Creative Writing Contest: Third place

Evan walked carefully through the snow to the bus stop. His eyes were focused on the ground in front of him, as he tried his best to pack down, with every step, the raised snow in between the footprints that were already there. Making this small contribution to the path always gave him a sense of accomplishment. He often wondered if other people felt the same way, but somehow doubted it.

As he got closer to the bus stop, the ground became icier. There’d been quite a bit more foot traffic over here, and what used to be light snow was now packed down into slippery ice. He quickened his pace and deliberately slid along the ice a few times in a half-hearted attempt to get to the shelter sooner.

There was no one else at the bus shelter, and one of its glass panels was missing, allowing cold wind to blow right in. Evan opened the door and stepped inside. A shelter with a big gaping hole was still better than no shelter at all. He checked the time on his cell phone: 9:39. He still had eight minutes to wait before the bus would get there.

Waiting for buses at night in the dead of winter was easily one of Evan’s least favourite things to do. All he could think about was the cold, and it always seemed like each minute lasted forever. He took off his right glove and placed the back of his hand on the surface of the shelter’s steel bench. As he suspected, the back of the bench, which was next to the electric heater, was slightly warm, but the front of the bench was ice cold, making the bench, as a whole, completely useless. This obvious flaw in the bench’s design always struck him as bizarre. Do the people who design these things just never check to see if they actually work properly? Evan sighed in resignation.

As he waited, shifting his weight from one leg to the other in an effort to keep warm, a slim girl who looked to be about his age, and who was wearing a long brown coat, walked in. A cold wind suddenly blew in through the hole where the missing panel used to be. The girl winced from the cold, and then looked at the hole. She was wearing a thick scarf, so Evan couldn’t see much of her face, but even so, a look of resigned disappointment was clearly apparent. He tried to think of something funny to say to her, but nothing came to mind.

He checked his phone again: 9:42. Just five more minutes and then he’d be sitting in the warm bus and on his way home. He had actually remembered to bring his book to work today too, so he’d have something to read during the long ride. These thoughts gave him a fleeting sense of excitement, and he gave his body a quick shake to get the blood flowing.

“B-r-r-r-r!” He exclaimed.

This apparently startled the girl, and she gave him a quick glance, but then, just as quickly, she went back to staring at her feet.

“It’s pretty cold,” Evan said.

She responded, without looking up from the ground, by raising her eyebrows and giving her head a nod. Evan cleared his throat and then fished around in his pocket for his phone: 9:43. It was as if time was standing still.

Staring passively through the frosty glass wall in front of him, something suddenly caught his eye. Someone had taken the time to scratch the outline of a large misshapen penis into the frost. Evan focused his gaze on the penis. Having nothing else to do, he soon found himself mentally tracing its outline, trying to imagine which lines its artist had scraped first and in which direction. Presumably the purpose of this piece was to shock those who, like himself, had the misfortune of having to wait in this shelter. Evan tried to imagine someone being genuinely shocked from the sight of a poorly drawn penis on a frosted glass window. Older ladies possibly, but then again, probably not. This got him to wondering if there would be less profane graffiti in the world if teenagers could be somehow made aware of how desensitized everyone had already become to that sort of thing. But then again, if the profanities stopped, wouldn’t people soon become re-sensitized, once again providing teenagers with the incentive to go back to scratching penises onto frosted glass bus shelter walls? Maybe these penis artists were providing the public with an essential service – a sort of vaccination against even more shocking profanities.

Eventually losing interest in the art on the wall, Evan glanced back over at the girl, only to see that she had been looking at him. She quickly looked back at her feet. How long had she been watching him? Had she seen him staring intently at that penis the whole time? He felt a wave of embarrassment pass through his body, and if his cheeks hadn’t already been red from the cold, they would have become red then. Just then, another blast of cold air came in through the hole in the shelter. The girl hunched up her shoulders and buried her face into the scarf around her neck. 9:46. Just one more minute!

“Do you know how much longer until this bus comes?” The girl asked, stretching her face out from behind her scarf to speak.

“It should be here any minute,” he responded.

The girl nodded and pulled her scarf back up. In the short time that Evan had seen her face, he realized that it wasn’t the first time. Unless he was mistaken, she was often sitting in the coffee shop next to his office building during his morning breaks. She must work around here too. He was pretty sure that she didn’t work in his building, because he’d never seen her there, but maybe she worked in one of the buildings across the street.

“I think I’ve seen you around here before. Do you work nearby?” He finally asked.

The girl took a minute to gather her thoughts, and then mumbled, “Mhmm,” in confirmation.

“So do I,” Evan said, nodding his head.

After a brief pause, she responded, “Hmm,” presumably satisfied that he wasn’t going to be elaborating on the point.

Evan tried to think of something else to say, to keep the conversation going, but was again at a loss for words. The awkward silence was soon interrupted by the bus finally pulling up. Its doors slowly opened to reveal its warm and inviting interior. He took a deep breath and stepped out of the shelter and then into the bus, showing his pass to the driver on his way in. The bus was empty, and he walked down the aisle to a seat near the middle, making sure to put his backpack on his lap, so that the seat next to him would be empty. The girl walked down the aisle behind him, and continued on to the back of the bus. Evan briefly gazed her way while she sat down and took off her scarf. He then picked up his backpack and put it back down on the free seat next to him. He pulled open its zipper, and looked inside for his book. It wasn’t there. He must have left it in the lunchroom at work. He closed his eyes for a moment, and then turned to face the window next to him. The doors of the bus closed.