They tell me that the sky is blue, but I’ve never seen it. They say that hidden above the endless film of gray is a sharp blue that can blind. A blue so piercing that it’s almost sinful to look at.
The bus is silent, except for intermittent whispers and the steady knocks of heads on the window pane. We’re all craning our necks to look at the gunmetal clouds that are always hiding the blue sky people keep telling us about.
Slowly, Mr. Evans rises to his feet. His knobby knees betraying him on the moving bus. He grasps the pole firmly with one hand and takes out his phone with the other.
“Twenty-five more minutes, everyone.” He pauses, and looks again at the map on his phone. “Twenty-four.”
A hand shoots up from the back row.
“I have a question.”
“Mind if I sit?”
The old man sits on the aisle seat and turns his neck to look at Sam. “Go on.”
“When was the last time you saw it?”
Mr. Evans rubs the bridge of his nose where his spectacles usually reside. “I’m not sure. When I was your age, maybe older.”
The bus stays silent. Sam’s bony arm cuts through the air again. “Do you remember what it looks like?”
The bus driver looks up. His dark eyes darting back and forth between the road and the rearview mirror.
Mr. Evans nods, slowly, then more vigorously. “You never forget.”
Seemingly satisfied, the bus driver diverts his attention back onto the bumpy path ahead.
Blue crayons, that’s what we all used growing up to color the sky, just because that’s what we were told to use. But still, some used gray; timberwolf gray, manatee gray, charcoal gray, ash gray, battleship gray, all sorts. Those kids, like Sam, thought blue skies were just lies made up by adults, like Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy.
But science textbooks proved Sam wrong. It proved all of us wrong.
Sara nudges my ribcage. Look what I have, she whispers. Her hand reaches deep into her backpack and she pulls out an old photograph, still in good condition except for some tears around the edges. I found it at home.
I take the photograph. It was—who I assume to be—Sara’s grandparents standing on a hill. Behind them, the vast open sky, as blue as blue can get. Like the ones in documentaries and science books.
“Do your parents have pictures like these?” She asks, taking the photograph back and holding it closer to her face.
I watch Sara run her pale thumb across the photograph. “It’s nice, seeing old pictures. Which is why I have my camera ready for today.”
“Aren’t you excited?”
I am, sort of. I look at Mr. Evans, his freckled hand gripping the pole, his unease easily spotted, even from the back.
The bus powers through the filthy haze; the mist scratching the windows, demanding to be seen. It’s the same air that chokes our skyscrapers and houses back in the city. Slowly the mist begins to wane, releasing its grip on the bus to uncover brown-green pastures all around us.
We lurch forward as the bus wheezes and stops. The door opens, letting the cold breeze enter like an unexpected passenger. The driver looks back and nods at Mr. Evans before walking out for a cigar.
“Okay, it’s a fifteen-minute walk that way.” He points his trembling finger towards a desolate field that stretches into the smoggy horizon.
Sara is the first to bolt, stepping on my feet on her way out of the bus, camera in hand and the photograph stuffed in her back pocket. Fifteen minutes, they all keep saying to each other as they loop the strings of their surgical masks around their ears. Fifteen minutes until blue skies.
I start walking, bookending the group of curious teenagers striding quickly towards the open field. The sky is still a gloomy gray, but that has been the state of the sky for the past seventy years.
Fifteen minutes later, we are surrounded by a field of nothingness. No mountains, just a mesh of trees in the distance covered by an all too familiar fog. Mr. Evans adjusts his belt and squints at the sky.
Sara balances the silver camera on her face, her head resting at a sharp ninety-degree angle against her neck. Every few seconds she would swivel around, her camera still attached to her eyes.
“Where is it?” A student inquires, walking around in circles with his nose in the air.
Mr. Evans brings his hand to his eyebrows, shielding himself from the muted glare. “Just keep your head up. It’s going to come.”
I look up, too. And then, as if the sky had only been waiting for me, a rivulet of light cracks the gray in two.
Invisible hands begin to separate the clouds, revealing a striking, spotless blue, like someone had punctured a hole in the sheet of gray. Blue, it is so blue it hurts. A color so synthetic, so manmade, is suddenly up in the sky like it had always been there. Like it belonged there.
I can’t believe something this magnificent has been looming above me this whole time. This is what the sky should always look like, but it doesn’t, and I wonder why no one did anything when the gray started to slaughter the blue in the duel for space.
I close my eyes to feel the unfiltered warmth on my skin. I feel a prickling sensation I am not used to; like a thousand soft needles on every inch of my body. A bright red pulses on the back of my eyelids. As I open my eyes, the blue turns into a flash of white before slowly settling back into a solid azure. Magical—that’s what this is. Unadulterated magic!
I turn my gaze towards Sara, the camera dangling from her neck, her arms extending upwards like she’s trying to grab a piece of the blue to bring home. Everyone is looking up, mesmerized, betrayed, ecstatic, depressed—all at once.
Then, as quickly as it opened, the invisible hands stitch the clouds back together, as if we had seen enough of its secrets. I feel strange, like being snapped out of a state of hypnosis. Is it fair that we are given the chance to see this, and then never again?
We all blink rapidly at the ground to compose our vision. I see active spots of white, and then a frail Mr. Evans on his knees; a hand on each thigh, looking up with tears in his eyes. The sadness he must’ve felt to see the world decrescendo into an irreparable dullness. We gather around him, each of us softly patting his shoulder and mumbling a round of thank yous through the white filter covering our mouths.
Sam helps him to his feet and we walk back to the bus. All of us are still speechless and in varying degrees of dizziness.
I look behind me to see what was, for a moment, the most beautiful sight on Earth. There is no remnant of the blue. The sky is still gray because it has always been gray, and it always will be.