Combing a Bald Head | Teen Ink

Combing a Bald Head

August 1, 2015
By SojournerYouth BRONZE, Bronx, New York
SojournerYouth BRONZE, Bronx, New York
1 article 0 photos 2 comments

Favorite Quote:
“I wanted real adventures to happen to myself. But real adventures, I reflected, do not happen to people who remain at home: they must be sought abroad.” James Joyce, Dubliners

The bus rolled on after each stop as it had and would do for each and every stop to come for an eternity, letting groups of commuters on and off to go about their foreign lives away from the bus. Every day for all hours of the day, never ceasing except at stops, the bus plowed through the streets, impervious to its world, which changed so rapidly. Each day, thousands upon thousands of people sat on the hard plastic seats without even leaving a trace or memory of their existences. Surrounded by strangers, they never said anything to anyone they didn’t know. Some people boarded with friends, fewer spoke with their friends, most read books or went on their phones. Reading and listening to music are, after all, easier than introducing oneself.
Simon took the bus to work every day without ever looking up from his book or out from the dirtied window. Every once and a while, the bus would make a sharp stop or turn, and everyone would look up and, after a brief moment, look back down. Occasionally, he caught a glimpse of someone through the back of his eye, but never looked at someone for too long, lest he would lock eyes and he would have to explain himself to his accuser. Simon, who worked for the summer at an ice cream parlor, took the bus every day, twice a day for a long and tiring commute. He never said anything to anyone except when he said thanks to the bus driver or sorry when he bumped elbows with his neighbor. It was this silence amongst the roar of the engine and the whistle of the fan that made him feel so alone during the mornings and afternoons.
One day had been particularly ordinary. The ride was not unusually slow or fast, crowded or empty. The smell of absolutely nothing permeated through the isles. But the bus, in accordance to its usual routine, stopped; some people got off and a few on. A girl about Simon’s age sat across from him; she had just gotten on. Maybe she was a little bit younger or maybe the youth in her body expressed an innocent joy that emanated more from her than from him. Her smooth, olive skin blanketed her body perfectly, leaving no rough spots exposed. Without touching her skin, Simon knew it was warm and soft like heavily kneaded dough. Her hair was sandy with streaks of dark brown as if the seaweed had washed to shore. It curled inward and outward like the tops of waves forever undulating onto the sand. Her small, light feet didn’t reach the ground, but Simon watched as they swayed back and forth with the cadence of a pendulum, constantly moving with the speed of the bus. Her green shoes and turquoise nail polish, for some reason, struck the boy. By her looks, Simon could tell that she had spent so much time picking her outfit, combing her hair, and painting her toes. And she looked so good. Simon, on the other hand, had spent that morning, as he had each morning of his life, picking from the top of his dresser whatever his dreary eyes saw first without any regard for his presentation or impression which he might give people. Her clearly calculated look, which to him made her seem so girlish and sweet, made him smile ironically behind the pages of his book.
Every now and again, he looked up to make sure that she hadn’t left him yet. Each time he looked at those small feet in those small sandals he felt relieved that he wasn’t abandoned. But they hadn’t said anything to each other and he wasn’t even sure that she noticed him. After all, they hadn’t yet looked into each other’s eyes. But he saw through the back of his eyes that she sat straight up in her chair, looking about anxiously as if she were trying to recognize someone on the bus but failing. She had no book, no phone, just a small, pink purse that she coddled like a baby. What was in that purse? Simon thought. Keys? ChapStick? Snacks? Why do girls carry around so much stuff? In his pockets, Simon had a phone and a wallet and a set of keys. What else did he need? he thought to himself. But that preparedness that women around him seemed so much to possess made him appreciate the girl’s sweetness even more. But he also knew that he hadn’t even heard her voice, which, more than anything else, shows a girl’s sweetness. Soft but not too soft, witty but not obnoxious, unique but not peculiar. These characteristics are what Simon wanted to hear in her voice if he were to hear it at all.
The bus drove deeper into the city, continuing its starts and stops. All of a sudden, a large Hispanic woman sat up, almost knocking over her three cats and began to speak very loudly. This, too, wasn’t unusual.

“Excuse me, ladies and gentlemen, but I would like to steal your time for a few minutes.” She continued with her heavy, coarse voice, not the one Simon wanted to hear. “Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, died for our sins. He sacrificed His own life to free us from our sins that Adam and Eve bequeathed unto us. In return, He asked one thing: our faith, our belief. My family, Jesus is willing to accept and love each and every one of you. But you have to start believing today. Anyone of us could die tomorrow. By then, my family, it will be too late. You have to have faith now, when you are alive. It doesn’t matter who you are or what you’ve done; forget all which defines you now. He with His kindness will love you regardless. You cannot reach salvation without faith. Unbelievers will meet their final destination: Hell, a place so vile our vocabulary cannot describe it. Your soul and body never grow numb to the pain, and nothing you do will relieve you of such hell. So I ask, my family, to please believe in Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior.”

