BY ALLAN COBERLY
What should I tell you about first? The worst things or the best things?
Maybe the worst thing about riding the bus is having to pass through the security checkpoints. They are just like what you see in the airport, only slightly smaller. You wouldn’t think that a metal detector and X-ray gate would fit into a bus, but they do. The bus itself is much larger on the inside than it is on the outside, which is a good thing because the streets here are narrow and the passengers here are not.
Really, the worst thing about the on-board security checkpoint is what happens when a busload of sweaty grown-ups take turns removing their shoes in an enclosed space. But you get used to that and it’s only for a couple months of the summer that it gets really bad. So that isn’t the worst thing about the bus.
You can go barefoot if you want to, but the last time I did, I stepped in gum. So consider yourself warned about going barefoot on the bus.
Most of the things about the bus aren’t the best things or the worst things. They are just bus things. Things like the grey plastic handles hanging from the long silver bars running the length of the bus. The handles are there for standing people to hold on to but I never use them.
If I have to stand on the bus, I pretend that I’m standing on a skateboard and keep my balance by shifting my weight slightly back and forth as the bus moves. Sometimes I will pretend like I am getting ready to fall but I never really fall. One time I ran into an old lady and she fell down but I didn’t. So when I say I never fell down on the bus I’m not being a liar.
Once when I was younger, I put the head of my favorite doll through the noose formed by one of those handles and let it dangle. I told my cousin that my doll had killed itself on account of how ugly my cousin was. I thought it was funny but I wound up riding a different bus for a couple of years after that and I didn’t think that that was funny at all because I really didn’t like the places where that bus went.
By the time I started riding this bus again I was too old to play with dolls.
Maybe the worst thing about the bus is the passengers. Well, not all of them, really. Just one in particular. I call him Pinky because he always wears a pink shirt and his fat face is always pink and plus I don’t know his real name. One time he asked me if I had a boyfriend and then he tried to tell me his name a bunch of times and now whenever he talks to me all I can hear is the sound of me screaming. Only I’m not really screaming out loud where other people can hear, I’m just screaming into my own ears. Like yelling in reverse.
I try not to talk to Pinky but sometimes when the bus is crowded I wind up sitting next to him and then sometimes he talks and I start having trouble hearing anything except the sound of my ears screaming. I bet I’d hate his voice if I could hear it, I bet he talks to me the same way he talks to pets and babies, all soft and stupid-like.
I know that I could get Pinky in trouble if I lied and told the driver that Pinky touched me, but that would mean getting back on the other bus, the one where an endless parade of grown-ups asks you to repeat the same horrible things over and over again and asks you if you are sure about what you just said until the only thing that you are really sure about is that you will say anything at all if it will get them to stop asking you if you are sure about what you are saying. I really don’t want to go back on that bus.
Really, if Pinky knew about the other bus he’d be afraid of me. He wouldn’t talk to me like he talks to pets and babies if he knew about the bus I used to ride. But I haven’t told him about it. Or anyone else.
There used to be an old lady passenger that I called the Book Lady because she always had a book with her. The Book Lady was nice to me and I liked her. She didn’t act surprised the way most grown-ups do when I told her how many books I’ve read and she didn’t keep asking me if I’m sure about it when I told her how old I was. I especially liked the Book Lady because she never made me repeat what I said the way a lot of other grown-ups did. The Book Lady is the best thing about riding the bus except for that she doesn’t ride it anymore so maybe she isn’t the best thing anymore. I miss her a lot.
Another best thing about the bus is the music. Sometimes when there aren’t many people on the bus, someone will be wearing headphones and I can hear the song they are listening to. If I try real hard I can even hear the words of the song and try to sing along inside my head where no one can hear. But when it is crowded and lots of people are wearing headphones, all of the different songs get all mixed up with each other and with all of the other noises going in and out of people’s heads until it all gets into a giant roar that is sort of like the screaming that Pinky gives me, but not as bad somehow.
My cousin thinks the worst thing about riding the bus are the bars on the outside of the windows. He says there’s no reason we need to be in a cage and that being in a cage is the worst thing that can happen to a free man. Whenever he says that, I remind him that he isn’t old enough to be a man and that we’d be free as soon as the bus arrives. Arrives where? he will ask. Whenever he asks me this, I tell him I don’t know. Because I don’t know.
That’s the worst thing about riding the bus.