Blue was an undergraduate in her second year at University.
She believed that being pale was an interesting image and that people who were rather loud were to be discouraged. In accordance with this belief, Blue wore clothes that blended with her surroundings, whether Seminar walls, bus seats or long grey corridors. She adopted a manner that meant that people often didn’t notice her at all and in consequence, was rarely bothered by people who she didn’t know very well, and only a little more often by people she did know well.
She was studying Applied Invisibility in the School of Self-disparagement at the University of Bland.
Every morning she would get up, apply her very subtle make-up, find her everywoman jumpsuit and brush her hair into a bob – which frankly didn’t bob very much. She would walk down the road and wait for the 8.48am bus that took her to University every morning. Blue would sit by herself at the very back of the bus. That way, she didn’t need to talk to anyone, she could show her bus pass to the driver and disappear down to the end of the bus. For the whole of her first year she didn’t speak to a soul, or a spirit or even a living person.
Each day she would attend lectures, seminars and tutorials and only speak when spoken to. If the Tutor addressed her personally she would colour a little (subtly, so hardly anyone would notice) and reply in the shortest form possible – and with as little character and personality as she could manage. After all, people who dominated groups, talks, bus rides and bus queues were to be discouraged. They obviously had issues which Blue prided herself on not having.
One day, Blue was waiting for the 8.48am bus and a small elderly gentleman also waiting for the bus turned and smiled at her. “Good morning, young lady” he said with a courtly bow and a twinkle in his eye. Blue half-smiled at him and turned away quickly, concerned not to be caught up in conversation with some old man who obviously didn’t have any friends in his life. He persisted, “It’s a lovely day, isn’t it?” She nodded glumly, with barely hidden irritation. He continued, “Allow me to introduce myself, my name is Treat. Are you a student by chance?”
Blue was now standing outside of her comfort zone. The last thing she wanted to do was engage in conversation first thing in the morning when she had so many other things not to think about. “yes”, she said, hoping that this admission would satisfy him. Treat looked anything but satisfied. He looked instead a little like a boisterous whippet being offered a ball to play with. “It must be wonderful to get up every morning and think that I am going to College in order to learn something new. To meet new people and discuss ideas. How wonderful to think that I could come home that evening with a completely different outlook on life. Is that what you think when you catch the bus in the morning m’dear?”
“I suppose so”, Blue murmured, wishing that he would go away. The opposite happened. The bus arrived and Blue crept onto it in her usual demure fashion whilst Mr Treat positively exploded onto the bus. Like a visiting dignitary trying out a third world mode of transport, he made small talk with the driver, complimenting him on his punctuality and processed down the bus talking to every passenger and asking after their well-being. As far as Blue could remember, he had never rode on the bus before. All these people were strangers to him – and yet, he seemed to know them all intimately. Worse, they all seemed to revel in the attention, looking up and smiling, returning his greetings. The whole bus seemed awash with chatter, good will and, well, joy.
Treat sat down next to Blue, who almost squirmed with discomfort. He turned to her, resting a friendly hand on her shoulder. “Well, m’dear, let’s talk about you. We have twenty minutes on this bus to while away and I want to hear about everything that’s going on in your life.”
Blue was panic-stricken. No-one in almost ten years had pinned her down like this. She was used to answering questions in a quiet, detached sort of way, giving the minimum and keeping people at a safe distance. It was easier that way.
Treat was having none of this. “Come, come m’dear, I want to hear all about your successes and hopes and even your fears. What would you like to happen today?” Blue knew that her low-risk strategy for engaging with people was being trampled on. Her layers of defence were being breached. Little rivulets of this man’s energy were penetrating her sandbagged front door. Blue’s innermost private spaces would soon be awash with good natured conversation. She turned away, rudely. She felt her face run red with shame. After all, he was just being friendly. Amazingly, she felt a little tear form in one eye and start to trickle down her right cheek. She brushed it away and stared out of the window.
She glanced to her side and with a start realised that the seat next to her was empty. Treat had gone.
The tears ran freely now. He was the first person to ask how she was in months. He was the first person to really show an interest in her, in what she thought and what she had planned. How could she have been so rude? Her whole being ached – and yet in the pain there was another kind of sensation. Of having connected with someone, however briefly.
She glanced out of the window. There was Mr Treat walking brightly along the pavement. He looked up at the bus and caught her eye. He smiled at her, winked and mouthed the words, “See you tomorrow..”
It was then she realised that her secret wish had been granted. And all that day she practised what she would say to Treat the next day with people she met. On the bus home that night, she couldn’t stop smiling because of all the comments people had made to her. Blue had become bright Blue. She even said ‘thank you’ to the bus driver.
She was amazed by how much she was looking forward to tomorrow.
Roy Stannard 8.5.09