I fell back as we turned the corner to the apartment’s side door. I knew that there was still a short hallway to pass through and an elevator ride – more than enough time to sneak a page in. I flipped open the latest Babysitter’s Club and picked up where I had left off in the car, trusting my feet and peripheral vision and no-longer-novel act of walking to carry me safely along.
Was it the subtle rustle of pages that alerted my mom, or a near-automatic reflex: Check on daughter, is she reading? She’d instruct me to get out of bed and get ready for school, and then return to find me sitting in my pyjamas, book in hand. Put it down, get ready.
She wasn’t there to remind me on the bus, and I’d be surprised by the long turn signaling end of the line, two stops past school. Or at recess, hiding under the stairs, then poking my head out to find an abandoned schoolyard. Bookmark in, jump up, run.
The in-between moments that were perfect book times to me were always (apparently) designated for something else. But walking didn’t take much attention, and it was one of the rare times I didn’t need to be getting dressed or going to school or watching bus stops. So I fell behind a few steps and found my bookmark’s trusty spot.
Mom looked over her shoulder. Don’t read and walk, you’ll fall. 8-year-old sigh, bookmark replaced. Feet still working without me, my eyes drifted over the bare pink walls instead.
– – –
I step onto the bus and scan for a spot. The seats are all full, rows and rows of heads leaning towards screens in laps. There are no eyes to accidentally match gazes with, no friendly people to fill the ride with small talk, which suits me just fine. I take a wider stance by the back door and hook my elbow around a pole: Three anchor points to hold me up for this short haul.
I instinctively reach for my pocket, to bow in kind before the small screen, thumb-scroll through short missives or filtered pictures. Then I remember the latest issue of Room stashed in my backpack for this exact window of bus-time. I dive into the world of words and come up for air just as my stop is approaching. Out of hurry or habit, I step off the bus with book still in hand. I stop and hesitate for a moment, do I really need to put it away?
The bus is emptying, ripples of passengers dividing around me as I’m still as a statue, holding my book in the air as if to proclaim the fading virtue of bus-reading. But I’m barely affecting the current. Elbows are bent, heads still bowed to screens as well-trained feet carry them off towards the mall. There are no mothers here to take up the familiar reprisal, Don’t read and walk, you’ll fall.
Maybe at 8 I was preparing for a future none of us had seen, honing the skill of moving forward and inward at once, fragmenting my attention and portioning it out with careful divisions: a smidge of hearing for oncoming traffic, a sliver of vision to the path below my feet, a microsecond allotted for eyes to dart up at the end of each sentence, to watch for fellow travelers and other obstacles.
I have two pages left, and a parking lot to cross. I set my feet in motion and flip the book back open.