The bus departs and I watch it go. For a second I can feel myself longing to leave with it. But it’s gone and I’m here. I have to do this. The sun is out in full force, spring is giving way to inevitable summer. I wish it was raining, I would be safe if it was raining. Maybe. I have 20 minutes before class in Mitchie. I’m an anxious person when it comes to punctuality. I’m also an anxious person. 20 minutes is enough time for a coffee and a walk from the lakes bus stop. If all goes to plan. I prepare, rummaging through my bag pulling out a pair of tangled headphones. After a minutes work that would make any scout proud I put them in. Only the left side works, but that’s fine. I wasn’t planning on listening to anything. I’ve been at uni four years now, the key I think is to look as preoccupied as possible. Headphones are good, blocking one route. The next is to look like you are going somewhere important. You need to have purposeful walk. You are going from A to B, that’s your mission and nothing can stop you. The final and most important tactic is avoiding all eye-contact. Walking and pretending to text is perfect for this but after The Great Fall of ’15, I’m not willing to make the risk. The next best thing is sunglasses. With a heavy tint it is nigh impossible for anyone to know they have met your eyes. Eye-contact is the end. Sunglasses and headphones should be enough. I keep sifting through my bag. They should be in here somewhere. I had started by carefully leafing through my assorted collection of notebooks and crumpled worksheets but now the pace has elevated to frantic. Empty gum packets and pen lids join my papers stacked on the bus stop seats. S***. No sunglasses.
I can feel my heart speeding up, I swear I can see it beating, palpitating through my shirt. Well there’s no getting around this. I push my fringe forward in a futile attempt to cover my eyes. I let out a small panicked laugh; if only I hadn’t left the tragic scene days of my teenage years behind. But I’m an adult now (I tell myself), I swing my bag onto my shoulder and march forwards. Joining me on the gauntlet are a few groups. I situate myself close enough to a five-some that I might be mistaken for one of their members. Safety in numbers I think. A nature doco flashes through my mind, a leopard taking down the slowest gazelle while the rest of the pack flees to safety. And there they are, the leopards. Scratch that, leopards hunt alone. Up ahead are wolves.
There are two main packs spread along on opposite sides of the walkway. They don’t respect much, but they know that territorial infringements would result in a mutually assured bloodbath. On the left is a painfully orange group and on the right blue. From my understanding these are the only practical differences between the two, besides the differently-worded synonymous slogans or whichever fast food dispenser they have promised. My plan is to stick to the tail-end of this group and ride in their slipstream as far as it will take me. To my horror my entourage is suckered in by the charming smile of an orange shirt. I realise my mistake; it was a gaggle of first years I had been following, still naïve to the dangers of innocuous conversation. I say a quick prayer for my fleeting companions and leave them to their fate.
I’m walking with my eyes down, silent headphones my last defense. I keep making quick glances up to avoid a collision that would prove fatal. I can just picture it, ‘Hey are you ok? By the way have you heard about our policies?’ And then it happens, I look up and I meet a pair of blue eyes, the same blue as his shirt. Everything slows down. I watch his mouth slowly grow, pulling his lip apart revealing a shining white corrected-to-perfect smile. Even as the smile keeps spreading it never reaches his eyes. The whole time they are locked onto mine. He knows it. I know it. And he knows I know it. He owns me.
Hey mate how you doing. He offers a hand. I don’t shake it.
Good thanks. Keep it brief, but don’t make him too defensive.
Do you have a second to talk about the upcoming election. There are some really important issues this year.
I am amazed at how none of his questions sound like questions. Uh no, sorry I have to get to class.
Don’t worry, this’ll only take a couple of minutes and it’s only quarter-to so you should have plenty of time
S***. He’s good. I panic. I can feel a bead of sweat slide from my forehead, tracing a curve along my cheek. I shouldn’t have showered. Or shaved. Or decided to do a bloody degree. Maybe that would have saved me. I’ve already voted?
He smiles at me, I grimace back. We both know how pathetic that one was.
Voting starts next week mate, but don’t worry I have all the facts you need to make an informed decision.
And so he goes. My eyes glaze over. I give the appropriate noises. It doesn’t matter that I’m not listening to what he’s saying. I don’t think he really minds either. We are just both going through the motions. And then it’s over. I arrive at class 5 minutes later with a stack of brightly coloured pun-filled flyers. And no coffee.