To Be Gym Shirt Grey This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

November 15, 2012
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I shove my hands in my pockets, feeling enveloped in the grey. The grey that splashed across my surroundings like thin paint, and seeped into me. It's such a penetrating grey one might think of it as a knife blade, but it lacked even that amount of shine. It was more like the grey of high school gym shirts, with the school's logo plastered across the chest. It was the kind of grey that was high school. It was every Friday night spent alone, every day you considered eating lunch alone in some shadowy nook of the school where you could never be found, every minute of walking through halls stinking of body odour and desperation, and it laid in the hearts of the predator and prey that stalked about.

It's not enjoyable, having that grey inside you. It's uncomfortable at first, but it grows on you like a vine and you forget it's even there, but it could choke you out in no time flat if it so chose. Feeling myself become more and more at ease in its presence, I'm scared. I'm scared I'll be taken over and become nothing but gym shirt grey.

Making an effort to shake the grey and the awkward coldness in the air – the kind of cold that's unsure what it is or where it's going, lingering hesitantly, partway between blending in and making its presence absolutely known – I march onward.

The walking trail isn't exactly spilling over with life, but there are more daring souls about than I'd have expected. Part of me finds it hard not to believe in the grey as some sort of tangible thing that people ought to run and hide from. The other part of me is more dominant, yes, but can't shut the other up entirely.

I hold my arms tighter to my body, fighting the chill, as I carefully hop over a pile of horse manure. The dog owners are good about cleaning up after their dogs, but the few horse owners around think they're oh-so-superior and shouldn't have to detach themselves from their equestrian gods to do such an offensive task. Let the common folk suffer. Why on earth should these mighty riders of horse be sent to their feet like a peasant, if not strictly necessary?

Crossing the street, I nervously eye a bearded man on a bike. Earlier today, I finally finished the novel I've been picking at for weeks. It's still fresh in my mind, and unfortunately, the novel was about rape victim that rose up and cruelly tortured and killed her rapist, and the cops that didn't do anything to help her in the aftermath.

I'm far too paranoid to not jump to conclusions.

When I'm about to pass by him, pretending to be focused on my feet, he speaks up.

“Excuse me, if I follow this road will it bring me to Darrow?”

I halt, looking him in the eye. He doesn't look the sort to brutally attack young ladies on the street, but hey, neither did Ted Bundy, and look what that loser did.

“I'm not entirely sure,” I answer, “but I know that road there will take you straight to the park in Darrow.”

“That's just where I'm headed, thank you,” he tells me with a grin.

I nod, and wish a good day upon him before continuing. I keep my ears open for the sound of gravel shifting behind me, glad I'm wearing my sneakers today, not my boots – boots are rarely all too efficient at helping you make a speedy getaway. Even though the sound doesn't come, my heartbeat insists I'll have to make a daring run for it any minute now.

A Korean man I see around town passes by. He could be anywhere from fifteen to fifty years old. It doesn't help that he wears simple clothing, and never speaks. I'll never know how old he is, just like I'll never know who he is. Every time I go for a walk, I run into him somewhere, which has me thoroughly convinced he never rests, merely walks constantly. He never even stops for a moment, not even to wait for traffic to clear. I've never seen him standing still.

I give him a friendly smile, and feel my muscles relax. The Korean man gives me a sense of security. If he's around, nothing bad will happen, because nothing bad has ever happened on a day when I run into him. He's quiet, but I'm sure if some terrifying nutcase came at me and tried to slit my throat, the Korean man would teach him a lesson. The Korean man carries around that sense of silent strength, of nobility and goodness. I may have never heard him talk, but I feel certain he'd leap to the rescue of any threatened innocent if given the chance.

Fear of rape vanished, I feel the grey push back a little. It's still oppressive, and sends the cold right to my bones, but now I know it can be reduced.

I try to project something like the Korean man does, but instead of safety like his, I try to produce a feeling of warmth to slaughter the grey. I close my eyes, following the nearly straight path effortlessly for a solid ten minutes without so much as a glance into the outside world.

Gravel shifts behind me, and I hear the spinning of a tire. At first, I think of the bearded man, but realize he couldn't possible have followed me all this time without being detected. I would have heard him coming sooner. Plus, he couldn't just be catching up to me now.

A Mexican man on a bike passes by instead, a tiny, tribal-print backpack hanging from his shoulders, decorated in many shades of red, and some purple and gold and black. He gives me a cheery greeting, which I return without hesitation.

Long after the man leaves, the image of the backpack remains with me. I start wondering where it was obtained. I try to think of clothing stores around town, but none sell too many brightly coloured articles of clothing. Maybe he travels. Maybe that backpack is significant to a great adventure that man had, that changed his entire life. An adventure I, as a stranger, will never know of. It's funny how something that makes someone who they are can be so unknown by so many people.

I take to thinking of all the places I could go. All the different countries in which I could shove my hands into my pockets and just walk. Just like this, but with so many different people, and trees. And potentially, a different kind of grey.

But maybe there's a place that won't be grey. Some place where mildly chilly winds won't freeze your core. Some place where everyone smiles just like this, but there's more sincerity behind their politeness. Some place where I feel like more than a part of the scenery, a bland stranger to be observed but rarely noticed.

“Jenna?” a voice asks.

I look up to find a girl from my English class, Sienna. She's a cheerful girl, and has a good head on her tan shoulders. She's a little like me in some respects, but her love of fact and accuracy makes her an alien concept I could try to figure out for years without success.

“Hey, come with me, let's walk,” I declare impulsively.

She obeys without hesitating. But after a half hour, I know every step she takes is tentative, and she's reluctant to go much further without some sort of explanation, something logical to keep her sane.

“Where are we going?” she asks.

“We'll know when we get there,” I answer, feeling an uncontrollable smile smear across my face. Soon, I'm smiling of my own accord, smiling against the winds that won't be grey for me, ever again.

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