Chey Wey was her name. It means white morning star in Korean. Of course, Wayne had no way of knowing that, not back then, as a child of fifteen.
The large yellow bus arrived as usual around 3:15 Pm, on the South side towards the back of the school. The large milling groups of teenage children, separated into smaller groups, by race, gender and wealth, reverberated with a confusion of unintelligible sound as all waited anxiously. As the bus pulled to a stop before them, the nest of wasps settled and quieted, group shapes shifted, new collaborations and orders emerged.
The weather that day was muggy and hot, typical for late Oklahoma spring. Blouses and shirts clung to hairless chest and birthing breasts as The teens stood, paced and waited outside, near the gym and the large deserted fields of waist high grasses separating them from the ghetto beyond.
The fields, dotted with a few dilapidated, crumbling, wood framed structures, shimmered like smooth cow leather in the rising afternoon heat. The whitewashed relic’s, possible homes, once, but only possibly, seemed somehow to sink and fade beneath the ever present waves of successive growths of tall, brown, grain tipped prairie grasses, mixed occasionally with a few dwarfed, sun stricken, Mulberry or Sugarberry trees. Each year, as Wayne moved up one grade level through school, they faded a few feet more, or so it seemed. Perhaps the grasses only grew taller or he a bit shorter.
Yet they stretched out east and south from the back of the high school and continued, for close to a half mile, until met with the rising clumps of multi tenant government housing projects, safety nets for the under employed, overly drugged and excessively lazy.
The once proud and stately stadium stood stoic, quite and empty in the heat. Its tall walls of natural, local brown stone spanned north of the sea of grass. The walls themselves stood but shakily in an abandoned state of ill repair and lack of care. Stones crept out from the walls as the mortar dissolved between them year after year falling to the ground below where they became projectiles, easy weapons to launch against glass windows new cars or white faces. The wooden seats, once painted green and forming long rows before and above the field’s oval surface, also suffered for terminal disuse, the wood crackling with dry rot or crumbling with mold and mildew, paint flaking in long thin strips, blowing away in the harsh, hot winds.
As the busses arrived and doors swung open groups of kids, somehow, in some predefined pecking order, designed and refined over these past months of the school session and the years prior, formed vague indistinct lines, each funneling aboard in its own turn, order and form hidden beneath the cackling chaos.
Wayne wasn’t exactly cool and he darn sure wasn’t, well Bad! But he wasn’t un-cool either, neither a freak or a nerd and he happened to know just enough of the cool kids to be able to sit, almost anywhere he pleased, in the back end of the buss, the preferred location. Besides, this bus went to his neighborhood and most of the kids who rode it were kids he had spent years with at earlier schools.
Wayne’s group was among the first to board, right after the blond beauties, the ones the boys feared, took home each night in their minds to use as an erotic image, alone, in their beds, white socks at the ready.
Yet something was different this day. Was it the light? Or maybe the heat, perhaps it was just that this was the last week of school, and that odd, creeping feeling of nostalgia and loss was a seeping in through the cracks in his lonely mind. Perhaps it was him, daydreaming oddities not being so rare. Whatever the cause, something was unquestionably different, something inside him perhaps or around him, within him.
As he stepped up to the last step, turning left, it was if something struck him, something soft, friendly, and intriguing. As if a soft, warm breeze, rushed forward from the back of the bus to land and splay across his hot, sun reddened cheeks. The scent of flowers was unmistakable, honey locust, purple iris, honey sickle. He looked up, seeking the source of the soothing touch and luring scent. All he saw were her eyes.
Chey Wey was looking at him, straight at him and he, unlike his normal, shy, fearful self, well…he looked back. He paused, held, but for moment, confused, a bit light headed.
He knew her of course, sort of. She had attended to the same middle school and elementary school as he. In fact, she lived right across the street from that same elementary school. Yet, he didn’t know her, not really. He knew her house, her face, even her name, little else.
Then suddenly, as if some gate of masking shadow lifted, he remembered. He remembered her, and the years, and the time he’d spent watching her. For he had, watched her, many times, dozens perhaps, even more.
