Karina is addicted to books. This is her story.

{Read it from the beginning by clicking here.}

No one else is waiting for the bus, but Karina stands upwind of the bench all the same. It’s habit, and habits keep her centered.

She rocks from her heels to the balls of her feet and back again, shifting the straps of her backpack. With only her wallet, keys, and a paperback novel inside it feels much too light. She reaches back to feel for the keys in the side pocket. The clink of metal reassures her. She put them there after locking the front door, and before that she had checked to make sure the book and wallet were in the main pocket. Now that the bus is coming into view she itches to check again.

A red light buys her some time. She slips off the backpack and unzips it. Book and wallet are nestled together in the bottom. Of course they are: She put them there not ten minutes before.

A moment later the bus welcomes her in. Today she chooses a seat near the front where she can see out the windshield. She holds her tattered paperback open so no one will talk to her, but she doesn’t read.

The streets pass by and she watches the signs, counts the avenues. The numbers get bigger as the bus leaves the center of town.

She counts the stops too, as people come and go.

The bus isn’t very full this Saturday morning. Three people get on at this stop. Four leave through the back doors at the next as two more come in the front. A few make awkward conversation. Most are silent.

Three more stops until hers.

She hasn’t turned a page since she opened the book, and she wonders if anyone has noticed.

A woman sits down across the aisle from her. Karina tries to ignore her, but the scarf draped over her head and neck begs for attention; the woman must be Muslim. She’s beautiful. Karina tightens her own scarf around her neck. Scarves and coats and such are one reason she likes cold weather — she feels protected under the extra layers of fabric.

She doesn’t think she would mind wearing hijab. Maybe veiling herself would keep more people from talking to her. But then again, maybe it would make life even more awkward, what with people thinking she’s Muslim. She isn’t, and wearing hijab without subscribing to the religious reasoning behind it would probably be offensive. Cultural appropriation or something. Hijab would look awkward against her pale skin anyway.

Two more stops.

She checks the main pocket of her backpack for her wallet as she puts her book away and feels the side pocket for her keys. Everything is in order.

One more stop.

The bus rumbles forward. Karina unzips the backpack again to make sure the book isn’t getting crunched. She can see her stop now. She stands up and swings her backpack onto her shoulders. The bus stops short of the bench, obedient to the traffic light. She wiggles her toes in her shoes and takes off her backpack again so she can make sure her wallet is inside.

She stumbles as the bus shifts forward, but she doesn’t fall.

She holds her backpack in her hands rather than putting it on her back, and leaves the bus, head-down, hoping no one is looking at her. When her feet hit the sidewalk, she feels for her keys in the side pocket. She slips the straps onto her shoulders. Her fingers itch to check for the wallet as soon as the zipper is out of reach.