Water and Chocolate

Water and Chocolate

flash fiction by Nailah Mathews, age 17

When she steps onto the bus, she’s met with the usual buzz of nonsensical chatter. She takes a seat, debates pulling her headphones out of her bag. They don’t block out all of the noise, but they do make it easier to bear. She figures there’s not much use in it; it’s a rainy day. People’s thoughts will be sluggish at best. They’re all muted colors with the occasional splash of fuchsia or goldenrod; like water and chocolate.

Dahlia drops her head back against the window behind her. The world outside passes in a haze of color. It’s her favorite part about catching the bus. She can see people living and thinking but they flit by too quickly to snag her focus.

The bus groans to halts and jolts to start, hiccupping in its usual way. Dahlia counts down until there are only four more from Mulberry. She stretches out her awareness for curiosity’s sake. She only ever skims the tops of people’s thoughts. It’s like using a knife to slice off excess foam on coffee: harmless.

She’s met with a light smattering of bubblegum-shortcake-lemonade inquisitiveness from small children. Some apathy trickles in from the teenagers, and even then more anxiety than that: black licorice and coal. Mismatched arousal spikes heady in the back of her throat and thick in her nostrils: Halls cough drops and musk. She coughs to dislodge the flavor.

She’s then caught by something bright but subdued. Dahlia turns and tries to match the thoughts with the face. Not the girl with the pierced lip (she’s thinking of her sick cat back home) or the man with a bowler brim (he’s texting too quickly to think). Not even the old couple who’re both debating the merits of pushing the other down the stairs to cash in on the insurance and move somewhere sunny.

She sources the thoughts on a man stepping onto the bus.

Dahlia is enamored.

His mind is cool, still water. His thoughts move in a languid place through his mind. The static hum in the back of his consciousness is a hodgepodge of soft bass solos and verses of Neruda’s. Earl grey tea fills her mouth, then a moment later, cool black coffee with six sugars. He makes his way to her.

He offers smiles at the people whose legs he disrupts. He gathers his bag to his front and drops it in his lap as he sits. Their gazes don’t meet. Dahlia lets herself drown in the shallow waters of his mind. She’s careful not to go too far.

He’s vaguely distressed about school. He wonders what his sisters are going to want for their birthdays this year. Hopes his mother is doing well now that she’s living on her own. He is shades of blues, greens, greys and purples.

Dahlia jolts when the bus does. The man beside her remains still even as her shoulder jostles him. He turns to her as she rights herself. She reaches out a hand to dust off where she knocked into him. Takes it back after feeling like an utter tit for even doing it. Her fingers hover while she looks for something to say. He smiles at her. She offers a weak wave.

He holds out his hand and she takes it. They shake once, twice before their hands drop. She can feel his fingertips lingering on the curve of her wrist. He takes his hands back to himself and they begin to move. His fingers flex and curl, hands orbiting over and underneath each other. They move fast, too fast for her to track but his mind is singing. His thoughts are warm honey pooling at the back of her throat. His shy grin is the second ravenous bite of a crisp apple. She can still feel the pads of his fingers on her skin.

Then he falters. His hands stutter. His grin drops. The symphony in his brain dulls to an insecure hum. One thought strikes out, loud and harsh. It is shades of orange against a backdrop of a weary grey.

Oh Christ, she’s hearing.’

That’s what his hands were doing. He was signing. He’s deaf. Dahlia doesn’t know sign language. She purses her lips. Digs her fingers into her thighs. Opens her mouth to speak, but his face falls flat as soon as she does. He begins an apologetic wave. He gets up to walk away (‘I should find another seat, this has been awkward enough.’), but her hand wraps around his arm. He turns his head over his shoulder and gives her an appraising look.

She digs in her bag for a pen. When she finds it, she draws out dark thick lines on her right forearm. She holds her arm out to him. He doesn’t take it, but he does peer down and read what she’s written.

My name is Dahlia.

A smile pulls at the corners of his mouth. Her belly drops with the hesitant onslaught of hot chocolate-French-toast-strawberry-whipped-cream thoughts that begin to fog his mind. He gestures to the pen, and she gives it to him. He writes on his right forearm, and something in Dahlia quivers when she finds out that he’s left-handed, too. He holds out his arm to read after he tucks the pen back into her empty hand. His forearm says:

I’m Salvatore.

Dahlia beams, and Salvatore begins to brighten as well. After another moment, he slips his backpack from his shoulders over into his lap. He opens it and slides out a thick, dark-brown notebook. He slides to an empty page, propping the notebook up on his backpack. He takes the pen gingerly from her open hand and writes at the top of the page:

Is this better?

He offers her the pen and the notebook. She takes them and starts a sentence below his question.

They both miss their stops.

2015 Scholastic Writing Awards Silver Key Portfolio

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