I missed him like crazy; my immediate younger brother. Since his passing in winter of 2002, high school felt like torture. My only companions were loneliness and despair, and each day taunted me of my painful loss. Grief comes in waves and today, it washed over me.
Exhausted from another day without him, I stared listlessly out the bus window one afternoon. The excited chatter and chaos of high school students didn’t move me. I was not interested in making friends, for the only one that mattered was long gone.
That was until a new student climbed onto the bus and took the seat in front of me. I barely paid him any mind, except to wrinkle my nose at the trace of smoked fish that hung in the air when he sat down.
Then he turned swiftly in his chair, the leather of the seat squeaking as he did. “Hello.”
I dragged my forlorn stare from the window to look at him. And was instantly struck in awe.
He looked just like my brother; dark complexion, squinty eyes and a bright smile.
My heart skipped a beat and it took everything in me to keep from reaching out to touch him, to check if it was really my brother. But how could that be? I saw them close the coffin over his body…
Shaking my head, I blinked and took a second look.
His smile was different and his eyes were not as playful as my brother’s.
Disappointment drooped my shoulders.
“Hello,” he repeated, although his smile dimmed.
I could only manage a weak greeting, despair threatening to wash over me.
He must’ve mentioned his name but I didn’t hear it. I was far too distracted by the uncanny resemblance, albeit small. For a sister overcome with grief, any living semblance of my brother was enough.
“I’m sorry,” I blurted out. “You look like my brother.”
He raised both brows, confusion etched in his features. “I do?”
I shrugged. “Kinda.”
The wattage of his smile amplified. “That’s cool. How old is he?”
“Fifteen.” I swallowed hard. “He… passed away this last December.”
The smile disappeared quickly, with regret clear in his features. “I’m sorry.”
I shook my head, refusing his apology. It couldn’t bring back my brother. Instead, I welcomed the distraction. “Are you Nigerian? Your accent is familiar.”
“Yes. From Port Harcourt, actually.”
I gasped, surprised. “Really? I was born there.” My brother was born there too, a year after me.
He grinned. “That’s great.”
I couldn’t agree more. For the first time since December, I could talk with someone on the ride home.
He met me at the cafeteria one afternoon, excitement dancing in his eyes as he set down his lunch tray.
I stiffened as he took his seat beside me.
He’d never sat with me at lunch. Usually, I sat alone to eat quickly before skulking to the library for the rest of the lunch hour.
“So guess what happened to me this weekend?” he prompted.
I just watched him scoop corn into his mouth. His words went in one ear and out the other as I thought to myself. ‘This isn’t my brother. This is some stranger to distract me from losing my brother.’
As he blabbered on about his family’s wild weekend, I glanced around us. If anyone could see us now, they’d think we were dating… and not because he was a substitute for my brother.
Glancing back at him, I watched his smile grow and the twinkle in his eyes brighten. He thought of me as a friend, and I’d used him. The rest of the school day went on in a blur.
After school, I trudged onto the bus with a heavy heart and chose my usual seat. From my window, I spotted him ambling over with a spring in his step. In that split second, I sat my backpack beside me and concentrated on the peeling leather of the seat in front of me.
The bus was halfway full of students by the time he stepped inside, but there were plenty of empty seats in front of me. From the corner of my eye, I saw him walking past the empty chairs.
Jaw clenched, I silently begged him to take one of the seats and leave me alone.
He didn’t and only came to stop beside my chair. I fought a grimace when he tapped the chair in front of me to get my attention. Both brows arched, I lifted my gaze to him. “Yes?”
“Let me sit down.”
He gestured to my backpack. “Move it so I can sit down.”
I could feel the weight of stares around me and gripped my backpack. “There are so many seats that you passed. Pick one of them and sit.”
He frowned at my unkind tone. “But I want to sit here though.”
“Why? Those seats are open.”
Our classmates snickered behind us. I begged him to take the cue and go away even if he didn’t understood.
Then he glanced over my head and his face hardened. Looking down at me with a look of betrayal, he stalked away and chose the seat closest to the door.
I sagged against my chair and released the breath I didn’t realize I’d been holding.
Minutes later, he got off the bus first and didn’t look back once.
Relief and regret fought for control within as I watched him stroll down the street and disappear around the corner. That would be the last time I saw the guy from the bus.
Fourteen years later, I wonder what became of him and only feel regret for pushing away someone who started out a stranger and could’ve been the friend I desperately needed then.
Sometimes, grief makes you do foolish things… Guy from the bus, I’m sorry.