Sunday, October 14, 2012

You Get Used to It

The yellow school bus comes to a screeching stop of protesting brakes and hissing hydrolics. She is sitting at the window, staring off into space, not even paying attention to where she is. This is her time, her one time of the day when there isn't any classes or teachers or friends or home or family. This is her time.

“Corner of 5th!” The Bus Driver yells out again, snapping her out of her personal world.

And she leans against the worn and torn and graffitied and lysoled pleather behind her and wishes that she doesn’t have to do this again. That she doesn’t have to leave her dream world back there, peering out of the bus window behind her.

Outside she can clearly see the cars all slowing at the flashing red sign that extends to warn them that they’d better stop for the students getting off the bus, or face the heavy fines they’ll get. It’s not like this everywhere, she thinks to herself, looking at the oncoming traffic stopping for her bus as well. She thinks back two summers ago.

That summer. She went to Australia with her friend Jen. On the way they had stopped to visit Jen’s uncle in South Africa, which she had loved because it made her feel more like some kind of world traveler. Africa and Australia all in one trip! She had felt like she had finally left the world behind her. The world she had come from. The one she felt ashamed of when she invited her friends over to study and they’d suggest studying at a coffee shop instead.

She looks out at the cars slowly coming to a halt behind the bus. She remembers when her father had just gotten his permit and was driving. He saw the bus and got over into the other lane and kept driving. And of course there was a cop there. It was their family’s rotten luck. The cop had pulled them over and her father had gotten a hefty fine, as well as a comment about going back to Mexico where he belonged. She had felt so ashamed and angry and hurt then. But you get use to things like that, she told herself. Its why she freaked out when Jen’s uncle did the same thing in South Africa. He had laughed and after she and Jen explained about the US, and he had reassured them that not everyone was as good about lining up as the Americans are.

Once all the cars have stopped and lined up, that’s when the handful of other students start pulling themselves out of their seats. She tries to tell herself that they are just like her. That they all live here, in that awkward place where suburbia begins to get seedy, where the sidewalk is broken and there are weeds everywhere. But not yet downtown. Not yet that bad. The sort of awkward place in the middle where kids still really do run up and down streets at all times of the day but where there isn’t any nice neon yellow sign warning drivers to slow down. Partially because they wouldn’t. And partially because the kids ought to know better than to stay in the street with a car coming here.

Right now she wishes that she was somewhere else, maybe South Africa. Some place where cars don’t line up for stopped school busses. She wishes that they would all just get over and keep driving and not look at her as she got off the bus. The last girl. Always the last girl. She would awkwardly get off the bus and as the door closed everyone would look at her and she could just feel their eyes in the back of her head. And she could feel the weight of their thoughts and it would feel like she was drowning. Drowning so far deep inside herself.

“Corner of 5th!” The bus driver turns to look at her, the other students are all already off. “Come on, Carmelita! Whenever you’re ready, princess!”

Princess. When they’d been in London she and Jen had gone to Harrods. And they’d been walking around when they’d turned a corner and there was this statue. The statue of Princess Diana. And she didn’t know why, but for Carmelita, seeing the statue of the Princess, eyes raised, smiling, looking at the albatross flying over her, she had felt that she could do anything in that moment.

Carmelita stands up, shaking. She knows they’ll be watching. She knows they'll all have their opinions and their judgements and she decides then and there that she won't care. She will raise her head. She will walk out of that bus like the princess she is. She hefts her bags on her back and her heavy burden in her arm. A few of the other kids on the bus snicker and whisper. She is used to it. You get used to it. She fights the sinking feeling with every step she takes down that dirty aisle. She forces herself to look ahead, forced herself to keep her head high, to keep walking.

“You need a hand, there?” The bus driver asks, and Carmelita knows– feels in that moment– that it is the one pair of eyes with kindness and compassion in them that can cause you to finally break down.  

“No. I’m fine.” She steels herself against his kindness. “I can manage.”

And she does. She steps down from the bus and she can feel them looking at her. And she readjusts the school bag, and she readjusts the diaper bag, and she set down the baby carrier to make sure that there won't be any sunshine waking her precious little princess. Then she turns, picks up the carrier, and starts walking up the broken sidewalk, walking like a princess should walk. Head held high no matter what they might think. And she whispers down at the small child asleep in the carrier.

“Come on, Diana. Let’s go home.”

No comments:

Post a Comment