Crossing campus afoot. The sun gleams coolly, bright enough to invite skin, distant enough to appear modest. A day for loving, but I am not home. I should be working, but the words won’t come.
The students would be out in force were it not Spring Break. Instead, campus is largely depopulated and scraped bare from winter, with just a hint of green on ground and none on the trees. My left shoe squeaks with each step. I peer at my surroundings through dark-rimmed glasses, jaw set, brow serious, daring the few passers-by to comment. It is a mask of sorts, to guard solitude. I do not wish to speak; only to walk and to think. Hiding in plain sight. I am not alone in this game. On three separate occasions I pass seated students (one perched atop a limestone buttress, his back to a brick wall; the other two beneath separate leafless trees) staring fixedly past their books.
Ahead a glossy brunette stretches languidly beside her rippled beau catnapping on the new grass. She turns from belly to back, then props herself suggestively on her elbows in order to emphasize the impossible pinkness of her fitted tee. Her exposure is her cover. He opens one eye, smiles, then rolls to one hip and plants a beefy arm firmly in the grass for her to admire. He speaks. She tosses her shining hair and laughs out loud. He grins handsomely, more on one side than the other.
Their colors are complementary. They insist without speaking that you must notice them. They swear by their perfection that they were made for each other. I see them clearly and cannot tell who they are.
Even the two mop-topped guys tossing a Frisbee on the vacant mall are incognito. They appear studiously disheveled, their board-shorts and earthy t-shirts are at least 10 degrees premature, and they shout too loudly to each other in the silence, as if to emphasize the tremendous fun they are having. In this they are not unlike the shining lovers.
I squeak further down the flagstones. A woman in a bright printed dress and chunky jewelry is seated on a bench, speaking softly into her cell. As if on cue, her voice climbs as I pass: Oh. My. God! Her sudden drama scatters pigeons. A dark-clad dissident is tacking flyers to a nearby kiosk with a stapler, but see how his skinny jeans come prewrinkled, how the white North Face logo stands in stark contrast to his black backpack and jacket. They are neither secondhand nor surplus. He is not from mean streets; he is a rebel with means.
I dress like a student, frown like an academic, and walk like I’ve somewhere to go. We are images passing.
I turn a corner to see a young woman approaching. She is short, well-rounded and feminine, with a mass of dark bouncing corkscrew curls, and a long, quick stride that belies her height and brings her quickly toward me. Her face is fair-skinned and unadorned; she is not looking at me, or even where she is going. She is alone, watching something unseen, and I see in her eyes the dawning of some great joy; soft lips move from quiet smile to toothsome grin verging on laughter. Cheeks flush, then blush, with this new dawning. I am an unnoticed witness to unguarded emotion, unvarnished happiness. Baby’s first laugh. Boy’s first notice of girl. For this brief moment, she is the most beautiful person I can imagine.
What joy rose in her in those few seconds I’ll never know. We pass. I don’t look back.