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Islands in the Stream This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.


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A flood of people pours into the hallway. They smoothly spiral around each other as they glide toward their destinations. Perhaps from above they resemble a colorful, bubbling stream. Or maybe they are more like a giant cloud, turbulently swirling within itself, yet sliding forward.

As we move closer, certain areas stand out like boulders in the stream with currents cascading around them. People stand casually in circular formations as the babbling rapids slither past. They chatter continuously but are not the only ones. Ubiquitous noise blends into a muffled hum. There’s a method by which the people stream: brick barriers direct the path of the river as it slips around corners and pools into classrooms. Amid this flow is a two-way current. Freshmen who walk ignorantly on the left are viewed with disdain. They are like water bugs swimming upstream in a raging river.

I, too, was once a naive freshman, fighting against the current. Now, I am a part of this mindlessly drifting river. Effortlessly, the tide pulls me in and I thoughtlessly cruise as naturally as I breathe or blink. My eyes vacantly stare at nothing. People slip around me and I unconsciously sway to the side. I see these people every day but never look at them. They enter my detached vision and disappear into the crowd hundreds of times. It is as if they are invisible to me and I am invisible to them.

Not everyone is invisible. A neuron fires in my brain and wakes me from the senseless trance to wave, smile, and possibly call out “Hi” to a friend. My voice is instantly absorbed in the hum. I am numbly preoccupied, thinking about the upcoming test and a funny story to tell a friend, but gradually, my attention changes.

There’s a girl from my science class in seventh grade … I think she’s doing color guard now with Emily … Oh no, Alysha looks sad … Who was that? What on earth was that person doing? … Please move faster, person in front … There’s Meagan. “Hi Meagan!” Holy cow, why did he dye his hair purple? … Okay, it’s time to cross. Not in front of that guy – he’ll plow me over. Okay, now. Oops, I cut off Amanda … All right. Shoot, test time!

I, myself, am not adequately represented by the erratic thoughts flooding my mind as I ride with the river. Still, I wonder how much can be learned about people from observing them in the hallway. What is the object of her thousand-yard stare? Why does she drag her feet as she walks, and why does he skip? Why is she smiling, and why is he expressionless? Why does that group travel in a blob while that one plows through in a line? Why is she rushing and where to? Why is he walking so slowly? Why is he afraid to make eye contact?

Eye contact is a curious phenomenon. Surrounded by a sea of faces, it is socially acceptable to never look directly at anyone. In a nearly empty hallway, however, the same situation becomes awkward. People who recognize each other surreptitiously watch for a sign. Suddenly, one person decides something on the opposite wall is extremely interesting and the other follows the cue by desperately searching the floor for something of equal value. If one feels especially courageous, the spot on the wall mysteriously vanishes and at the last possible second, he spits out an abrupt “Hi.” Relieved from the stress of examining the floor, the other person echoes “Hi.” In a matter of seconds, the ordeal is over and both parties drift through the abandoned halls like trickles of water in what used to be a rushing river.

When even those trickles are gone, all that remains of the swirling, storming cloud is a white speckled floor, painted brick walls, and a clock that clicks loudly, its minute hand jumping backward slightly before conceding that time has passed. The tick isn’t lost in a muffled hum, instead pierces the empty air like a bird penetrating the silence after a storm. The cloud has dispersed. Each of its particles has scattered, leaving a vacuous hallway like an empty sky.

All is calm.

The cloud is gone.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.





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This article has 2 comments. Post your own!

Courtney W. This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
May 29, 2009 at 8:46 pm:
Wow Ariel you did a great job describing our hallways! That's exactly what they're like.
 
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Zero_Kun said...
Feb. 1, 2009 at 10:49 pm:
Wow, I never thought of that. You're very observative. What you've written is what I usually notice but never acknowledge. It sort of just stays in my subconscience where you have brought it to the forefront. Very interesting.
 
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