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Second place in the Fall 2019 Personal Narrative Contest with the Society of Young Inklings.

McArthur Lights

A foggy bus ride home invokes a dreamy state of mind

The long, yellow school bus is full of noise—laughing, yelling, chatting, gossiping, squealing, groaning, and singing (a bunch of third-graders, all of whom are rather loud and out of tune). Kids shout across the narrow aisle, crowding over iPads and other electronics and noisily chattering away. I quietly stare out the window, watching the crowded roads as the bus zooms by. Cars swarm the busy intersection and large, green route signs hang overhead proclaiming “Boulevard This” or “Lane That” in shiny, white lettering. There is noise outside the bus as well as in—honking, beeping, shouting, car engines, and the occasional urgent wail of an ambulance or cheerful chirp of a bird in a nearby tree. Cars zip by at breakneck speed, flashing white lights in front and reddish-yellow in the back. Nobody on the road is dawdling around or wasting time. Everyone on the busy road seems to have a place to be, a person to be, a thing that must be done. In the distance is the skyline of the city of Philadelphia—bright, massive, crowded with skyscrapers and normal-sized houses alike.

Although the intersection is all very interesting, it isn’t what I’m watching. I’ve been on this homeward-bound school bus route precisely 157 times (and counting) every Friday for the past four-and-a-half-ish years. It’s safe to say that I’m familiar enough with this particular intersection. What I’m really staring at through the window is the fog.

A thick white blanket of fog hangs over Philadelphia and seemingly everywhere around it, stretching out as far as the eye can see. There isn’t a trace of blue in the sky, and judging from the gloomy whiteness, it almost seems like there never was. The fog is so moist that the bus’s windows, one for every seat, have misted over. It’s so thick that it hangs in the air damply, temporarily shielding Philadelphia’s citizens and tourists from any view of the outside world. But it doesn’t just hang in the air either. It is the air, and it is the sky, and it is stretched out for miles and miles of white nothingness. A little bit of fog once in a while is natural, but this fog has beaten the standards. Fog like this? In San Francisco, maybe. In Philadelphia? Absolutely not.

If only everyone knew that they were so beautiful and twirling and alive.

The bus jerks to a halt in front of the first stop, scaring the bejeezus out of me. That just goes to show what happens when I get lost in thought. About a third of the bus’s contents file out to greet parents. I remain sitting in my seat, staring outthe window after a quick recollection. My bus stop isn’t yet, though I’m grateful for 45 percent less noise than before. My stop is one of the last, and I probably won’t arrive there for another 40 minutes. I stare out the window again, into the hazy fog, just as the school bus veers off. I see you, the fog seems to say. I gaze back intently.

I undo and redo my knotted, brown ponytail and sigh. I undo it, redo it again, undo it, redo it again. Sometimes I seem to be flowing with nervous energy, and the only thing I can do about it is keep my hands busy. For that reason, I make sure to have a hair tie with me at all times. My eyes wander back to the window and my brain drifts back to my day, reflecting on everything that happened.

Today we had a field trip to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, which was pretty much our whole school day. We went because of what our class is studying in social studies, which is the Golden Age of Islam. The museum had an interesting display of Islamic art, which included mosaic wall tile patterns and lots of beautiful carpets. The mosaics spoke to me the most, though. They were beautiful glimmering turquoise, full of spiraling shapes and patterns. Now, staring at the bland whiteness stretching through the sky, I was longing for the splash of gorgeous colors and shapes.

After our class got back to school from the museum, our teacher pointed out all the different features that appeared in Islamic art. There were patterns, shapes, and symmetry, blossoming floral designs, tiny figures of people and animals, and once in a while, flowing Arabic calligraphy. One thing my teacher told us about really stood ought to me, though. She used two words to describe the spiraling lines that seemed to weave in and out through everything else, two words that sang to me like graceful angels— swirling arabesques.

Swirling arabesques. Those words reminded me of dancing ballerinas, twirling with flouncy full skirts. Swirling arabesques. They reminded me of the rising of the sun in the morning, warm on my face the second before I opened my eyes. Swirling arabesques. They reminded me of crowds among crowds of exuberant people, cheering and supporting each other and staying strong for something they believed in. Swirling arabesques reminded me of a phoenix emerging anew from the ashes, soon to regrow its vibrant plumage and begin life again.

My writing brain had started to whir the second I had heard those words. They were so beautiful, so meant to be, but I didn’t think I would ever write something that dramatic. Still, they tasted good in my mouth. I could feel them breathing, every bit as alive as I was. I think. If only everyone knew that they were so beautiful and twirling and alive.

I stare once again at the endless white sky and sigh, but a content sigh. Despite the sort of miserable blandness of the white heavens, the sky has almost done me a favor. The sad, dreary fog forced me to think about brighter things, beautiful things. Now I could see the words dancing in my head, alive and waiting for me. Beautiful, bright, and alive.

The bus once again jerks to an abrupt halt, bringing my thoughts back to Earth. It takes me a second to realize that the bus is almost empty.

“Third an’ Pine!” Ms. Anthena, our bus driver, calls.

This is my stop. I can’t believe I’ve zoned out for so long.

I swing my backpack over my shoulder and walk down the aisle with a few other kids, one of whom is my little brother, George. “Thank you,” I say to Ms. Anthena, and she says, “You’re welcome, Zo’,” and zooms off after the automatic folding doors snap shut behind me. I hug my mom hello and begin to walk home in a trance in the misty, enchanted fog, wondering what the next lively, swirling arabesque words will be.

Zoe Kyriakakis
Zoe Kyriakakis, 10
Philadelphia, PA

Oskar Cross
Oskar Cross, 10
Oakland, CA