s sake).
“I am not exactly fine,” I hear a voice as soon as the bus starts moving again. It takes me some good three seconds to realize that Palesa is talking. To me. She has tilted her head a bit towards me but she fixes her gaze on the chairs in front of us. I turn to look at her.
“Sorry, what?” I respond rather stupidly, though I’m sure I heard what she said.
She looks me, “I said I am not exactly fine. You did ask how I was doing when you sat down, didn’t you?” A subtle smile, and I think a rather sly one too, forms at the corner of her small lips.
“Umm…oh”, is all I am able to mutter. I do not know how to respond.
She chuckles. “Oh sorry, it is expected courtesy to always say you are fine when you are asked in greetings, right?”
I chuckle too. “Well,” I reply, laughing, still not finding words to speak.
She takes a deep sigh, looks at me and grins -a deliberate and obviously fake, broad grin.
“Well then, I am fine thank you, how are you doing?” I cannot help but laugh. I nod my head amiably. Then she looks out the window again. The bus stops abruptly. It always does this. It drags slowly along as we drive and then suddenly stops so that almost every time, our bodies are jerked violently forward. And even after the last four years in my old-man of a school-bus, I have never gotten used to it. Some students go out. As soon as it starts moving again, I lean in slightly towards her, “I am Rapelang by the way, just in case you were wondering or dying to know or something.” I lean back and face forward.
“I know you dude, we share Chem. and Lit., you know,” she looks at me, “besides, who does not know Rapelang- the… umm…” she giggles and keeps quiet.
I turn quickly to her.
“The what? I think you did not complete a sentence?”
Chuckling, she attempts a serious face. “Never mind, the point is, I know you- I mean I know your name.”
I touch my chest theatrically, feigning an act of being stabbed at heart. My head looks forward and my eyes stare at the ripped chair in front of us, spilling out mustard-yellow sponge. I start thinking about how it is that a person is drawn to a certain person not another when there are so many people in the world. I start thinking about why in the world I would like a girl I barely know.
The Old Man drags slowly along, his big wheels squeaking wearily every now and then. Houses and people barely sweeping past our bus windows. Today I do not seem to mind.
“Rapelang,” she turns to me, “can I just ask you, or rather say something…” she laughs quietly. I can literally count the number of times I have heard her speak since she arrived at Seeiso because she does not speak much. Her voice, when I hear it this closely, is strong and has a slight huskiness.
“Yuh, sure, ask” I reply casually. It is a good thing that the thoughts in my mind are exclusive to me otherwise Palesa would know how greatly my day turned out just by simply sitting next to her.
“Okay so,” she continues, in a friendly, conversational tone, “I really suggest you work on your Art of Subtle Staring… it is-well- it needs a bit of working on, in a polite manner of speaking.” She smiles.
She says Art of Subtle Staring like this is a well-known idea but I am very sure she made it up herself.
I am suddenly aware of something in what she said.
“Art of Subtle Staring” I mummer audibly, “wait, before I ask what you mean by this; you do realize what Art of Subtle Staring abbreviates to, right?”
She stares at me momentarily, as if calculating some math sum and then she bursts into laughter.
“Oh, eish! I hadn’t realized!” she laughs again, “Quite an insightful observation, why, thank you.”
I marvel at her amiable personality that I had assumed for a moment, was absent, when she did not reply my greeting earlier.
“Okay, anyway, what do you mean I should work on my A.S.S?” I ask her, though I think I know exactly what she means and it is, I must say, rather embarrassing.
She holds back a chuckle and straightens her face, “You do know that I do know that you are always staring at me at school?”
I am embarrassed. I am not sure whether I should apologize or even how to apologize, if I should.
“I wouldn’t exactly say ‘always’,” I manage to mummer lightheartedly though I am still not sure whether she has taken offence to my looking at her that has been going on, for, well, since she arrived at Seeiso International.
