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To Arthur, everyday was the same.
The same beep of the alarm on his watch and the soft rustling of the sheets as he got up. The same shrill whistle of the tea kettle and the paste-like oatmeal. The same squeak the door made as he left his apartment. The same tattered old seat in the third row of the bus he took to work.
Frankly, Arthur was in a rut; a rut so deep in fact, that he never even realized it. To Arthur, life was a schedule, carefully monitored by his wristwatch, a simple timepiece that had more control over his life then he ever imagined. With this watch he woke up at exactly seven o’clock everyday to get ready to take the seven thirty bus to work, which he stayed at until his faithful watch told him to leave and return home. Then the cycle repeated again.
After a while the watch was getting old and ready to pass, and with that the powerful hold it grasped onto Arthur’s life.
It was that fateful Tuesday when it happened. Arthur awoke as always, but this time instead of the soft beeping sound of his watch, there was silence.
With a jolt he sat up, and grabbed his watch from his nightstand. He noticed the hands frozen, the watch’s gentle heartbeat stopped cold.
A feeling of dread overtook Arthur as he threw the sheets away from him, racing to the kitchen where he looked at the small clock on his microwave which read seven forty-five.
Arthur started to panic. He was never late...ever. Arthur was the kind of person that if you told him to be somewhere at a certain time, he would come exactly on the dot. In this way, Arthur was predictable, and had been ever since he could remember. He never missed a day of school, never called in ‘sick’ at work. And so for once in his life, a loss of control could be felt in his soul, a feeling which Arthur had tried, and succeeded, long ago to suppress.
Quickly throwing on his work clothes he ran out the door, skipping his usual tea and oatmeal and reaching for an apple instead. If he hurried, he could catch the eight o’clock bus and be only a half hour late.
Luckily, the bus had just pulled up when Arthur arrived at the stop. Hopping on, he instantly saw that his usual seat was taken, so he was obliged to sit in the seat next to it.
Taking his briefcase, he set it down at his feet as the bus lurched forward. It was at this moment that he became aware of the occupant of his seat. Glancing to the side, he saw that it was a girl, and that she was staring out the window, taking no interest in anything else.
Normally, Arthur was never bothered with other people on the bus, but for some reason this girl held his attention. Maybe it was the way she held herself, in a carefree manor; or it was the way she looked out the window, deep in thought but still able to take in her surroundings all around her.
Arthur heard a low grumble of someone’s stomach. Remembering the apple he had grabbed but never eaten, he reached into his pocket and took it out.
“Here,” he said to her, “Do you want it?” he asked her.
The girl pulled herself away from the window and looked down at the apple. “Thank you,” she said, taking the fruit from him. “I didn’t have time to eat anything this morning,” she said with a half smile.
Arthur shrugged, “Happens to the best of us.”
The girl smiled, cupping the apple in her hands and brushing it with her fingertips.
“It’s okay, it’s not poisoned,” Arthur said, hoping she would find his humor funny.
To his relief the girl laughed, “That would be a little cliché now wouldn’t it? A poisoned apple.” Arthur laughed in return, feeling light and happy, something he never felt in a while.
The bus gave a screeching halt, and the girl began to gather her belongings. “Well this is my stop,” she said, stepping out into the aisle. “Have a good day, and thank you for the apple,” and with that she walked off the bus.
Looking out the bus window, Arthur saw her walking into a green front building.
For the rest of the bus ride, Arthur forgot all about being late for work; all he could think about was the girl, even though he knew he would probably never see her again. He didn’t even know her name.
As the bus came to his stop, Arthur bent down to pick up his briefcase from the floor and from the corner of his eye he saw a yellow hat lying on the floor.
Instantly he thought of the girl and picking it up he knew he had to give it back to her. If not him, he reasoned, who else? If he had just left it on the bus floor someone would definitely take it. At least, the hat would be safe with him; he could take it back during his lunch break.
All day at work, the clock seemed to be a dictator, keeping Arthur in his chair, unable to move, and unable to focus on his work. But finally, the clock let him go to lunch. Arthur took the twelve thirty bus and at each stop, looked for the little green building. At the last stop before returning to work he spotted it.
He got off, holding the yellow hat in his hands. Taking a deep breathe he stepped inside the front door.
At once Arthur recognized that he was in a flower shop. Everywhere beautiful blossoms sprouted from various pots, and the delicious scent covered every square inch of the place.
“I’ll be right out,” a voice called from the back. Her voice.
Arthur stood at the counter where he was entranced by a bouquet of purple flowers. They were some of the prettiest flowers he had ever seen, and unconsciously deemed them as his favorite.
“Are you here to pick up an order?” she asked, then taking her place behind the counter, she realized who he was. “Oh hello there,” she said, a little surprised.
“Hi,” he returned, then, “You left your hat on the bus and I just wanted to return it,” he layed the hat on the counter.
“Oh, thank you,” she said taking the hat, “I hadn’t even noticed.”
Then there was silence.
“I’m Arthur,” he said, trying to break the awkwardness. He extended his hand.
“Lila,” she returned, shaking it.
“So you work in a flower shop?” he asked, instantly thinking it was a stupid question.
“Yes,” she said, rearranging the purple flowers in the vase, but from the way she said it he knew there was more.
“Do you like it here?”
Lila smiled. “Yes. I love it. I feel blessed everyday, working with such beauty, but it’s not what I really want to do.”
“What do you want to do?” Arthur asked.
