blackbird online journal spring 2002 vol.1 no. 1



On the Bus

The black guys in the back of the bus are getting high and giving me hell.

"Yo Holmes," they say. "Yo Watson."

"Do you know those guys?" Walter asks me.

"Shut up," I tell him.

Walter and I are sitting in the seat right behind the back door, just a few seats in front of them. There's hardly anybody else on the bus, just a few old women in maid uniforms, all of the women clustered up near the front where they can pretend they can't see or smell whatever's happening back here, can pretend they don't hear the guys from the back asking me what my name is or saying, "Didn't your mama teach you no manners?" saying, "We'll follow you home—see where you stay at and tell your mama you ain't actin' like you supposed to."

"We should move up to the front," Walter says, and I give him a good elbow in the ribs, tell him to stay where he is if he doesn't want them to seriously kick his ass.

"Trust me on this," I tell him, even though I know they aren't out to kick anybody's ass.

The bus stops and to keep Walter's mind off of what's happening, I start giving him a hard time. I bust on him about this pig who gets on the bus, some fat white chick made up like a whore—not like Creature Cookie, the real whore who wears dirty cut-offs and flip-flops and who says for five bucks she'll jerk you off right there on the bus—but like a TV whore with platinum hair and orange eye shadow and purple lipstick. I tell Walter his girlfriend's here to see him. Her bottom lip hangs down so big and low and loose that I think for a second she's retarded, even though she's all decked out in gold chains and has makeup caked on in ways that no retard could manage. Walter gets all worked up denying he thinks she's hot and as she heads past us to the back of the bus, I figure for a second I'm about to live one of those stories you hear about but can't imagine how they actually happened. In this case, the one where the retarded girl gets gang-raped on the back of a city bus in broad daylight and neither the bus driver nor the other passengers do anything to stop it. I know I wouldn't have done anything to stop it because that would require me to look at those guys, to acknowledge that they're really here. The maids up front are busy pretending not to notice that there's anything beyond their own skin, and the bus driver is counting off his eight hours, trying his best to convince everyone that this bus is running on auto-pilot, which would leave Walter as the wild card, but I could take him out with a good elbow to the gut.

The white girl isn't retarded though. I hear her high-five a couple of the guys before settling down to get high herself.

The guys yell up to me, "Say bro—you gonna get high with us?" and the white girl tells them to leave me alone in a way that makes me hate her more than I hate them.

"You don't understand," they say. "We got a responsibility to the brother. We got to make sure he knows what's up."

"Doesn't the driver smell it?" Walter asks. He only started riding the bus this year. Me, I've been riding alone since I was nine.

"What'd I tell you about stupid questions."

"But what if he thinks it's us?"

Walter's never smoked dope before, so he thinks it's a big deal. "Relax," I tell him and hope that maybe some of the smoke drifting up will mellow him out some.

To be fair to old Walter, all of this is a lot for him to take, and I sure as hell never helped him adjust. When Creature Cookie gets on the bus, I tell Walter that he should go for it, that he's got nothing to lose. Having somebody else touch his pecker might give him a little confidence, I tell him, and Walter gets all worked up at that, starts going off about the scabs on her legs, starts going off about her teeth, too, and I don't know what gets inside me, but I can't leave it alone. "Easy tiger," I say, "I know she's turning you on, but try and keep a lid on it."

"I don't even want her near me," he says.

"It's all right, man," I say. "I'll lend you the five bucks," and so on, until the kid's a fucking wreck. So in a way I've got nobody to blame but myself if he can't keep his cool.

When Walter's stop comes up and he gets out into the aisle, he can't help but grab a good long eyeful of the guys in the back, just like I can't help grabbing an eyeful of him seeing something he's only read about up until now, Walter somehow missing twelve-year olds toking up outside of the snack bar at the beach and women who look like any of the rich women in the Parents' Association getting high while they tear around town in their convertibles. Hell, his parents are probably toking up in their bedroom while Walter beats off or does some extra calculus problems or whatever the hell he does at home. I don't know exactly what he sees when he looks to the back of the bus, but I know he lets his mouth hang open far enough that he looks just as retarded as the chick in the back, and I'm sure he held that expression all the way home.

Once Walter's gone, the guys in the back start really giving me hell, asking if Walter's my girlfriend, asking if his sweet white ass does something for me.

"It's cute how y'all dress alike," they say, talking about our school uniforms, and I just keep staring straight ahead.

These could be the guys I buy dope from off the street when I tell whoever I'm with to let me drive and we go into South Miami or the Grove, everybody getting all nervous while we're waiting to hear some guy whistle or yell from some dark street corner, the girls with us starting to squirm a bit when he leans in the window and asks, "What y'all want," and me, I'm the tour guide. I never hung out with the kind of guys who sell dime bags on the street, but when they're leaning into the driver's side window, not looking at me, but darting their eyes around the inside of the car where everybody's silent and nobody looks back at him, I say, "I know you ain't ripping a brother off—that's how come I know you goin' to let me check it out first," the words just coming out without me having to think about them, some of it genetic, I'm sure, and some of it just from getting ragged on by guys on buses and by guys in the neighborhood I have to walk through to get from the bus stop to home, a neighborhood that's not dangerous, but one that no white parent would let their kid walk though. I give the dope dealers a little lip, a very little lip, just enough to make it look like I know what I'm doing, and when the deal is made, I'm the savior, hero for the night, and even though I never get laid for it, at least I get to smoke for free.

But messing with these guys gets me nothing, so I lean my forehead against the seat in front of me, not giving a shit about whoever's shot their load there, wanting to slip inside the vinyl and surround myself with whatever foam is underneath—wanting to disappear from here, go anyplace where I can't get mixed up with the guys in the back.  

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