She began in third year, in school. On the bus. On the 19. I was aware of her because I figured she had the reddest hair I'd ever seen. A deep red, and she always looked slightly pissed off. I liked that.
At that point, though, she didn't have me hooked. She was just someone I saw daily on the bus home and she was as relevant as the man who sat in the same seat every morning reading The Irish Times. I'd sit beside him so I could steal illicit glances while he read the sports pages, but I could never fall for him.
She was different because she was female and my own age and deeply beautiful.
In fourth year it started proper. She was now getting the bus from the top of my road every morning with her sister, who was pretty but didn't have the same deep hair or mystery about her. I became regimental in my routine. I'd switch off The Big Breakfast at exactly 8.12am because I knew that ten minutes later I'd catch my first glimpse of that long straight red before I turned the corner on to Botanic Road.
I'd approach and sometimes she'd entertain me with the slightest glance, other times her eyes were elsewhere.
She rarely spoke to her sister standing with her. The rare times that she did I couldn't discern it, too soft and distant a sound and I could never get a grasp.
I'd wait for the 19 even though the other buses would have done me just fine. Nobody can obsess like a 16-year-old.
Coming home from school I'd stick around for as long as I could because I knew she'd be on the later bus. I was a schoolboy loiterer and I told nobody why, but eight times out of ten she'd be there, sitting upstairs while I wore my uniform and ridiculous purple overcoat, pretending to look interesting.
School itself was made bearable through daydream, even though I stopped seeing her in the mornings once I got to fifth year. I was made to plan harder ways to cross her path, but I managed it, by and large. She was usually on that same bus home.
For two years I'd sit in the class and invent in my head the romance to come. I wondered how many other sisters she had, where she actually lived. I envisaged her at my debs, bringing her to McDonalds, getting into pubs on her pretty little coattails and buying her Woodys.
I thought about staying on the bus to see where she got off, and maybe I'd follow her, but I never went through with it because even then I knew the difference between schoolboy ardour and schoolboy stalking.
Sixth year came and a double life. By night, living with fancy female college students and learning the ways of pub. By day a post-pubescent puppy who always looked up to where she sat when the bus pulled off. Some days she looked back, most days she didn't.
17-years-old. I talked the talk but kept her secret. Same bus home, same routine, same eye contact, same silence. I'd reach deep inside myself.
"If she's on her own, and sitting three seats back on the left, I'll say something to her."
The bus would come. Her infernal sister would be there. I'd sit further up so I might get the look when I moved to alight. On and on and.... every day.
One time she was on the 19 of a morning. I was surprised. She was on her own. She was studying notes, French mock oral examinations. There was a name scrawled on the top that I could see from the seat behind her. As far as I could see, it said Avril. A name. Not a particularly nice name, I thought, but a name.
This was coming towards the end of my final year in school. I'd have to do something about this. Feel the fear and blah blah blah... Still. Nothing. Until...
...a few weeks before we finished up, the French oral exams were taking place. I knew this because I was just after fucking up my vouvoyers from my s'il te plaits.
Waiting on Parnell Square, the bus approached.
"If she's sitting on her own, and there's no other seat upstairs than the one beside her, I'll say something."
I went upstairs, and that's exactly what transpired. I took the seat next to her and sweated buckets under the pressure of deciding what to say. I had to. I knew it. Right now. Fuck it.
"So, eh, so were you doing the French orals?" I managed.
I wasn't even looking at her, but became aware of her lifting her head ever so slightly to my right.
That was it. That was all. They were the only words that ever passed between us.
Today, eleven and a half years on, I passed her in the street...