Lila paused, wondering if she should tell him. “I want to be a writer. So far I have a writing internship in New York,” she stopped, wondering why she told Arthur, a stranger, her aspirations. “What about you? What do you do?”
“I work at a law firm as Quality Assurance,” he said, hoping she wouldn’t think he was...uninteresting. “I check to make sure copies of legal documents are exactly the same.” But hearing himself, he couldn’t help but feel boring and monotonous.
“Sounds...official,” Lila answered. “And this job of yours, are you happy?”
Arthur paused, not knowing what to say. No one had ever asked him that before. Arthur, by nature, always knew exactly what to do, what schedule to adhere to; he always had an answer, but this question stopped him short. He had no clue. Was he happy? He never actually thought about it before.
“I don’t...I don’t know.”
Just then another customer came in.
“Well I better be going,” Arthur said, feeling like an idiot.
“It was nice meeting you Arthur,” she said. “And thank you for my hat.”
That night, Arthur purchased a new watch at the store near his apartment, and the next day Arthur was back to his regular schedule, monitored closely by his new watch.
But when he woke, the usual beep of his alarm sounded too loud for Arthur, and the faint sound of his sheets being pulled back annoyed him. His tea tasted too hot and the usual oatmeal tasted bland and useless. The squeak he never bothered to fix from the door unnerved him. The bus ride was no better. His seat in the third row of the bus looked even more tattered and pathetic than usual, and worst of all, it looked lonely.
Looking round the rows of passengers, he spied an art student, carrying a portfolio of paintings with him. Just then, Arthur had a flashback to when he was a little kid. He was sitting at his desk facing the window, trying to sketch a tree in his backyard. He seemed so peaceful then. But then high school came, and with that all the frivolous things like art went out the window, replaced with more important subjects, such as math and science. In high school, Arthur had to focus on grades, to get into a good college, so that he could have a successful career so that he could...Arthur didn’t know. Make money? He made good money but nothing like some people. Become famous? Definitely not, Arthur had almost no friends and was not even close to being well known. Start a family? Arthur scratched that idea since his love life was nonexistent at this point. So why? Why the push for something that didn’t even give Arthur contentment? He thought back to Lila, who thoroughly enjoyed what she did. Why couldn't he have that? Why was he subject to a meticulously boring job and lifestyle?
That night, he bought himself a paintbrush, oil paints, and a canvas. He didn’t have an easel, so he used his dining room table, laying newspapers underneath the canvas just in case any paint spilled.
He picked up his brush and paused. What was he going to paint? He had no ideas. Leaning back in his chair enveloped in silence, a thought creeped into his head, telling him that what he was doing was stupid and unimportant, and that he should forget painting all together. But something inside him shoved the idea away and instead an idea popped into his head and instantly he went to work.
About two hours past and Arthur set down the brush and leaned the canvas upright. Getting up from his chair, he stood back, examining the painting. It was actually good. Nothing like Monet or Cézanne but nonetheless he was proud of it.
A bell chimed as he opened the door. Stepping inside, Arthur was hit with the beautiful sweet scent of flowers.
“Lila?” he called out, his stomach full of butterflies at the thought of seeing her again.
“I’m sorry what did you want?” a voice called back. A voice he had never heard before. An old woman emerged from the back of the store, carrying a pot of flowers. This was definitely not Lila.
“I’m looking for the owner of the shop. Lila,” Arthur said uneasily.
“I’m sorry dear, but she left yesterday. I think it was for a writing internship, but I’m the new owner now.”
“Oh,” Arthur felt like his heart dropped down to his feet. He had nothing more to say. The old woman had a look of sympathy and for that Arthur felt somewhat grateful that someone cared for his minute life, even if it was out of pity, so he selected a pot of yellow flowers to buy.
At home, he looked at his painting again, wondering to himself about his life. Here he was, all alone, with nothing to ever look towards. Everyday was the same, and he couldn’t change it.
Looking at his watch, the culprit of his unhappiness, he had an epiphany and finally everything became clear. He finally knew what to do.
It had been a year since he painted the picture in his apartment.
Surveying the crowd around him, Arthur felt happy. He was standing in an art exhibit, where currently him and his fellow classmates were displaying some of their favorite works over the past year.
“Hey nice job,” a student in his night course said.
“Thanks. You too.”
Tonight was the end. The class was over, but Arthur wasn’t as sad as he thought he would be. He found something he had never dreamed of finding. Something he actually loved to do.
He returned to where his painting was on display, and saw a girl standing before it. A girl wearing a yellow hat.
“Lila?” Arthur asked, praying she would still remember him.
A little startled, she turned around and instantly broke into a smile. “Arthur,” was all she said, but in that Arthur felt his heart swell. She did remember.
“What are you doing here?” he asked, thrilled. “I thought you were doing a writing internship.”
“I finished about a month ago,” she said putting a piece of stray hair behind her ear. “I came back to visit a friend of mine, she’s probably in your class too.”
“Well I’m glad you could make it,” he answered, not able to hide the smile on his face.
“Me too.” She smiled in return and looked back to his painting. “So you found something you truly love to do. It’s beautiful.” Arthur looked to the painting. It wasn’t his best work but he felt he owed it to be put in his gallery. It had been a year since he finished it, and the Arthur from back then was long gone, a new person in his place.
“They’re of the flowers you had in your shop,” he said, hoping he didn’t sound weird that he remembered.
Lila nodded. “Lilacs. My absolute favorite.”
Arthur hesitated before speaking. “Do you...do you want to get coffee or something after this?”
Lila broke into a smile. “That would be lovely.”