“Wait, what?” I mumbled. “You saw me?”
“Not just me — we all saw you.”
“Huh? That’s weird. You thought I was hiding? That’s crazy. What? Wow.” The words tumbled out of my mouth. “No ... I was ... um ... I ... saw a bird ... injury ... spooky sounds ... Pop-tarts ... broken ... marmalade ... Candy Land ... chinchilla bingo.”
The next few minutes were a blurry haze. Somehow I managed to find my way to class, plop into a desk and imagine the misery that awaited me the next morning. I had practice after school and, mercifully, wouldn’t have to ride the bus home.
I didn’t sleep well that night. Or at all.
The next morning I got ready, had what I assumed would be my final meal, and took the long walk down death row to the bottom of the driveway. It was the longest wait of my life.
Eventually, the bus appeared and came to a stop at my feet, and the door squeaked opened. I took a long breath and climbed the three steps to face the music. I stared down that narrow aisle that separated the rows of cracked green vinyl seats and prayed for a miracle.
His name was Roy.
The tall, athletic and popular African-American kid was a couple of years older than I and never seemed to sit in the same seat twice. He didn’t have to. He could sit anywhere he wanted. He probably could’ve driven the bus if he’d asked.
To my surprise, Roy called me by name and slapped his hand against the empty seat next to him. I looked to my left and right for hidden cameras and straight over my head for a giant bucket of sticky green goop.
I sat down next to him and wondered what was next. A lecture? An insult? A riddle where I’d become the punch line?
Instead, Roy asked me what kind of music I liked. I answered and he followed with another question, then another and another and another. After a few minutes, he began to answer the same questions himself. What he didn’t talk about was the incident just 24 hours earlier.
He hadn’t just given me a seat — he’d given me a lifeline.
I wished we could have taken the long way to school, and by the time we arrived I no longer wished to be invisible.
Roy had seen me.
The next morning, I stepped onto the bus convinced that it had been a one-time act of charity, some sort of strange nerd-outreach project.
I was wrong.
Roy again slapped the seat and gave me a nod. We talked the entire ride into school, and I don’t think I’d ever sat so tall on a school bus.
This went on for another few days until the morning I boarded the bus and Roy was nowhere to be seen. I panicked, and fear hit me like a tidal wave.
Here we go again.
Just then, another young man called my name and slapped an empty seat next to him. I sat and made a new friend. That day grew into another, then another, and no longer did I fear that daily journey. No one else seemed to either.
Summer came, and, sadly, I never saw Roy again.
Roy had been an eighth-grader, and by the time I got to high school, I heard his family had moved. But if he walked past me today on a crowded sidewalk, I would immediately recognize his face.
I’ve often considered how Roy might have addressed the problem on our bus if we’d been part of some after-school special or made-for-television movie.
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