Once upon a time

The clock strikes five. I can almost hear it, the subtle noise as the invisible force field around my cubicle shuts down. I am free to go home. I meander off to find my bus. Most days I look forward to this time, to the melodramas and vaudeville that go on around me as I travel. Taking the Metro is like being tossed inside a mystical caravan—there are too many people, and some things you’d maybe rather not smell. But ah—the stories!

Look—there’s that baby in the helmet. He rides this bus all the time. His mom says he even sleeps with it on. The helmet provides structure for the little guy’s skull while everything is waiting to harden. The bright plastic shell will keep his head a normal shape while he develops inside it. You’d never even notice this kid without his unusual headgear—he’s very well-behaved. Sometimes I wish I had a bright plastic shell, too. Mine would be hot pink.

Next over on the bench is an elderly gentleman in a jaunty black and white hat. This man would look very sporty in his Irish cap if he wasn’t wearing thick eyeglasses with black circular frames. He looks like an old man masquerading as Harry Potter, although I see no telltale scar. Perhaps he is a rejected Defense of the Dark Arts teacher. I think I’ll keep myself out of wand’s reach.

Standing in the aisle is a twiggy brunette with shoulder-length hair. She looks about college age. Her khaki pants are accented by a gray-green camouflage jacket, the sort that shows a pattern of deer in the woods. Is she trying to blend in? Then why the scarlet fingernails, poking out of her cuff like high-sheen daggers of death? Is she trying to look scary? Then why the ballet flats? Ninja work? Is she an incognito stripper, willing the eyes away from her until she must step into the spotlight? What is her story? What about the rest of them? This just may be the most entertaining part of my day, and sometimes I hate to get off when my stop comes. Who knows what I’ll miss?

Your assignment, should you choose to accept it:

44. Go ahead—wonder what people are up to. Make up the stories behind some of the characters you see around you. How did that dog end up with three legs? Why is that old lady always carrying a plastic alligator? Your imagination knows the answer.

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