How lovely she is! How focused, how purposeful. With her finely chiseled features and milky white skin, her expensive business suits tailored just so, she’s a corporate-ready vision. Her manner is direct and no-nonsense whenever I see or overhear her talking to the other commuters, each step she takes, each breath, her every movement, if not her every thought, seems premeditated — in order with a deliberate plan that is penned into her daily minder — in ink, not pencil. How lovely she is — and how penned-in.
And what a vision is her hair! Chestnut brown, shimmering, healthy locks with the faintest of waves, it hangs almost to her waist. Unlike the rest of her, it’s loose, flowing, untethered by barrette or band. I look forward to watching those locks each day, as we ride the commuter bus to work — they’re the envy of most women and the object of infatuation of every man (and me, the only dyke who takes that bus to work each day). I see how the men on the bus — like myself — watch her take her seat each morning, shake her hair to let it fall across her shoulders, a few stray locks falling behind the headrest and lying like brown gold on the tightly looped nylon fabric. We all catch our breath, each of us a little more awake, the moment we catch sight of her every weekday morning.
I count myself fortunate to live in the same town as she, and consider myself lucky to be employed at the same company where she works. But I feel most fortunate to be on the same commute schedule as her, nearly every day. It’s the same bus we ride to and from the depot down the street from our office building, and when the weather is too rough for the buses to run, we often find ourselves on the same train. I usually get to the bus stop among the earliest of the passengers, and that all but guarantees me a seat in the back of the bus each day. From my vantage point, I look up from my morning paper or the work I brought home the night before, and watch the sun shine through her tresses, teasing the eye as it turns her brown hair crimson-gold-nearly-black, with its play.
Who is this woman? I often wonder, as we stand silently in the crowd of commuters each morning, then pass in the hall at work. How is it that she and I fail to really connect each day? We live in the same town, both of us arriving at the bus stop on foot — rain or shine — but never intersecting each other’s paths on our village’s narrow streets, in the supermarkets, or even at the little post office in the square. She never introduces herself to me, and I’m too shy, too wary of seeming forward, to take the initiative, myself. We exchange nods at work, we recognize each other at first sight each morning. But we never speak more than a few polite nothings. Her face is usually set in serious pondering that discourages small talk at the bus stop and at work. She has an air of strictest business about her, and not wanting to test the sharpness of her edge, I keep my distance. It’s as though we were separate species, watering at the same stream, yet holding to disparate migratory routes.
And yet, we aren’t so different. For she sometimes seems as intrigued by me, as I am with her. One day in the summertime, when I arrived late at the bus stop in my casual computer programmer garb — worn jeans and faded polo shirt — I felt her eyes on me while I dashed, sweating, to the end of the line of boarding passengers. Her gaze that day was soft as the bangs framing her forehead, her manner almost engaging. And one evening when we’d both missed the last bus and found ourselves seated side-by-side on the late train, I saw her eyes wander again and again to my forearms, my hands, my thighs. We might as well have been lovers, her company was so casually familiar.
But lovers we never have been — I can only admire her from afar — and admire her, I do. So serious, so intent, so determined. She marches through her days, one step after another, on the way to some distant destination I can only guess at. The only time I’ve ever seen her manner lighten, was once when she was with another woman in her sales group. I was walking by her area, on my way to get a second cup of coffee, when I heard laughter. I looked over to see those two women sitting close side-by-side, chuckling over a magazine. They both looked up in that moment, their faces bright, their hearts open, and each met my eye for the briefest time. Without a word, they let me in on their joke, then turned back to their pictures and turned the page. It was good to see her loosen up.
I wondered what had made her laugh so hard, so loud, so delightfully? Was it that magazine, or the woman she was with? I wondered what understandings passed between them, what went said and unsaid in their close company. Had they managed to become close in that competitive department, or had competition tainted their relationship? From the hallway, I could see many commendation plaques lining the cube of this woman I knew from a distance, and both she and the other woman dressed as though they had no lack of success. Their mannerisms, their physical closeness that day, bespoke more than just friendship between them, but when a male sales exec drew near, bearing a stack of spreadsheets, they raised their shields and withdrew into distant professional demeanor.
That night, I saw her leave with that male sales exec, briefcase in hand, her attitude all business. She wasn’t on the bus home.
And I missed her. I missed the sight of her tresses.
Such a simple thing — a woman’s long hair. Why does it fascinate me so? I’ve often admired other women’s wavy locks, but never so fervently, even religiously, as hers. What began as happy coincidence — sitting behind her on the bus — has long since become habit with me. And on the days when our paths don’t cross, or she sits behind me on the way to work, or she leaves work earlier than I, I miss the familiar sight of her tresses. I miss my speculations.
What prompted her to grow her hair so long? I ask invisible, mute history. Has her hair always been this long? She never pulls it back or puts it up. It hangs down her back in the same lovely way each day. Did she choose this style early on, then decide not to change it when the compliments rolled in? Does she enjoy the attention it brings her from men and the envy of other women? How many like me on the bus or train each day, long to run their fingers through her hair and feel it fall across their naked skin while making love to her? How many would give anything for just one night — one hour — with her creamy white skin and those chestnut locks? And which one of us would she oblige? I look around the bus, a devilish grin on my face, catching the clandestine eye of her other admirers, who drop their gaze as soon as they’re found out.
Would she oblige me? Would she give me a chance in a carefully orchestrated, dead-drunk scenario of experimentation and free thinking? Would she take a chance at tasting the forbidden fruit, crying out in the throes of the love that dares not name itself in mixed company? What would she be like? How would she find me? I haven’t had a lover or a date in over four months and the thought of having her that way, makes me ache. So I forcibly stop myself in mid-wondering. Were I not so convinced I’m a different animal than her, separate and apart and never drawing near, were our circumstances less dictated by outside influence, and were we not thrown onto the same daily route by sheer force of necessity and habit, I might very well feel like a stalker.
But my intent has never been to intrude or impose, but merely to admire. And she seems to have no objection. In those unguarded moments when she catches me instinctively staring at her from the back of the bus (and sometimes she does), she holds my gaze just a moment, then looks away, smiling. Caught, I blush, but when she looks back again, I know I’m forgiven. I’m permitted to watch — and watch closely. With the upturn of her chin, with her obvious displays of self-conscious primping, I feel I’m even encouraged. But the few times I’ve intentionally taken the seat beside her on the bus, or held the refrigerator door open for her at work, she’s been pointedly distant and discouraging. Something as simple as filling her coffee cup when she’s next in line for the carafe, she seems to find too forward.
There’s something wary, even weary, about her. She carries a well-concealed secret with her each day. I’d been so taken with her hair, I didn’t notice till many months after I first saw her. Then one day, as she walked down the hall ahead of me at work, she flipped her hair away from her neck, and I caught sight of her brace — a bone-white plastic sheath, riddled with ventilation holes that cradled her skull and reached down the length of her body to the flare of her hips. Beneath her business suit the brace was well-hidden, but when I looked closely, I could see where it protruded in places, misshaping the hourglass of her figure. And when she turned the corner too closely, it clacked dully against the wall’s hard surface.
To be continued…