by Zuha Jaffar

It’s much too early in the morning to be awake. Light floods the sky, shining onto my face, but I continue to squint just to marvel at the bottoms of clouds burnished with golden paint. Cold air surrounds me, but I barely notice. I’m busy listening to whatever music is playing too loudly in my headphones, thinking about every possible thing I can, and letting it fill up the early silence. The sound of the heater is in the background as I feel hot air tightly hugging my body. I lay my head on my backpack and keep gazing at the sky.

School is finally over. The sound of laughter echoes, a sound drastically different compared to the morning’s tranquility. It’s impossible to listen to music, as someone is always talking to the other. The atmosphere is overcrowded with fathomless conversations, but they seem to disappear, as I talk to my friends. It’s on this bus that I grow closer with them, where friendships are strengthened despite the incredibly bumpy ride.

I travel from the west to the east side of the city, a ride that lasts about an hour and a half. Sometimes, when life proves to be too much, I shut out the noises with my own contemplations of the world. I’m alone and as my head pounds (most likely from my deafening music) and all my overbearing thoughts are bouncing around in my brain, the veiled charm of my city helps me forget everything else. The bus takes a unique route in which I’ve encountered sights I would never see if I drove, the hidden beauties of my city.  

I’ve passed by mysterious graffiti painted on withered buildings and spent months trying to decipher what they say, who made the amazing art, and why it’s there. We drive by downtown every morning, the buildings look more like mere shadows amongst the sky drenched with orange and purple dyes, a silhouette of my home. Past downtown, dark trees poke the sky, the veins of nature. We pass by the same small gas stations, Shaker Square, 24 hour diners, dwarfish furniture shops and spas every day. The only thing that changes are the faces of the people who are walking to school or playing with their dog or simply smoking their problems away. And even though my head may be pounding, I love this solitude more than anything. It is on this bus that I am not only able to unearth this city’s concealed gems, but also observe humanity.

Besides the healing moments of letting myself comprehend the world and this life, most of all, I owe my most tight-knit friendships to the bus. I have come to be closer with these people than any of my other friends. Instead of dreading the long ride home, I look forward to being with my friends for an hour, talking about everything on our minds.

A few years ago, the day before winter break, I sat on the bus with a dozen other people. Our voices were saturated with excitement, a sort of warmth that comes with the release of stress from school and the buzz of the holidays. Soft Christmas music flowed from the radio, which is barely ever on. What we talked about escapes my mind, all I know is that we were incapable of stopping. We were glowing amongst the dreary winter, a light that would never dim. Countless similar experiences would continue. These friendships are what I’ll miss the most from high school, the ones that will last the longest.

The school bus strengthens friendships and shows off my gorgeous city, but most importantly, it holds memories that we may forget with each passing year. It knows its people more than we know ourselves. It has seen everyone at their lowest and their highest, moments we don’t even remember. It contains a history like no other, one of every person who has used it to reach home or school. It absorbs every important point in our lives, like the feelings of anxiety and despair on the first day of school to the electrified joy on the last day. The bus soaks up all the gossip spilled out of our mouths, the drama from school that we think will never end. It watches us grow into the people we become. Seeing a school bus doesn’t just remind us of school, but the feelings and emotions we felt growing up, and how we all changed. It is the most powerful symbol of our youth, one that reminds us of every piece of our lives that was once important to us. The nostalgia of our adolescence is deeply embedded into its dark, leather seats, and no other objects carry these sentiments. 

The bus isn’t high-class. It is actually quite hideous. It’s giant, loud, and its gross mustard color is sickeningly conspicuous among the sea of grey and black cars it drives through. It makes a ridiculous number of stops, forcing everyone to wake up earlier than needed to get to school. When you drive yourself to school, you have to focus on the road. You don’t have time to let yourself get lost in your thoughts. You can’t sleep. The friendships that can be strengthened on a bus can’t happen when you’re driving alone and busy, only paying attention to the road. But whether I am alone or chattering away with friends, in an ocean of chaos when the world expels cold air and fear, lies the embrace of the warm golden light dripping from under the clouds. I know that in the endless mess of our confusing childhoods, the school bus is a haven, reminding us of our innocent, untroubled youth.