The boy sitting across from you on the train has green hair—not like the lime peel you once had to eat on a dare (and immediately spit out), but the color of four-leaved shamrocks people spend their years looking through fields for. He has big eyes, he has ears that stick out, he has black leather boots which have heels you wouldn’t dance with, but most of all, he has green hair. You might be giving into stereotypes. You put glitter under your eyes every morning.
(You don’t know why you do it, because your mother never left the house without glitter and she was never even given an engagement ring, but a scrawled “sorry” across the calendar in red ink, which reminded her too much of the “sorry” her big brother left before they found his body in the lake. There is a reason she needs to ask somebody the date every day, unless it is your birthday.)
He lounges next to a woman in a navy blue business suit, his dangerous heels up, messenger bag lightly kissing her briefcase. She leans away, not nearly enough to touch the silver pole. You want him to ask her to take off the designer sunglasses, ask if she’s ever had a tattoo—a Bible verse, a butterfly, the skyline of a city she barely lives in.
For the record, she and her second-longest boyfriend were going to get matching rings around their pinkies, but that was the day her physics professor asked her to coffee.
(They wouldn’t end up together, they couldn’t end up together. He was twice divorced and she was twenty-two and doesn’t believe in the magic of threes, but they went to a coffeehouse named Aroma, where she asked him what kind of cologne he wore and today there stands a Tommy Hilfiger fragrance behind all her hairspray. Three years ago, his girlfriend bought him something by Ralph Lauren. He hasn’t worn anything else since.)
For the record, her second-longest boyfriend got that pinky ring tattoo by himself, albeit two months later, in case he ever remembered to forget.
For the record, he went into a thrift store three weeks after that and found a ring to wear over the tattoo. He still visits the thrift store every week, because the girl who works the noon to eight shift on Saturdays wears her hair like his youngest cousin used to (unless she had a date. Then she shampooed it twice and ran her fingers through it so that her date would still feel like he had three strikes before she’d leave him sitting alone at the table).
(As it would turn out, she’d marry, and have three children with the boy who, on the first date, which he had badgered her for six consecutive days upon seeing her interning at his aunt’s office, committed the devastating trifecta: knocking instead of ringing the doorbell; letting her know from the moment they entered the restaurant that she’d be paying for her own meal so she could eat whatever she liked; and not asking for a second date or kissing her goodbye at the end of the night. She wouldn’t even have spoken to him the next day at his aunt’s office if he hadn’t shouted, “Shit!” while staring at a sheet of calculus problems.)
(Calculus should have been her middle name, although Calliope is close enough, so they name their first son Caleb and he winds up getting a B in every math class he’s enrolled in. “Just like his father,” his great aunt remarks and it’s the last thing they hear her say before a drunk driver ploughs into her ’69 Volkswagen Beetle. The doctor determines Caleb’s cause of death three days later as liver failure due to a burst appendix.)
“Grief can’t be a cause of death,” he said, continuing to read his political philosophy textbook. “Just like love can’t be a cause of insanity.”
“If you’re studying medicine, why are you taking a political philosophy class?” The glitter flakes from your skin fell onto the pages.
He looked directly at you. “Because it makes my mother happy.”
And this is what you remember, coming home from the hospital, as you try to jiggle the doorknob open with your fist stuffed in your mouth to stop the screams because Lisa has already been down six times in the last three hours but you’ve forgotten how to curl your fingers once you see the cap of his cologne still on the pillow and you’re hugging his political philosophy textbook when Lisa comes bounding down the stairs and she prays to the God you both need to believe in, and when she ends with, “Amen,” you follow it up with, “Please.”
(Somewhere, on a train, a boy lifts his green hair in answer to a businesswoman who’s just asked if he has a tattoo.)
Upasna Saha, Age 15, Grade 10, Hunter College High School, Silver Key