He’d watched her daily, hundreds of times, watched as she crossed the shady asphalt street to her small suburban home. He watched until she disappeared within and heard the slam of the screen door behind her, before he, turning left across the large, wide, dust covered recess field, headed south along Military Avenue and the one-mile trek before him. Yes, now, for some unknown reason, he remembered, turning about, pausing, each day, looking back towards the school, just to see, just to watch, her, cross the street and enter her small, red brick home.
Wayne felt a wave of sadness pass over him, why and from where he couldn’t say, a sort of forlorn indifference to the memory of those late afternoons, walking home alone, her eyes on his mind, his heart in his throat, trailing bright yellow down his back.
This week or that, the next or another, his stepfather would be drinking, mean, violent or falsely sweet and saccharine, his mother ranting, fighting, adding new strangers to her bed, companions for breakfast, Johns for dinner. One more look, three steps backwards.
Her eyes were brown, yet not dark brown, lighter, almost tan or almond, mixed with shades of amber, yellow and gold, with a very pronounced Korean slant, deep black brows, matching her waist length strands of glimmering ebony.
Wayne knew that she was adopted, common school gossip, but could not picture what her American parents looked like. Perhaps he had never seen them. Yet, surely, he had, at a school event, PTA thing, ball game, something, yet his mind held no images of them, only her, only Chey.
He’d often wondered if she had seen any of the war. Had her parents been killed? Had there been even worse in her young life? It seemed of little importance now. He remembered many things in that instant, that second of pause and uncertainty.
She sat just back of the middle of the bus, she always had. She wore a white cotton blouse, a thin, wispy cotton, most resembling lace, yet softer, lighter, The edges seemed to flutter in the slight warm breeze that somehow filtered in through the few open windows and the accordion like door. The sleeves were short, ending just before her elbows. The center, buttoned up tight with tiny, round, flower like buttons, revealed nothing, nothing but a hint, a bit of white, youthful, flawless skin below her neck.
Wayne stood frozen, suddenly fearful, not a real fear, a fear of danger or conflict, no, more of a girl fear, a fear he knew too well. He swallowed hard. It stuck in his throat. Sucking in a quick forced breath, for a moment having forgotten to breathe, he forced a throat-clearing cough. He felt suddenly dry and warm, damn warm. Sweat beads appeared instantly upon his brow. Wiping his forehead against one shoulder of his own white shirt, he sheepishly took one more step in her direction.
The skin of her face and arms skin shone like porcelain in the bright afternoon light especially that of her forearms, crossed, hand on wrist, resting upon her knees, in stark contrast to the sky blue of her dress.
“God how white”, he thought.
“How lovely, life fine sifted flower, or sun bleached coral.
Had he ever seen skin, so perfectly white, so smooth, so soft to the…No, no, he hadn’t he knew that. God she was beautiful! Why had he not noticed before, not seen, or had he?
His mind was fuddled, his thoughts jumbled and disarrayed as he stepped forward one-step more. Others urged him onward from behind as he slowed.
“Hey nappy. Move it. Grandmas slow but she’s getting old.”
“Move it stoner.”
One more step. He reached out to the right to steady himself against the edge of the seat before him. Was he dizzy? Was he ill? He hadn’t smoked a joint all day.
Her eyes, her gaze had not moved, in one, two, three steps she held him, straight and true.
Had they ever had a class together, sat beside each other, or shared a table at lunch. They must have. Yet…he had no memory of it. Had they ever even talked? How could that be? He had seen her each year, since, since third grade, eight years now, each day or at least most days, nine months of the year…and they had never spoken, not once?
Her light blue dress, also ruffled, with lacy edges, rested atop her knees, her tiny feet, stuck inside bright white socks, disappeared within deep black shoes, polished to a sheen, pointed at the toe. All he could think, was White! So white! So smooth. God, if only he could touch her, if only a finger, a hand, just to see if her skin was, was actually made of silk and butter and cream. Somehow, he knew that is was and if he were to touch her, his finger would simply disappear within the silken white, creamy balm.
Two more steps and he stood beside her. She sat alone. She always did it occurred to him. No one ever sat beside her. She was a loner, perhaps by choice, perhaps by the choice of others, either way, always alone.
She smiled lightly looking up and into his face, her red lips, natural, dark, without lipstick or gloss, parted only slightly, visions of pure white and soft pageant pink spilled out.
“Hi”. Was all he could come up with. That was enough.
“Hello Wayne,” she replied, smiling even wider.
