Note: This is Part Two. It’s a little more conversational than Part One. You don’t need to read it to understand this one, but you can.
IF YOU LIVE in a country that isn’t America, you’re probably comfortable with public transportation.
For most Americans, their only experience with public transportation will be the school bus. Five minutes on one of those is enough to develop a lifelong disdain for public transportation.
When I was growing up, the young kids rode the same bus as the high schoolers. The administration thought this was good because most drove themselves, so it wasn’t worth the money to get a whole new bus for the few who didn’t.
They were right.
All self-respecting high schoolers either bought a crappy car for themselves or borrowed their parents’ car. Unfortunately, this meant the only ones who did ride the bus were those legally inhibited from driving.
My bus had two criminals – Justin and Angel.
Justin and Angel were seniors, and had been so for several years. Justin had less than a year before he was legally too old to attend High School.
My stop was last on the route, and the bus was overcrowded. By the time I got on, all the seats were full except one.
One mid-semester day, most kids skipped school, so I could sit all by myself. I decided to use this time to get ahead on my reading.
I knew they were behind me because I smelled whiskey and cigarettes. They always drank and smoked on the bus. They weren’t allowed, of course, but they were twice the size of the driver, and my school took a military approach to education:
“If we don’t see it, it didn’t happen.”
That day, Justin and Angel were giggling drunk and their eyes were red and their lighter was an endless source of entertainment.
Hair doesn’t catch fire – it melts.
It turns into plastic and it smells like the chemicals from your shampoo.
When someone decides to melt your hair, you just sit there and let it happen, because they’re four times your size and they’re drunk and high and scary.
Just like I was taught:
“If you don’t see it happen, it didn’t happen.”
Somehow I made it back home without crying.
I told my mom what had happened.
I begged not to have to ride the bus anymore.
For the next few weeks, I missed the bus on purpose and, consequently, missed school.
Sooner than later, I became a disturbance, and was physically moved to the bus stop.
I managed to squeeze a seat in the front on the way there.
After school, during the stampede to the buses, I saw Justin.
He was alone.
He looked right at me.
I tried to get away.
I thought Justin wanted to fight me. I don’t know why I thought that.
I think when you’re young, and you feel you’re in danger, you feel like you have to fight, even if you’re going to lose.
But Justin didn’t want to fight me.
I realized I held all the cards.
On the bus, Justin was an invincible figure who could drink and smoke and melt hair.
At school he was a kid who, despite all his problems, was still trying to graduate three years later than his peers.
And I held control over him.
And I could get him expelled.
And I could send him to jail for assaulting a minor.
Justin and Angel didn’t bother me again.
I saw Justin at the gas station once.
I was a few inches taller than him.
I think he recognized me, but I didn’t say hi.
I really hope he graduated.