Then, she repeated herself en Español.

Without knowing what to do exactly, Simon sat in his seat, reading his book. He couldn’t concentrate on the words because he kept finding himself wanting to listen to what the fat woman said. He had heard it all before, the salvation spiel, but it always captured his attention.
Finally she finished. Simon waited a few seconds. Then he began a slow, mocking clap. He looked around. Everyone on that bus, except he and the black driver, was probably Catholic. Dirty, disappointed, and indifferent looks met his face. He looked across from him. The girl smiled; she thought it was funny. He got a clear look of her. She had dark brown eyes that lit up with her smile. He was glad he clapped, for he only cared about what she thought of his derision. She sat next to him.
“What, you don’t like Catholics?” she asked him jovially.
“Slightly antediluvian for me, but, no, I’ve no problem with them.” He smiled. “What’s your name?” He took a big step.
“Catalina,” she responded.
“That’s like my favorite name!” he lied.
“Really? Why?”
“Well, it’s not really.”
“Then why’d you say it?”
“I don’t really know what to say to you. You’re so pretty I…”
“Why have you been staring at my feet this whole time?”
Simon’s cheeks turn red. He was blushing. Ah, but maybe she was colorblind. He remembered that boys, though, are much more likely to be colorblind. How was she so sweet and pretty and also so confident in herself? He was jealous. The bus road on...
“They’re nice, I guess,” he said nervously.
“I painted the toes myself. They look nice, right?”
“Why do you think I’ve been staring at them for the past ten minutes?”
Instantly, he felt as though he had blundered, that he had offended her. He had already gotten defensive and had said something dumb. He hoped she wasn’t as sensitive as he.
“Well good, then. I’m glad someone noticed. What’s your name?”
“Oh, uh, um,”
“The questions are only going to get more difficult from here on,” she said smiling. Simon chuckled.
“Simon. Simon Brecht.”
“What kind of name is that?”
He explained to her that it is a Jewish name. She looked at him funny when he said he was Jewish. Normally, this would offend Simon but he knew that in her heart she was as sweet as can be and that her impression of him was no fault of her own but was society’s. Nevertheless, he continued to speak to her. Gradually, he noticed that she started speaking more and regaining her confidence and happiness. Just by talking to him it became impossible for her to dislike him as it became impossible for him to dislike her because she realized that like herself, he too was just a young, teenager, trying trepidatiously to make a new friend. After only a few minutes, the discomfort that they both felt vanished as quickly as it came, and their conversation entered happy, less serious areas. They got to know each other, telling stories of their schools, friends, and families. Amidst the white noise of the bus’s engine, their voices and laughs stood out in the silence of the bus. They came to the last stop, where they both coincidentally got off, exchanged numbers and left. The bus, after a brief stop, went back through its rounds.
They made plans the next day. Simon was to go visit Catalina at her house on 176th street. After work, he took the bus to her house. He got off and the bus’s engine roared loudly but got quieter with distance. Her building wasn’t like those of his friends. It was newer than most, but not modern. In essence it was a project. Not a bad one but a project. Simon didn’t care though, he was just glad to have met a nice girl. The elevator wasn’t working so he took the stairs. It was a hot day and the building wasn’t well circulated. He began to sweat profusely not from nerves but from heat. Eventually though he got so sweaty that he got nervous about his sweaty clothes. His shirt was sticking to his chest; his drops of sweat scintillated on his neck. He could feel his back dripping with the body’s salty water. He reached her floor, looked for her apartment, and, when he found it, knocked on her door. She answered the door, smiled, and looked back as if she had been expecting something from behind her. She didn’t look quite as good as she did on that first day but she was pretty nonetheless and Simon was happy to be with her. They walked in together, talking about their days and of anything new that came up in the last day. Their conversation was small talk and slightly awkward. Something about her seemed different to Simon. She wasn’t quite as cheerful and wily as when they had first met, but he didn’t think much of it. They walked into her small, messy, but cozy living room. He saw Catalina’s mother and said hello. She looked at him but didn’t say anything. The room was silent. A few seconds passed without an utter. Simon tried to say something but the woman interrupted him.
“Catalina, why do you bring this rich boy home with you? I want him out of this house.” She kept staring at Simon.
Catalina didn’t say anything. Neither did Simon. He was so excited for this date, but so far it wasn’t going as planned. He was waiting for her to burst out laughing and tell him that she was messing with him. But she didn’t. The acrimony in the room only grew. She just stared scornfully into his eyes. He knew that people like him and her don’t visit each other’s houses but he wondered why they couldn’t start. Without saying anything, he walked backwards, smiled awkwardly and left.
Humans, Simon thought, were impressionable. Alone, the two teenagers enjoyed themselves despite their differences. He made an impression on her without her attention to his words. It took only a few seconds for them to reconcile after that initial awkwardness on the bus. But just as quickly as they formed a friendship, her mother had squashed it as if it had never existed. She too could form an impression on Catalina, and she was her mother and he a stranger. He thought that if she hadn’t been there, the day would have been perfect and their bond cemented. Only God knows.
Simon sighed and waited for something to pick him up. Low and behold, without an explanation or beckon, the bus came and picked up the despondent boy.
A few weeks had passed and the slightly colder weather was pruning the long summer days. Simon, on his way to work, had his head buried in a tome. Rolling, starting, stopping, jerking, creaking, bouncing, the bus, unperturbed by the changing season, continued it endless work. Catalina got on the bus. Simon saw her and she him, though they never acknowledged each other. Her pretty look hadn’t changed, though she wore an outfit unlike the two he had seen before. Catalina saw Simon’s sloven, boring look, but was glad that it hadn’t changed. She wore that same anxious look on her face that he had noticed the last time he saw her. They sat on the bus together for an hour. He wondered why she wasn’t getting off. Maybe she was waiting for him. Maybe they would reconcile. He knew he wouldn’t talk to her for he hadn’t the courage, but maybe she was looking for it in herself somewhere. His leg shook timorously. The bus continued its path; there weren’t too many stops left, maybe just two or three. Yes, there were three, then two; the bus rolled. He tried to read his book but couldn’t. Next stop was the last. Destination reached. They both got off the bus, with a fairly large group of people between them of course. Behind them, the bus, without caring, continued its circuit again. He looked at her. Their eyes met. Simon let out a hopeful smile. Her lip curled upwards slightly and her eyes showed a glimpse of sadness and regret. She then turned around without looking back and walked up to the subway platform. She put her little foot in front of her, bending her knees slightly. She jerked her knees straight, lifting her torso and body higher up the platform away from Simon. Her hair bobbed up and down with her spastic movements. She reached the top of the stairs, stopped, and continued to the train. Simon heard the noise of the doors open and then close. The train blew its horn and its engines roared. No cars or pedestrians stood in the train’s path. Its wheels slowly turned, building momentum and speed. With each passing second, the train’s ability to stop decreased dramatically. Nothing could impede the train’s movement because of inertia, Simon learned.
Simon knew that that would be the last time he ever saw her; the summer was over and he would go back to his school and she hers. He didn’t cry because he wasn’t surprised. He continued his life. But on the way home he saw a curious thing: a bald man held a comb to his head, stroking his skin as if there were hair in its place. He didn’t quite know what to think of that, so he looked into his book and read on till his eyes hurt.

