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The M15 is a decent bus. Not particularly clean and should probably run more frequently, but decent enough. On a rare occasion a bus driver will recognize me and his expression will vaguely resemble a smile. Usually, I take this bus with friends because the nearest bus stop is in front of a psychiatric hospital- not exactly the safest place to be alone. It's also quite a distance from my school - I have to walk beside the FDR Drive, over a bridge, and along the NYU campus to get there. Many young children take the bus, as there are quite a few preschools along the route, and parents occupy themselves by keeping their children a safe distance from the psychotic adults. The ride for the most part is unmemorable. There are the obnoxious boys that stretch out across three seats, the elderly man who recommends a specific brand of car insurance that no longer exists to those who unwillingly listen; the unanimous, not-so-silent groan of the other passengers when the bus kneels down to pick up a passenger in a wheelchair, that one specific seat with the windows that won't close –it’s all routine to me.

One day on that bus, a few of my friends and I were complaining about a strict, cranky art teacher who transforms the usually relaxing class into an uninteresting form of math. The only subject where we are not bound by traditional rules of school was now strangled by 90 degree triangles, measurements, and monotony. We were in mid-complaint when we heard a shriek of mixed anger and terror- "Lily, no! Come back to mommy this instant!”

Our eyes jolted down to a red-headed girl, no more than four years old, toddling down the black aisle towards the back of the bus. Her enormous green eyes were filled with wonder as her chubby legs lurched to a stop in front of a man whose white hospital bracelet dangled loosely from his emaciated wrist. An obvious nut that most would attempt to avoid, his eyes lit up as he raised his eyebrows one at a time. However, the naive, innocent little Lily leaned her head all the way back to see him and smiled. He stared back down at her, giving her a disfigured half smile. The entire bus got strangely quiet, as if everybody toned down their various conversations to a low whisper. Then, those in proximity nervously gazed in awe as a giggling Lily threw her arms above her head, reaching for the man, his eyes searching for something in hers. Our jaws banged against the dirty floor as the man reached down and ever-so-gently picked Lily up, cradling her in his arms like a baby. They locked eyes, Lily smiling in his direction. The front of the bus was in oblivion, and those who were in the vicinity of the scene simply glanced at the interaction then quickly looked away as if wanting to have no association with it, but I was mesmerized.

Lily's mother emerged, at the back of the bus, shoving her way through the crowds of grumpy standing passengers.

"Lily! My baby!" the disheveled mother flung herself in Lily’s general direction, attempting to rescue the child from this shady figure.

She looked as if she was having a heart attack when she saw exactly where her daughter was. A tiny squeak fell through her lips, as though her entire vocabulary had suddenly disintegrated at the sight. The man, seeing Lily's mother, carefully lifted the child in the air and handed her back to her mother, a sneer blooming on his face, as though his mouth had not yet mastered the art of smiling. Lily's mother turned pale as she cradled Lily in her arms, not quite sure how to react. Finally, she shook her head, suddenly remembering to breathe again. Lily's mother turned around to go back to their seat, and scolded the girl to never do such a thing again, beads of sweat emerging from her pores. The man's sneer melted into a toothless, yet pure smile as Lily eagerly waved him bye-bye, her mother’s back turned.

My friends and I stared in awe. All of this transpired in a matter of mere seconds, though it felt like hours. Once I overcame the aftershock of the situation, I became almost jealous of Lily. She was young and unknowingly put herself in a dangerous situation; she didn't know enough about the world to understand what could have happened. She didn’t know enough to worry, to be afraid, or to even be concerned. Never was she making nervous predictions, never was she frightened into being hesitant - she simply ran through her days with an optimistic smile. Unlike me, she didn’t have to worry about a mundane art teacher, or major tests and assignments, or the complicated situations at school, or who will get picked for the next few select person concerts in her chorus, or really anything more complicated than what toy she wants to get for her birthday. She simply didn’t need to be nervous as she didn't know enough to truly feel scared of what life has in store.

At times, I want that. I don't want to have to deal with all that reality has to throw at me; staying up, thinking heavy thoughts about everything from seemingly trivial events to nearly life-changing decisions. Just for once I would love to blissfully meander through a day, filled with content naiveté, not nit-picking over every possible aspect of my life. Stress would be non-existent. This seems like a perfect world.

But it isn't a real world. In reality, I simply couldn’t live this way. I would be miserable if I were to be forever young, forever naive, living in a world of not knowing anything, not understanding. I have a pulling desire to simply know, and irritating as it may be at times, I would hate to lose it. It's that invisible force that plows me forward while looking both ways first. This is what taught me to live with a trained eye, to question everything (almost condescendingly) and to go with that gut feeling that carves out the truth in everything like a sculptor carving out his sculpture from clay.

Still, Lily had something that I find amazing. She was untainted by life and saw the world through crystal clear eyes. Her eyes had no judgment, they saw what no one else is brave enough to see; potential. She has to have people prove that they are untrustworthy before thinking so, rather than what most others do, believing that someone might be shady until they prove themselves to be otherwise. Though this may be the most humane way to see a person and to be able to trust them, it isn't a way that is conceivable for others to do. The world may have tainted our view, but with reason. What Lily doesn’t yet know is what her mother is trying to save her from; the sad inevitable truths that are incorporated in our everyday lives.


As I watched her leave the bus, her red curls bouncing and giggles tumbling out of her smiling mouth, I realized something.


Truth be told, I do envy her. But I don’t want to be her.





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Eileen said...
Aug. 10, 2011 at 9:18 am
Congratulations!    Very interesting & well written.
 
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