I am in third grade, a tiny spry little girl, quiet as a mouse. For some reason I get the idea into my head to play a trick on the bus driver who shuttles us back and forth to school and home again at the end of the day. He has been very friendly lately, chatty, ebullient almost, joking with everyone. I like him. I think he’s funny and that he’ll appreciate a good joke in return.

Sometimes I came out of my shell and did something bad!
– Photo by Jan Ketchel

When I get on the bus at the end of the day the driver is turned sideways in his seat facing all the children as they climb onto the bus. He says something funny to each of us as we walk past him carrying our book bags and lunchboxes. He gets us all in a good mood and there’s an overall air of jollity to the whole busload of kids as a result of his jokey attitude. I’m happy, feeling mischievous. I walk to a seat and sit down. Suddenly an idea comes to me. I tell my friend what I’m going to do.

“Nooo! How are you going to do that?” she asks, looking quite incredulous.

“Don’t worry,” I say. “Just watch me.”

I study the driver. He’s preoccupied with the kids getting on the bus. I know exactly how long it takes for everyone to get on and how many kids are not here yet. I’m naturally very observant. I calculate that I have plenty of time to do the deed.

I sneak up to the front seat directly behind the driver’s seat. There’s only a shiny steel handrail separating the back of the driver’s seat from the rest of the row of seats behind him. The rail is about even with a kid’s head when sitting down. I know this because my older brother got tossed into the bar once and broke his front tooth against it when the driver had to slam on the brakes.

I slide into the front seat and sit down. The driver doesn’t notice me. He doesn’t see that I’ve wormed my way up from the back of the bus nor that I’m sitting behind him. He’s distracted, still chatting away to the students getting on the bus.

Carefully, as quiet as a little mouse, I slither down to the floor and along the left side of the driver’s seat. I’m small and thin enough to squeeze in there quite comfortably, crawling on my hands and knees. The upper half of the driver’s body is turned away from me, facing the other way, so he doesn’t see me. He’s got his feet planted squarely on the floor, the bus idling gently. I reach around to where his feet are and very carefully untie first one shoelace and then the other. Then I tie the two of them together, nice and tight. I slither back out as quietly as I went in and sneak back to my seat. I can’t believe how easy it was!

“I did it!” I announce to my friend.

We giggle softly, conspiratorially. I have no idea what’s going to happen when he discovers his shoes tied together but I have no doubt it will be funny. I sit and wait in high anticipation. I can barely hold back my excitement. The kids in the upper grades finally get on. It’s time! I watch the bus driver swing his torso around and face the front of the bus, pull the door lever toward him to close the door and…

“Whaaaat the!” he says, letting out a loud shout of dismay. I see him trying to figure out what’s going on with his feet. It takes him a moment.

“Who did this?” he finally yells and immediately looks into the rearview mirror, searching the bus for the culprit.

I am standing up in my seat, leaning onto the back of the seat in front of me, laughing into my hands. I just can’t help it. I am laughing hysterically.

I watch as the bus driver reaches down to untie his shoes and retie them correctly. He gets up and slowly walks down the aisle of the bus. Uh oh, I’m in trouble now! I sit down hard in my seat, hoping he won’t notice little quiet me, but I must look really guilty because he comes right over to me and leans down, his big round face so close to mine I can smell his bad breath.

“You’re the rascal!” he says in a loud voice, loud enough for everyone on the bus to hear. And then he struts back up to his seat with an air of command, no more Mister Jolly, just an angry bus driver who seemingly doesn’t like getting pranked by little girls. He sits down, glares at me in the rearview mirror, puts the bus in gear and off we go.

That’s as far as any sort of punishment went. He never told the principal and my parents never heard about it, but he never let me off the hook for the rest of the school year. If there was a commotion on the bus, I got the blame. Any shenanigans going on, I got the blame, even if I had nothing to do with it.

As with the previous stories I’ve been telling about the little imp inside me, as I write this story my heart is thumping with the same level of excitement that my eight-year-old little girl self experienced as she thought about what to do and as she stealthily carried out her plan. And I can’t help but laugh out loud too. It was a thrilling moment in my life, thrilling to carry out and thrilling to get away with, one I’ve never forgotten. So quick, so quiet, so dexterous! I was invincible! Rarely did I feel in such control!

It was, however, not thrilling at all to be branded a rascal, because normally I was a quiet little girl, but in hindsight I understand that the imp inside me was enticed by this friendly fellow, greeting us all at the end of a long day at school with a joke and a happy grin, and she wanted to reciprocate with a funny joke on him that she thought he’d naturally appreciate. Not so!

It’s often hard to gauge the reaction a person will have to a practical joke. Sometimes we laugh when we’re really nervous, or scared, or embarrassed. Sometimes we shout when our ego is bruised or envious, or when something gets triggered inside us. Sometimes we cry when we really want to laugh. Sometimes we know we’re doing something mean and sometimes we really do think we’re doing something funny and that it won’t bother anyone.

The imp, however, has a little bit of nice and a little bit of mean inside her; it’s who she is. And I can say now that she wasn’t just a nice quiet little girl on the day she pranked the bus driver. She was all imp!

A blog by J. E. Ketchel, Author of The Recapitulation Diaries

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