“May, Uhh…May, can I sit here”, He asked.
“Sure, of course”, She stated quickly, edging slightly further towards the inside of the seat. Her accent was heavy, her English precise. Looking back now, he wonders what they spoke of. The memories are distant and vague. Nothing is clear, nothing is sure. Did they talk of her, her schoolwork, her plans for college, or parents? Did they talk about him, his job at the restaurant, his mother, his writing? Who can say? What he remembers is how the time flew, lightly, delightfully, like a Saturday morn, a sunny, spring Saturday morn.
Wayne talked softly, lightly, she answered, smiling, shyly yet happily. Neither noticed the odd stares, the whispers, the laughs and muffled jeers.
“Wayne’s sitting with Chey.”
“Yeah, well he’ll go out with anyone, anyone who says yes that is.”
“Yeah…he likes it sideways.”
Wayne heard none of it and if Chey did, she never gave evidence. It didn’t matter anyway, not to Wayne, not then. For the first time that he could recall it seemed that he knew. For the fort time in his life, he knew, that the only person on the bus, in the city, in the whole world who actually knew him, knew whom and what he was, was himself. To top it off, he was ok with that. For the first time he felt sure, unafraid, comfortable and at ease with himself. For the first time he didn’t give a damn what anyone else might say. Nothing they said was important, nothing they thought could touch him none of them mattered, no one but her, no one but Chey.
They left the bus together, a mile past his usual stop, right across the street from their elementary school. He walked with her the block or so to her house. They chatted easily, their conversation flowing like an easy breeze across and upturned face. Soon they arrived before her small concrete porch and the three steps leading up to her door. They stood for a moment, uncomfortably, face to face, both knowing that soon, she must go.
She looked into his eyes once more, her lips parted slightly. He reached out and took one tiny hand in his. He smiled as he felt the smooth pad of woven silk pull back and shyly withdraw, her head bent down as she blushed.
“Yes. Yes?” No skin was ever that soft. He knew it.
“Can I walk you home tomorrow? I mean…well, I mean…can I see you tomorrow, will I?”
“Yes, Sure”, she said.
“Ok. Ok then. Good. I wait for you at the bus stop at school tomorrow. Ok?”
“Yes, yes, sure Wayne. I find you.”
A loud, yet muffled cough came suddenly from behind. Chey turned towards the house and the wooden screen door just as Wayne looked up. There in the shade of the porch behind the iron screen netting stood a tall figure, dark and unclear yet of obvious Asian descent.
Chey looked his way once more, her smile fading.
‘Bye Wayne, Bye. I must go.”
“Yes, yes…Tomorrow, tomorrow then.”
He turned to go
“Wayne”, she lightly called.
“Wayne…” she spoke, pausing, unsure, looking down at the ground then back up at Wayne, discomfort in her eyes.
‘Wayne…I, I different.”
“Yes Chey. Yes, I know. Different is good.”
She smiled, dropped her head, turned around heading up the steps, before disappearing behind the green, screen covered door.
As Wayne walked across the large, wide, recess field, heading south along Military Avenue for the one-mile trek home, he turned to see. She wasn’t there.
He walked home in silence, slowly, a smile played across his face.
That was the last time I was ever to be with Chey. She never rode the bus again. Of course, I saw her at school over the course of the next few years, yet she seemed to have no idea who I was or choose to act as if. Either way, we never spoke again, nor did I ever again feel her touch.
I saw her once, years later, in the market, Korean husband in one hand, black haired daughter in the other. She did not see me or again choose not to act as if.
I married a girl from China, light brown skinned, dark, almost black eyes, hair like lightless hell. She loves me, I suppose. Who can say? The world most certainly does not. I must add, as my own sort of disclaimer, that as one to define love, well let us just say, I am unequally unqualified.
I have always looked, looked for something, something unknown, heartfelt, impossible, something wonderful, amazing, something worth dying for. I suppose I still do, yet I also know now, that it’s a thing that can’t be found, not by me anyway, not now, not here. Yet I will never forget, not in this life, nor the next, those few, rare seconds of simple, pure, innocent truth, boldness and joy shared by two, in a sad, lonely world.
“Yes Chey. Yes, I know. Different is good.”
In my mind, she smiles once again.
© Tim Wilkinson/Wayne Wilks 2011