You know, I think the first time I ever met his sister was when I went to his house one day, in the middle of a thunder storm, and it was pouring rain. I was soaked when I rang the doorbell, and she answered the door. It turned out that my friend Daniel wasn’t there that day so I had to trudge back to my house, cold and miserable. When I mentioned this to him the next day he didn’t think much of this, and the matter dropped.
Two months later I saw her again. We were going home on the bus; she was seated in the back of the bus, her knees propped up against the seat in front of her. I always got the feeling that she didn’t like me, but there was nothing I could do about it, and every time I saw her I would give her an awkward smile, like a boat with a hole in it, and she would look at me and if lucky say a word or two in response.
Every single day she would go out running. She wanted to lose weight, apparently, and I remember one time in summer seeing her run in the rain. She had her earbuds in, and she was making her way stoically through the rain-drenched streets, just her and her music and her thoughts. I remember thinking that this was an impressive sight, the sight of this 17-year-old girl, when all the 17-year-old girls I knew were with their boyfriends, their friends, comfortably at home, at the movie theater, at the cafés that dotted the streets that she ran through.
I myself had been making my way to her house to meet up with her brother. All of our friends used to meet up at his house, and usually as I walked over to his house I would be giddy, imagining all the things we might do that day. All that summer we got up to stupid, adolescent things. Once, I remember we set off fireworks at night in his residential neighborhood, and it made such a loud ruckus that it woke up all the neighbors and the cops were called and we all had to rush into his house and lock the door and pull down all the blinds and turn off the lights and pretend that no one was home. We hid like that for hours it seemed, until the cops finally left. Then, we all laughed hysterically, high off of adrenaline, and afterwards I floated home, still exhilarated.
I don’t think she had the same experiences. She was two years older than us, she was a senior in high school, and whenever I would see her in school, she would be alone. She was quite serious, and I can’t remember ever seeing her laugh. In the cafeteria or on the bus, where groups of girls would be gossiping excitedly, she would be sitting in a corner, alone, usually listening to music.
She returned from college the next year a changed person. She carried herself with self-assurance, she did her make-up expertly, and dressed stylishly. Suddenly, she appeared rather beautiful. All of our friends became nervous around her, stammered when we spoke, felt distinctly awkward around her, and were aware for the first time that she was older than us, and that she was a girl too. A lot of kids from her grade would return after their first year of college, and she would make the same impression on them too. At first, they would ask each other, “Who is she?” Then, being given her name, they would remember her faintly, and be amazed at the change.
She would be thrilled at this new reception, and she could be found out and about at night every night of the week. By this time, me and Daniel and all of our friends had grown a year older, and we had begun to feel that setting off fireworks and things of that ilk was beginning to feel childish, and we wished to act older now, befitting our newfound status as upperclassmen. Now, you could find us in restaurants, where we would spend hours lazily eating and chatting, hanging out. And on those nights we would usually run into Daniel’s sister.
One night, she decided to sit and hang out with us. She happened to sit down right next to me, and as my friends all chatted around me, and as she chatted as well, I couldn’t help but stare at her. Everything seemed so surreal then, and I was still in a bit of shock. But eventually, I recovered myself, and joined in the conversation, and we chatted very freely, as if we had been friends for a long time.
“You know,” I said, after a while, “I saw you once around here, not that long ago.”
“Yeah. It was raining that day. I was walking to your house, and I saw you, running in the rain. That was you, right?”
She looked at me, quite seriously, and didn’t say anything for a while. Then, she said,
“Ahh. Yes that was me. I didn’t realize anyone had seen me.”
“I thought it was you. I remember thinking at the time how strange it was that somebody would be running in the rain. Just think, I was already miserable in the wet and cold, but at least I was going somewhere nice and warm. But I couldn’t imagine running in that weather. Why did you decide to run that day?”
She was quiet again for some time.
“Well,” she said, “I was running in the rain that day because I was crying.”
It took a while for her words to sink in, and then I became very embarrassed, and shut up.
Afterwards, as we left the place, I realized that this was the exact same area that I had seen her that rainy day, and that she must have passed so many shops like this, all warm and bright, filled with girls like her, her classmates and their friends and boyfriends, and their happy, chattering, oblivious lives, and I too had passed her by, eager to get somewhere else.
I was leaving, when I heard her voice, shouting out to me. I turned around, and saw her run up.
“John,” she said.
“For noticing me that day.”
Then, smiling, she turned around, and walked away.