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Challa L. Fletcher

Arkansas | United States


    Karissa's Way

    It was the three stomps of her heels on our concrete porch that told me that I was late. If I was approaching my door just before or right at that sound then I was on time. If I was still pouring coffee at the sharp clack of her shoes, then I was running late and had only two minutes to leave the house.

    Two minutes to the second. Karissa didn’t always do that, the stomping came later.

    It had been six months since I started setting my routine to Krissa. It started off as a series of mornings in which I was on top of my own shit and I realized we were leaving the house at the exact same time, walking to the exact same bus stop. Other than a passing good morning we did not speak. Though at some point we did start to walk in step. Like a silent applied friendship. The walk to the Number 9 bus seemed less chilly with her walking quietly beside me.

    Then I started playing fast and loose with my mornings; staying up too late and hitting the snooze button too many times on my alarm clock. It was after a few mornings like that when I noticed the clack of her heels. She hadn’t done that before; this new tick.

    Turning her key lock three times before verbally assuring herself it was locked and secure, walking down our steps only to turn around and stare at her door as if to mentally assess its soundness was the usual morning routine.

    But not the stomping. She started stomping because of me. She didn’t stomp when I was on top of my morning.

    Our bus was never late either. I thought one morning, “Sure, I missed Krissa's routine but city buses are notoriously late. I will still make it. What are five minutes?” After the fifth missed bus I realized how wrong I was. City buses are notoriously late, except for the Number 9 bus that Karissa takes. I asked the driver once how did he manage it; why did he even care.

    “It just makes everyone’s morning easier if we are on Karissa’s time.” The man chuckled and added, “Hell because of Karissa, I got a raise at work. I’m the only driver who gets reviews on great timeliness.”

    I knew he was right. As long as I was on Karissa’s time I was the first one in the office. That’s a good look at a marketing firm. Karissa’s time made me look dependable.

    I tried not to be late anymore. I watched Karissa and I followed her queues, down to the observation of the front of our brownstone. The stomping stopped.

    When we reached the bus stop Karissa went into action. Things and people had their order and their place. Each morning Karissa put all of the waiting bus go-ers in order. She liked to fit people into the world like puzzle pieces. Everyone had their place. I watched to try and learn why she chooses who she chooses to be where she wanted them to be placed. I knew the people that Karissa liked the most because even if they were not there at the bus stop she would not put someone in “their” place. It was like she was saving the spot just for them even if it was only in spirit. My spot always moved. I was never sure of where I was supposed to be in the arrangement, so I stood just outside of the booth and waited patiently for my assignment. Others did the same. They knew it was easier to allow Karissa to have the moment than to fight it. It never took too long, there was no inconvenience, and she asked commuters to move in the sweetest voice and with the biggest smile.

    “I don’t mind it. I always get my favorite seat on the bus; it has the softest cushion,” one commuter shared with me.

    “As long as it keeps me from the creep,” the woman who wore flowers in her hair every day said. Her eyes darted up to the man Karissa had placed to the front of the bus, always just behind the driver. He was a young guy who looked at a woman and rubbed his hands together like a praying mantis about to attack.

    “Nothing wrong with a bit of order,” the buzz-cut, middle-aged man interrupted.

    Another couple smiled at each other, not participating in the conversation but a part of it nonetheless. I knew they met because Karissa kept sitting them together, despite the overabundance of empty seats. One day they started talking. They have been talking and sitting together ever since.

    Krissa smiled for a moment but a realization crossed her eyes and wiped the smile away.

    It was just better to do things Karissa’s way. When newcomers came they followed suit; not knowing why they were waiting for a seat assignment or spot in the line. From a distance maybe it looked like Karissa was doing a job; doing it so well that no one, new or old, questioned it. They just went along with Karissa’s way.

    We all learned to have our passes or cash out, ready to scan or drop into the slot. Karissa was keeping us efficient.

    Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. That’s what Karissa has. I think anyway; I can’t bring myself to ask her. It seems rude. But that’s what WebMD tells me when I type in “stomps heels three times, stares at the house for two minutes, organize bus goers, angry at late neighbors who oversleeps and throws off her timing.”

    "Obsessive thoughts can include the need for things to be placed in exact order, belief that certain numbers or colors are “good” or “bad,” among many others. Compulsive habits can include: Repetitive checking on a locked door, light switch, and other things, putting items in exact order, to name a few,” the website said.

    "Those with OCD feel like something bad will happen to a person, such as a loved one if they do not complete the compulsive task. The individual can be fully aware the compulsion is irrational and will not have any effect on an event and yet they have little to no control over the behavior."

    I sat back in my chair wondering what Karissa thought would happen if I didn't walk beside her at the bus stop; if I was late like I had been on so many mornings. Maybe stomping in and out of her house was her trying to force a situation -- me getting my slow-moving ass out of my house on time -- to happen; or else. I thought about her falling smile, not knowing she was not trying to help us; she was doing what her brain was telling her she had to do - or else. As I read through the causes and treatment I wanted to know more about Karissa. Who was this girl with a demand for an orderly bus stop?

    What had she been through, what was she afraid of, and who was she afraid for?

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