Back Seat

by Alyssa Korenstein, Cornell University

Posted in on Thursday, Nov 13

Another summer has come and gone. A new school year is beginning. The air gives off its last remaining bits of summer warmth. Fresh new faces pile on the bus on this very fine September day. With each stop, more and more children fill up the seats. In preparation for the upcoming year, I stretch out my leathery exterior, hoping that perhaps today I will finally be the chosen seat. The bus rounds the corner and approaches the final pick-up stop. A young, curly-haired girl holds her mother’s hand tightly, turning her knuckles a ghostly white. A kindergartener on her very first day!

The little girl’s mother kisses her goodbye, sending her off into the world of the unknown. Her small feet slowly shuffle down the endless aisle, looking for a decent place to sit. She looks at the first few rows, where all the good little children sit quietly: taken. Next comes the middle of the bus, where a mixture of paper airplanes and rotten banana peels flies over a rush of chatter: taken. Most of the students are too busy comparing their cool new shoes and spiral notebooks to take much notice of this small, timid girl. Ah, but there is still one seat left: It is I – the back seat. Being new, she is unaware of my grimy and stinky reputation.

On the way home from a tiring day at school she has a habit of dozing off or day dreaming. I bump her into consciousness to prevent her from missing her bus stop. When she has an argument with her friends during recess, she walks onto the bus with her shoulders sloped. On those days I nudge her into the soft spot in my middle. She sinks into my center as we become one.

Even when she is lucky enough to have her pick of where to sit in the afternoon, I am always pleased to remain her cushion of choice. She likes the unique perspective that she gains from sitting all the way in the back, for no one else has the ability to scan the bus’s environment in its entirety from her seat. She is able to observe her peers and learn from their diverse range of behaviors. Whether it is the rebellious bully picking on the awkward nerd, or the high-maintenance princess rolling her eyes at the silent kid with headphones plastered to his ears, each new scenario is fascinating to her. Or, she can close her eyes and take in the various odors that travel toward the back seat as the bus continues to push itself forward – from sweat, rotting apple cores, and stinky breath floating in heavy clouds above her head, to the pleasant aroma of rain and autumn leaves that quickly breezes through the small cracks at the top of the windows.

Then comes a time when the young girl wishes to be one of the popular kids; an “A” list girl. She listens in keenly as these cool kids discuss the fun activities they have planned for the upcoming weekend: slumber parties, gossiping, makeovers, and movies! It seems more intriguing than playing Scrabble with her little brother. A rush of excitement overcomes her when she is finally accepted as one of the pack. She thinks they are nice girls, but when she walks on the bus with this new group of friends, they snicker at her desire to sit in the back seat. I’ve seen them mistreat their seats; jumping up and down, and hiding their chewing gum beneath the aging cushions. It does not take the girl long to decline the invite to next week’s sleepover.
The young girl catches notice of the colorful graffiti scribbled on my brown vinyl seat cover. The imprints left by the thick black ink are everlasting tattoos on my existence, forever reminding myself and others that I am, and always will be, the back seat on the school bus. However, this is the first occasion that she really takes the time to examine me – to see what lies within my cracked surface. She traces the outlines of every letter and doodle with a delicate index finger, slightly afraid of the possibility of catching germs, yet intrigued with artistic curiosity. Still being the shy girl, she struggles, wondering whether or not to tell the boys sitting in front of her to stop writing profanities on the seats.

“Excuse me.” she gently taps one of the boys on the shoulder. They turn around, markers still in hand, staring at this girl whom they have rarely heard speak before. Her muscles tense up and her pale cheeks suddenly flush.

“H-How would you like it if those words were written on you?”

“Who cares? It’s just a seat, it’s not like it can feel anything” he fires back.

I feel the springs inside of me snap. The coils are rusty and wearing. She pats me thoughtfully and reassuringly – letting me know that she will continue to care for me the way I have always cared for her. She will protect me from the bullies who want to rip apart my insides. Her nose is pressed against my back, eyes closed, and she takes a deep contemplative breath. Suddenly, she takes a yellow marker out of her book bag. Gripping it firmly in her hand, she furiously draws a bright round dot upon my surface. Surrounding the yellow, she paints a sea of hot pink petals with nail polish. Next is green, with which she carefully plants the stem and leaves. As she erases the offensive graffiti with her new garden of artwork, I know that the permanent mark she leaves on me and on those around her with her kind and gentle demeanor will be of greater importance than those physical marks left by the other more careless children. She knows that I am more than just the back seat on the bus; I am her friend.

As high school begins, my young girl begins to show her sense of confidence (and perhaps some sense of foolishness as well). Her backpack weighs twice as much as she does, loaded with massive college level text books and thick loose leaf binders. I carry their weight to and from school, providing her with strength to succeed during these challenging years.

Then there comes a time when I question our friendship. For by the time she reaches this age, it appears that she is too old, and frankly too busy to take the ancient yellow school bus. I wonder whether it will be back to the old days of emptiness and neglect for me. There are almost always children sitting on me, but no one has ever compared to her. None of them seem to want to be here.

Twelve years have come and gone. It is my little girl’s last day of school. I catch a glance of her walking towards the student parking lot with some friends. They are all smiling and laughing, looking forward to their bright futures in college. As they near the car, I see her turn around and stare at me. She waves to her friends and tells them to go along without her. I am not forgotten. The once clumsy kindergartener now bounces confidently up the steps of the old yellow school bus. She plops down on my cushion one last time and lets her fingers dance along my spine. I feel the petals of my flowery graffiti open up and beam. She has grown up and is now ready to face the challenges that await her. Onward we shall roll, into the unknown.

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