The rain runs down my forehead and drips off my nose. Despite my coat and my duck-billed cap, the wind blows directly in my face no matter which way I turn. I wish the bus would run on time for once. Not that standing in the rain for half an hour upsets me. My waterproof trench coat reaches almost to my ankles and keeps me warm and dry except for my face and feet. Luckily, I just oiled my boots. That leaves my face to bear the brunt of the storm's fury. I blow the latest droplet from my nose.

Still, I like rain. When it's not raining, I get nervous, even a little paranoid, being out alone this late at night. I don't fear muggers or other violence - I'm over six feet tall, dressed all in black, and nothing about my stance or gate says "easy target". In fact, it's the lack of people, criminal or otherwise, which gets to me. Without the rain, I can see barren streets for blocks in every direction. Even the busiest intersections lie silent and empty, the traffic signals blinking on uncaring. I begin to wonder if I'm the only person left on the planet.

Then I'm compelled to walk the bus route home from the smoke-filled cafe. With four lanes and two sidewalks of nothing but dark store-fronts, wind, and buzzing neon, the urge to make some noise becomes irresistible. Singing feels wrong and muttering feels too close to insanity, so I walk, scuffing my heels just slightly on the pavement. A rusty heartbeat echoing off the buildings, it remains a distinctly human sound. Sometimes I step into the street and walk the center line like a balance beam. I think to myself, "They're all out there right now having a party... many parties, in fact. All of them, out there just beyond ear-shot, laughing and drinking and dancing, all avoiding me. Whatever way I go, they go too, fleeing merrily from me, picking up their empty beer cans and passed out girlfriends as they go." I always spot a few cans they lose track of on my walks, but they're more careful with the girlfriends. Vested interest, I guess.

I'm used to being alone, but not to being by myself. The rain falls harder now, but the wind has died down. I couldn't see my hand in front of my face in this downpour. I imagine people standing quietly all around me, just out of reach, and I feel safe - from my earliest memories, I've been alone, surrounded by people I don't know. I remember being a young child, at various parties my parents dragged me to. No matter which one, I was always the only child there. "They're all out there right now playing tag..." I wandered around, guzzling cans of soda, wolfing down snacks, and scuffing my heels. My parents introduced me to people, and being a well trained child, I smiled and shook hands. They commented on how cute I was and how tall. I made them guess my age and they feigned surprise when I told them the truth. And having satisfied the social duty of "talking to the kid", they started talking with my parents. I trooped off to find more soda and entertain myself.

A car hisses past on the street, spraying water across the pavement, breaking my reverie. In the light of the streetlamp, I see two faces grinning out of the rear window, laughing silently. They don't see me, a phantom standing in the shadow of a telephone pole. They're friends. When you're a kid you can make friends quickly. You don't have to say much, just make yourself available. Eventually, someone notices you and invites you into a game. You play games, and you call the people you enjoy playing with your friends.

Maybe those two were siblings in a good mood. I was an only child and I think I missed something by it. Junior high school was hell in a handbasket. I couldn't just play or just be friendly anymore. I was supposed to socialize, politicize, fraternize. I tried, but these were cruel games with rules I didn't like or understand. They laughed at me, "Hey, stupid, you humped your bed last night, didn't you?" I imagined a camel shaped bed, and told them they were mistaken. They laughed even louder. I was the chicken of the wrong color and they pecked at me. I tried to fit in, to say the right words in the right way at the right time, but they kept laughing and whispering to each other. Finally, they simply ignored me. Alone again, at last, I retreated into books and computers.

In high school, I avoided everyone. Tall and big, but quiet. No one bothered me. The time flew by, and suddenly one day in my junior year, I looked up from an assigned book and found myself sitting with some people. None of us fit in anywhere else. While we each played by our own rules, we had a game in common: we were outcasts. Knowing the rules were far from set in stone, we'd made a game of trading rules, creating games we all could live with. Like the rainy companions I picture standing around me now, they had drifted into my life, coalesced into people I recognized, and eventually condensed into friends.

I see the lights of the bus coming towards me, a giant breadbox wrapped in a halo of it's own light diffusing into to the rain. I step to the curb and wave once, getting the driver's attention. He pulls up and invites me aboard. I thank him and climb on, smiling at my fellow riders, knowing I'm still alone and with friends.

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