I first noticed her in passing, in the kind of situation where one considers, for a moment, the appearance and personality of the person of which they are approaching, but quickly forgets all memory of him or her once their backs become about-face. That is, to say, I had seen her before on my crowded college campus, but any contact besides that amounted to none.
That's why, on the first Wednesday of the new Spring semester, when I took a seat on a bench adjacent from hers, I recognized her face but knew of nothing otherwise.
She was a plain sort of girl with chin-length, straight brown hair, dressed conservatively (well, conservatively in relation to normal college attire) in a pattern-less, black, pleated knee-length skirt and long socks of a matching color; but as she shifted I could see the whites of her knees peeling out at me, as though they were trying to shy away from her thick, oppressive stockings. She wore a dark grey woman's pea coat that came down to her (what I assumed to be slender) thighs, and also a long, white, fluffy scarf that hid her chin as she looked down to a book resting in her lap. Her selection of color reminded me briefly of a dull, monochrome painting, but her movement threw the drollness of such art off, so I quickly shook that thought from my head.
She looked as though she might be the quiet, artsy, modern activist type, but the way she pursed her mouth as she read, and the way her icy blue eyes narrowed at the words on the page made me wonder if she might be the hot-and-cold, uninterested-in-the-world breed instead.
Either way, she didn't look like she would be striking a conversation up with me any time soon.
For a moment I watched her blatantly, staring her down as though I were invisible, but she must have quickly noticed, because she briefly looked up at me from behind her shaggy bangs as if to ask sarcastically, "May I help you?"
Naturally, I averted my eyes quickly and yanked out a textbook from my overstuffed backpack as a diversion. I cracked it open on my thighs and flipped to the middle, idly scanning the page. It was material I knew we weren't doing in class, and material I knew I would probably never read, but I used it as something to "study" until she finally returned to her novel and I could look up as her again.
The girl turned a page and began reading again, but suddenly moved her hand to her neck to pull her scarf over her face. I thought it was a bit strange until I heard light coughing erupting from her, and I kept watching (obviously having forgotten her earlier silent contempt for my person) as she scrambled in her bag for a plastic bottle of water.
The bottle was slightly weathered which was indicative of it having been used many previous times, which made me infer (stereotypically) that she was someone concerned with recycling-- another indication that she was artsy and aware of environmental issues. (In comparison, by the way, I had thrown a Styrofoam cup I'd hardly used into a can of general garbage right before I'd walked in the building.)
As she drank she looked as though she was savoring the water, holding it in her mouth and swishing it around for a moment before she daintily swallowed and twisted the bottle's blue cap back on with her delicate appendages. I heard her sigh softly while fitting her water back into her purse, and once again she resumed reading, thankfully not noticing my focused gaze.
Her skin was pale and flawless, and I couldn't help but notice how tiny she was, especially in comparison to my own broad-shouldered, 6-foot 2-inch frame. The girl appeared as though she could be somewhere for hours and never be taken notice of-- that's how meek her impression was!
However, judging from how quickly she had responded to my intrusive gaze, she also seemed like the kind of person even a built guy like myself wouldn't want to irritate.
I glanced down at my textbook again in fear that she might feel me watching her again, but, to my surprise, when I looked up again to steal a peek at her, my eyes met up with her electric, fixated orbs. I had expected her to quickly avert her gaze awkwardly as is custom for one to do when caught gawking at a stranger, but strangely enough, her line-of-focus stayed directly on me, completely unwavering. Just as I was starting to feel uncomfortable and was about to open my mouth to say something, I can only assume she decided she had seen quite enough of my face, and she looked confidently back down at her literature, almost as though she had learned everything she needed to know about me from that single thirty second encounter.
"This girl is strange." That thought kept echoing in my head as the minutes dragged on in silence. I didn't dare look back up at her, mostly in fear of having to face that slicing stare directly once again, but judging from the calculated, constant sounds of pages being turned every so often, I assumed that she wasn't interested in me anymore.
I felt very uneasy all of a sudden, as though this girl was intimidating me by judging being present, and although I found that ridiculous, I couldn't shake the feeling.
I wanted to know her, I realized. She seemed more complex than any other people I had ever encountered, and seemed harder and more stable than I thought was every humanly possible. And of course I vaguely noted that inferring such a thing from appearance alone was senseless, but that gaze-- that gaze.
I sat for a few more minutes, trying to gather the courage to say something, anything, to start an introductory conversation with her, but as soon as I had plucked the nerve to greet her from deep within me, as soon as I was shaping my mouth into a casual "hey", she thumped her book closed, placed it fluidly back in her bag, and threw the bag's strap over her shoulder before standing abruptly up.
She began to walk off without a word, leaving me speechless in the empty hallway as I watched her retreat from me, shuffling her flat, dark shoes on the floor as she walked.
I had missed the chance! I had missed my one chance to meet the most curious person I would probably ever meet! I would never know her complexity, never know her wonder, never know--
And, suddenly in the middle of my lamenting, I caught sight of the chrome clock fixed to the blue wall in front of me.
I jumped up quickly, realizing I was going to be late to my next class, and trotted hurriedly off toward my classroom, all the thoughts of the strange girl pushed from my head completely.
Casual encounters really are quickly forgotten.