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Broken on the Outside
“The girl in the red shirt is a third wheel,” he stated in a droll manner.
Our eyes widened as we swiveled our heads in the direction of his gaze. There was nothing about her in particular that stood out- she was just another girl perusing the mall with two friends on her left. But somehow, she was the girl in the red shirt and therefore the third wheel in the clump of three.
In her jubilant, always excited voice, my friend seemed to laugh out the words, “What? Why’d you say that? How can you tell?”
He raised his eyebrows and answered matter-of-factly as if he’d been asked the year or the color of the sky, “The look on her face,” he said, “It’s easy to tell.”
We looked again at the girls. Upon further inspection, I noted that the signs were definitely present. She was the third wheel in the way her shoulders slumped submissively, the way she stood ever-so-slightly apart from the other two, the way the forced smile seemed to be plastered to her face as she listened to the others bantering on about things out of our earshot.
“I don’t get it,” my friend stated, frowning. But about thirty minutes later, she understood perfectly.
Our motley crew of three was sedentary upon a bench when we saw the girls pass by us. The girl in the red was instructed to wait at the bench across from us as the other two went off, giggling, down the walkway- presumably to some store or food court.
The third wheel sat, waiting for their return, in an uncomfortable silence for almost twenty minutes, looking down at the floor, across at the store before her, up at the labyrinth of pipes covering the ceiling, and back down at her shoes. She slowly stood up, her expression torn and shredded, before stumbling forwards in the direction that the other two had sauntered off in.
We stayed at the bench for a while afterwards, just watching the crowds pass by, seemingly hovering over the laminated wood flooring. One. Two. Three. Four and five, hands entwined. We made a game out of analyzing them as they passed.
He always seemed to be dead on, noticing the small things. I gradually began to catch onto the things he perceived through his chocolate tinted eyes - to truly look at the people as individuals. I began to quietly observe the way they held their shoulders, their clothing, the grime on their shoes. It was the glint in their eyes, the shine in their hair, the pace at which they moved and the people surrounding them that spoke of their character.
It was honestly shocking to know just how much you could analyze a person from a glance. I had never really bothered to care about how people carried themselves as they paved the roads of their lives. The girl in the red shirt would normally have been just another person in the crowds- another number in the demographics. In fact, she could have even been a speck of dirt on the floor tiles. It dawned on me that you have to really open your eyes to take people in and understand that they are unique- not the kind of unique in TV ads and bulletin boards, but unique in the truest sense of the word.