This morning, I faithfully toted my bike up to the road and got on it to ride to work. That was when I realized that the back tire was completely flat. Busted inner tube and I didn't have a spare. I sighed and lugged my bike back down to my apartment and propped it up against my living room wall.
"Well, I'm going to think of this as a good thing rather than a huge inconvenience. Something great is going to happen today."
No one was on the streets today. Except for one man who locked his car and started walking ahead of me down the sidewalk. The competitive part of me immediately calculated how long it would take for me to catch up to him. Then I noticed how put together he was, his shirt and shorts, his backpack all in shades of brown or gray; everything about him was neat and orderly. This man did not wake up and throw on some clean clothes and just head to school (which is how I managed to prepare for my day). Everything he did, every action he took had purpose. I followed him, willing my feet to match his pace and it was then that I realized he swung his arms with a certain carelessness that surprised me.
I chuckled to myself to imagine what kind of friend I would be in his life. I'd be this whirlwind of disjointedness who flits in and out of his life with ebb and flow of busyness in my life. Then, as I got closer, I realized that I had done just that. A few years ago, when I was helping with teacher development, I had attended a few weeks of an atmospheres and weather lab. It was one of those small labs where it was pretty much impossible to not be noticed so I pretended instead to be a student, happily took quizzes that I failed (one I aced and still have it hanging up in my office), took notes on the lecture and then jumped into the lab work with my new lab partners who assumed I was making up for a missed lab in a different section the first class and then started asking more questions the second class. By the third class, this man (the neat one) had asked if we wanted to study together for the next midterm. I never went back.
Now, here he was, walking now just a few steps in front of me. I suddenly got nervous and shy and decided to split ways before he noticed me. I stepped off the sidewalk and, waving my arms self-consciously, ran over to the funny light intersection and pushed the button like I always do, balancing on the curb. I lost my balance and jumped off the curb to find the man right at my elbow. I was listening to music so his sudden presence startled me even more and how did he come up so quickly? We both waited, not looking at each other, waiting for the light to change and then he charged as soon as the cars were gone while I waited for the walk sign. This meant that after all, I was following him anyway. I knew I would catch up to him in about thirty seconds but I was too shy to scoot past him on the sidewalk.
I kept kicking myself for not saying something. I could pretend to be a student again, "Hey, weren't we in the same Environmental Science class a few years ago?" Except that I had hated lying to him the first time around. And I wasn't even sure what the lingo among undergrads was for that type of class. I thought about simply trying to strike up a conversation but starting one five minutes into the walk seemed awkward.
Why are you so awkward, Erin, I asked myself. Wouldn't it be great to make a new friend?
Except that it wasn't somehow enough to convince me to take a chance. But somehow, following him was enough for me to decide that he's going to be the protagonist of my next story.
I guess this is the real reason why I write: to befriend the people I'm too scared to in real life.