You’re sitting on the bus, on your way home. It’s late, and all you want to do is curl up on your couch and veg out there for a bit, while the drama of today rolls off your shoulders.
But first you need to get home.
The bus is kind of crowded, but not crazy, and you slip into a seat in the middle of the bus. Headphones in, music on, ready to lose yourself in the twists and turns of the melodies for an hour or so before you need to get off the bus and get on the next one.
The stale smell of your new seatmate makes you space in for a moment or two, as he settles down in the seat next to you. You don’t say anything, because what are you supposed to say? “Excuse me, sir, but you smell kind of gross, can you please find somewhere else to sit?”
So you just ignore him and concentrate on your phone while the lights dim and the bus pulls out of the station.
Your seatmate is still fidgeting around, trying to make himself comfortable- fixing the overhead lights and the fans and taking off his jacket. He keeps on bumping into you, and you hope he just sits down soon, because you like having your own space, thanks very much.
Finally, the temperature and the lighting, or lack thereof, are all the way he wants them, and he settles down, stretching his leg until it bumps into yours. You push your legs together and scrunch toward the window, because having your leg touch someone else’s for over an hour is kind of gross, to be honest.
But Seat Guy stretches his leg a little further, and no matter how much you try to fold yourself in half and plaster yourself against the window, his leg is still touching yours. You turn your music up a little, and stare out the window. There’s no way you’re making eye contact with him, and you’re at least a little relieved the lights are down.
Until he touches you.
At first you’re not sure if he really is or not, or if it’s just an accident. I mean, your legs are touching each other- maybe his hand is on his leg and you just feel the tips of his fingertips?
That sinking feeling in your stomach is telling you something entirely different. And when you shine your lighted phone screen down, there’s his hand. Resting casually on your thigh like it belongs there, when it most certainly does not.
You flinch, and shift your thigh over again, and feel his hand move slowly off your thigh. This was so not how you wanted to spend your ride home. But it was just a mistake, you reason. He wants to take up both seats, so he kind of forgot that that thigh wasn’t his.
Except for when not two minutes later, his hand is back, like nothing happened.
You elbow him a little, because seriously? Why is his hand back on your thigh?
And again, he moves it back slowly.
Your stress level has rocketed, and the music isn’t calming you down at all. You leave your headphones in because people don’t talk to people wearing headphones, and if that’s the only thing that stops your seatmate from talking to you, so be it.
No sudden movements, you tell yourself. Just sit quietly, and nothing will happen.
Words that are empty, because you don’t seem to have control over the guy’s wandering hands.
You think back to the freak-outs you’d have during every thunderstorm, and how your mom would stand next to your bed and try to calm you down. ‘Imagine a bunch of balloons,” she’d always say.
“I don’t see them!” You’d reply, half terrified and half hysterical, clearly not distracted from the storm.
“They’re all different colors,” she’d continue, knowing if she would discuss the storm with you you’d fixate on it and everything would be worse for you and your nerves. “See the balloons? There’s a red one, there’s a pink one…”
You try to find the bunch of balloons as you elbow his hand off my thigh again.
There’s the red one, there’s the pink one…And his hand is back.
You’ve gone from annoyed to scared. Even though there are people sitting in front of you and behind you, you’re still scared, and wish desperately that he would just keep his hands to himself.
He partially stands up to fix the lights, and this somehow means he needs to almost plaster himself on your side to do so.
Your stomach has seemed to have fallen through the bottom of the bus, and your throat is closing up.
Balloons. Think of the balloons. There’s the red one, there’s the pink one.
You’re almost a squashed bug, blood and organs splattered against the window, as you clench the handle of the seat in front of you. And yet his hand is back on your thigh.
“Stop it,” you finally say quietly, but he doesn’t understand you. He doesn’t speak English. But he moves his hand, because you’ve picked it up gingerly off of your thigh and put it on his own.
You hope that wasn’t an invitation in his mind, because your lunch is threatening to reappear.
Why is he so fascinated by your thigh? you wonder as you try to inch closer to the window. On the list of assets, your thighs are not near the top. Honestly, you’re not sure when the last time was that you shaved them, and you’ve neglected the gym a lot longer than you should have.
And yet, his hand manages to creep his way back onto your thigh.
Elbow the arm, concentrate on balloons. There’s the red one, there’s the pink one… Breathe. You’ve been on the bus forever, it seems, which means you’re almost there.
And it’s back.
Why? Why? You’re not asking for it, whatever that even means. You didn’t say anything to him at all. You don’t even look like you want to talk to anyone, with your hair piled up and your makeup virtually nonexistent. You’re wearing some of your comfortable clothing today, which while supremely comfortable isn’t really that flattering.
There is no part of you that says ‘attractive’, but that doesn’t even matter.
What matters is that that hand is back on your thigh, and you have to physically remove it again. Your heart is pounding, trying to escape from your seat on the bus- escape and go anywhere but here.
Think of balloons, you tell yourself, trying to wrap yourself in your arms. There’s the red one, there’s the pink one….
Your hands are shaking, and if he touches you one more time, you might scream.
When his hand creeps back onto your thigh again, you start to get up, trying to leave. You’ll stand in the aisle for the rest of the bus ride- you don’t care. As long as you don’t have to be sitting next to him…
He points to the bus driver and shakes his head, mumbling something in a different language, probably meaning something like, ‘the bus is moving so I can’t get up’.
You don’t want to start anything, so you sit back down, and fold yourself up against the window after giving him a dirty look. You don’t care if he knows why you want to move or not- but this is the longest bus ride you’ve ever been on.
Why is his hand back? Since when do you have a sign that says ‘Public Property’? He’s already taking up a seat and a half, isn’t that enough for him? But apparently it’s not, because when you elbow him again, he creeps his hand slowly off your thigh and back to his. Like it’s all some sort of joke to him.
No matter how hard you try to concentrate on the balloons, it’s not working.
There’s a nostalgic innocence that used to come when you’d think of counting balloons. But not anymore. He’s ruined it for you. There’s the red one, there’s the pink one…
When you finally get home that night, you jump into the shower to try to wash off the feeling of someone’s hand where it didn’t go. The feeling of being violated, of being ignored and concentrated on at the same time. The black stain that has clouded your soul, through no fault of your own.
No matter how hard you scrub, it won’t come out.
KK Hendin's real life ambition is to become a pink fluffy unicorn who dances with rainbows. But the schooling for that is all sorts of complicated, so until that gets sorted out, she'll just write. Preferably things with angst and love. And things that require chocolate. She’s the author of the NA contemporaries HEART BREATHS and the upcoming ONLY THE GOOD DIE YOUNG.
She spends way too much time on Twitter (@kkhendin), and rambles on occasion over at www.kkhendinwrites.