There is a loud mechanical thud and the bus comes to a halt as usual. Stop 34-B. A skinny teenage boy thanks the bus driver and hops off the bus onto the curb, nearly tripping over; it’s slippery from the rain, and Rex Ellis isn’t exactly known for his coordination. To his credit, he recovers quickly and marches on his way, cursing the fact that he had spent five minutes that very morning debating whether or not to bring an umbrella, finally deciding not to as it would inconvenience him and it probably wouldn’t rain anyhow. How wrong he was. The rain had started just after midday and ever since then it had just gotten harder and harder; the former glory of blue skies and rainbows was but a distant memory.
As Rex steps inside the bakery to get out of the rain he realises he has wet socks. Squidgy, disgusting wet socks. Rex hates only three things in this world: war, famine, and wet socks. He thinks about running home, throwing his soaking wet, smelly socks in the wash, and taking refuge in the comfort and warmth of his bed. However, he is out of bread, milk, and Cocopops, the cornerstones of any nutritious breakfast, and not even wet socks are going to stand in the way of breakfast in the morning. After all, it is the most important meal of the day.
Rex leaves the bakery, buying an apple streusel out of guilt, and makes his way around the corner to the supermarket. Inside, a familiar sight: off-white linoleum floors, green shopping baskets, and yellow price-stickers. As he walks down the cereal aisle, he realises that it’s a Wednesday, which means one thing: Chloe is working. He makes his way to the end of the aisle and casually glances in both directions. Nothing. Dairy, fresh produce, and stationery. Still nothing; Rex considers three possible explanations: she is either sick, she has the night off, or, and he hopes it’s not the case, she doesn’t work there anymore.
At the checkout, his heart skips a beat: it’s her. She is wearing a faded blue uniform, with a smiley face pinned to it; her long brown hair is down, licking at her elbows; and she is wearing lots of eyeliner, which accentuates her blue eyes and makes them look bigger. Rex gets in the line and tries to work up the courage to speak to her. He has seen her face 168 times and has been served by her 36 times, however, not once has he said anything other than “good, thank you”, a response to her requisite “hello, how are you doing today?”
The line moves up a person and Rex shuffles forward. He curses himself for not having more food items. More food equals more time and more time equals more opportunity to maybe one day speak to her. He picks up a chocolate bar and throws it in his basket; unaware that of all the 1682 different products Chloe has ever scanned, chocolate bars are by far the quickest. In fact, on average Chloe scans a chocolate bar in 0.48 seconds; the second fastest in the shop, right behind Regina Hodgkins, the redhead with a chronic obsession for register six.
The big moment finally arrives: time slows as Chloe’s gaze falls upon Rex; she flicks her hair and parts her glossy, pink lips to speak.
“Hello, how are you doing today?”
“…Good, thank you.”
6.48 seconds later, Rex leaves the register confused and frustrated at what has just happened.
Two days later, it’s still raining. Rex gets off the bus again, but this time waits at the lights; Chloe doesn’t work on Fridays. As he crosses the road, he catches a glimpse of a girl: short brown hair; blue eyes, lots of eyeliner; and a big red ribbon in her hair. He almost doesn’t realise it’s her; he’s never seen her outside of work before, and her new hairdo doesn’t make the identification process any easier. He walks past her, nonchalant, expecting nothing, when something wonderful happens: she smiles at him. She looks him in the eyes and smiles at him, the girl with the red ribbon in her hair.
Ben Carey is 22 years old and lives in Brisbane, Australia. He studies Creative Writing at QUT. He writes film reviews for the online magazine TOM Magazine.