And in the end, I will always hate taking the bus. Some people grow up taking public transportation, others adjust to it over time, and the rest of us just look like idiots no matter what.
Next to me, Callie grips the canvas bag in her lap. Inside it has apples, lettuce, and Swiss cheese, and there’s a loaf of bread sticking out the top. We only did some light shopping today, as an excuse to leave the house. “Four more stops,” she tells me.
I think it’s funny when time is told in space-related terms like that. It makes me feel closer to the ancients watching the hours go by on their sundials, but also to the younger version of myself, before I knew what hours meant and my dad would tell me, “One more Curious George until you have to get dressed for grandma’s.” It’s comforting how the transfer holds up, because half an hour now feels so much faster than it did then, but it’s still one Curious George.
To Callie, I say, “Last night, I was in the bath for two hours and I didn’t even notice.”
“I noticed,” she laughs. “I was waiting to shower after you.”
“Sorry. Maybe I can cook for both of us tonight to even out our time balance.”
I turn and accidentally catch the eye of a stone owl across from us, clutched in the arms of a woman with a sleek bun and ballet flats. He’s just a bit larger than a soccer ball, gray and rough, and his head is turned so he can stare me straight in the eye. I look back into his black stones, imagining a spark of life. The woman wraps her arms around his middle protectively.
“Garden center,” she explains, voice clear and irritated.
I feel like she’s challenging me. I turn away, losing the staring contest with the owl. Callie elbows me, hiding her laughter by looking out the window.
The bus lurches, and the businessman across from us loses his grip on his shiny travel mug. He watches with wide eyes as it bounces off the stone owl’s head before smacking against the linoleum floor. The lid pops off.
Spilling from the mug, skittering and spinning in all directions are gold-ish white pebbles. The sound is clattering, like rainfall, and it goes on for longer than you might think. I can only assume he also came from the garden center.
We all become like the owl, who perhaps knew best all along. Staying very still, we look while pretending we aren’t looking. The man stands tall, not reaching for the mug or the pebbles. The seconds stretch themselves out to accommodate.
Callie stares only at her bread. The woman tightens her grip on the owl, obviously seeking protection from future travel mugs. A teen in beat-up sneakers in the very back seat picks up one of the little rocks. He gently tucks it in the side pocket of a backpack that seems to belong to the smaller boy beside him. The backpack owner is too invested in his view out the window to notice.
There’s no right way to react, so I try to count the pebbles instead of the seconds. I somehow think that maybe if I really count them all, I’ll be exactly finished when the bus gets to our stop. The seconds aren’t really here on the bus with us, but the pebbles are – they would know.
“Anyway, you don’t have to cook just because you feel like you owe me,” Callie says, just to say something. “It’s not worth it to try to even out time.”
The owl looks on, also counting pebbles, and I think it agrees.