(I wrote this one a while ago, back before Pokemon Go came out and made everyone mad for ‘mon. Perhaps this scenario is no longer plausible. Then again, maybe it is. I don’t know what the kids think is and isn’t cool anymore.)

“Oh my God. What a loser. That old guy’s playing Pokémon,” one of the teenagers from the group at the back of the bus says. Embarrassed, I lower my 3DS so that it’s out of view. They start to laugh. Have kids always been this brazen? I turn my head to look at them, meaning to correct that ‘old guy’ comment, but I come down all intimidated. It’s like I’m back at school. I used to get picked on for playing Pokémon then, too.

“What’re you looking at?” one of them says to me with a cocky smirk.

“Are you a Pokémon Master?” another one asks. They burst out laughing. I laugh a little too, because it’s a funny question, really, and because I can’t help laughing when I’m nervous as hell. I start to sweat.

Suddenly, somebody nearby says, “I’m a Pokémon Master.” I turn back around. A young, red haired man is looking back at us all, scanning our faces. “Does anyone want to battle?” More laughter from the back of the bus.

“This is too funny,” someone says.

“I want to battle,” I tell the man. “I’m doing an all water-type run. You can pretend I’m, like, a gym leader or something.”

He beams. “Will you give me a badge if I win?” He doesn’t wait for an answer. He picks up some things – a sports bag, a textbook – and comes to sit next to me. Our eyes meet for a moment. His are full of fire. He removes a yellow 3DS from his pocket and we link up. “Remember when you used to need wires to connect, and the wires would never work?”

“Yeah. That was horrible.”

“We’ve come so far as a species…” he says, dramatically, before cracking up. Behind us I can hear the sound of quieting laughter, slowing into forced comments, evaporating into very little. My new friend and I begin our battle, and somebody behind us quietly confesses that she still plays Pokémon. I wonder if she will be excommunicated from the back of the bus for this.