The author's comments:

Brainstorming on my daily commute, I thought up this story. Enjoy.

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This article has 2 comments.

Beila BRONZE said...
on Aug. 17 2015 at 9:26 pm
Beila BRONZE, Palo Alto, California
3 articles 0 photos 516 comments

Favorite Quote:
"The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco." -Mark Twain

I like this story. You've got a clear talent for writing. I love the way you personify the bus in the beginning, and your initial descriptions of Simon's character are lovely. Also, the whole metaphor of the title and the closing scene is beautifully crafted and interwoven with the story. However, I do feel like the end of the story, after the first meeting between Simon and Catalina, is a little unsatisfying. I wish you would have given a little more time to the nuances of the relationship between them, maybe given Catalina a voice after her mother spoke. As it is written, it feels to me a little like you're forcing the story forwards artificially towards the end in order to reach the desired conclusion instead of letting the story breathe and grow on its own. I feel like the pointed direction of the plot somewhat smothers the characters in the last few paragraphs. Does that make sense? You clearly do know how to develop characters and an easily flowing voice naturally. I just wish you would extend that throughout the piece. If you could do that, the whole story would be golden. :) Good luck!

on Aug. 16 2015 at 9:18 pm
SomeoneMagical PLATINUM, Durham, New Hampshire
22 articles 1 photo 259 comments
This is truly quality work. I wonder why they didn't give it an editors choice? It really is a great story and you have talent. Keep up the good work! Cheers from a fellow writer