“Eish, I am sorry though- really I am,” I say slowly, “you do not exactly make it easy for me to not look at you,” I mumble audibly. I find myself having said this and I realize it is not exactly an apologetic thing to say. My face has probably given away the intensity of my embarrassment.
She shakes her head and gives a little smile.
Bumping her shoulder against mine, she says, “It’s cool dude, don’t look so embarrassed.”
She smiles and looks out the window again.
The bus stops. Katleho gets up to leave. He cannot resist giving me a silly look when he goes out. I give him a fist bump.
“Sure, mfethu,” I smile as he and the other students go out. Tankiso leans in to me as he gets up. He and Katleho live in the same village.
“Bruh, hana, what test are we writing on Math tomorrow? Pillowz is giving us a test tomorrow right?”
“I think it was thirteen- the topic we are doing- or just check the contents TK. they actually work you know,” I give him a fist bump and he smiles and walks towards the bus door. I like teasing him especially because he genuinely has no idea what topic we were doing. He sleeps like child in class.
“Hey TK!” I shout, before he goes out, “the contents will help if you know what you are looking for because you were fully awake and paying attention in class! Statistics- that’s what we were doing!”
Palesa laughs quietly. Tankiso laughs and goes out.
“You know,” I turn to look at Palesa, “this is my first real conversation with you.” I stare back at the mustard-yellow sponge coming out of the seat in front of me. “It’s funny.” I say, as an afterthought, though I did not really intend for her to hear that part.
“First real conversation? That implies you have had some unreal ones? Uhm…dude…should I be a bit creeped out at this moment?” She laughs though I am sure, from the tone, she is a bit concerned.
“What? ‘real’? Did I say real?” I laugh, playing shocked. You never acknowledge to the girl you like that you have ran in your mind a few scenarios of how your first real conversation would play out.
She gives me an incredulous look, smiles and looks out through her window again. I will make no attempt to talk now.
The bus starts moving again. It is quieter now that most people have gone. I sometimes like that I live further from school, my village is actually the last stop for our bus. I get to enjoy the little quietness of the bus that most people do not, ( but of course, a counter to this perk is getting to dwell in the sweaty bus for longer). Today, however, a second perk seems to be that I got to talk to Palesa Tefo. I did not even know that she lives in a neighboring village. I usually sit at the back seat and so I never see where she goes off. In the mornings, she does not use the school bus.
I suddenly realize that I casually disregarded her ‘I’m not exactly fine’. The bus stops and Palesa stands up. I shift to the outside of the aisle to let her pass, catching once again, her scent which I still maintain, smells like air-freshener.
“Okay, see you around then Rapelang,” she smiles.
“Wait, Palesa,” I find myself having blurted out. She swings her bag to her back and looks at me, “You will be okay right?”
She stares at me, looking a bit confused. Realizing that that must have been a bit weird, I say, “You did say you were not exactly fine, didn’t you?”
She gives a strangely unconvincing smile, “Well, Rapelang, I finally got to talk to you today,” she laughs. Again very unconvincingly, “who knows, I guess I will be okay.”
She smiles and walks out. The sky outside has an orangish-indigo glow. The sun is setting.
Three things run in my mind as the bus moves again to drop off me and the other four remaining students who I share a neighbourhood with: 1. She said she ‘finally got to talk’ to me. 2. How is it that a person is drawn so strongly to one person and not the other and 3. She did not look exactly happy.
The bus stops.
I take my ridiculously heavy bag and we go out.
“Sure Bra Stacie!” We bid our friendly bus driver good evening.
My schoolmates and I separate as soon as the bus drives away. I walk slowly towards my house which is about ten minutes from the road. I am able to see my mother’s bedroom window and our kitchen’s. The lights are on. My grandmother, my aunt’s big sister, is probably already home. She is the one who likes turning on all the lights even when it is not completely dark outside.
Wait, and I think I saw a little tear in her eye when she turned to go out of the bus.
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