Wednesday, July 13, 2011

End of the Line

They almost always took the same bus, almost always to the end of the line, and they almost always found something to say to Michele.

“Hey, white girl? Where can I get me some shoes like that?”

“Choo bring your lunch? Got mayonnaise? Got white bread?”

“You too good to talk to us, white girl? You think you special? You ridin’ the bus like everyone else. You cleaning rich folks’ houses same as us.”

There were four: two black and two Latina. The Latina girls, Merari and Laura, were sisters. The black girls, Vanessa and Aliyah, were cousins. All of them, except Laura, were fat and proud. Laura was skinny and proud, and the others accused her of being anorexic. Vanessa had two kids, ten-year-old twins. Her husband was good to her, but he worked third shift. Merari had three kids, with three different baby daddies. Laura was engaged, but the other girls made fun of her fiancé. Aliyah had a boyfriend, but he was married to someone else.

Michele’s shoes came from the Goodwill, her lunch would be whatever she found in her employer’s fridge, and she didn’t think she was too special to talk to these women. But she didn’t belong on the bus, and she wasn’t meant to clean rich folks’ houses. She had never scrubbed a toilet or taken public transit until last year.

“She never says nothing.”

They ribbed each other, too, and they were all friends, so she knew, now, that they hadn’t been malicious, not at first. She should have tossed a joke back once or twice, let them know she wasn’t what they thought, but that opportunity had vanished.

The bus broke down.

A hissing squeal emanated from the engine, followed by a white cloud, and the driver hustled everyone off. They milled around, complaining, arguing. Some pulled out cell phones. Some began walking. One or two checked their watches and wallets before hailing a cab.

Michele remembered hailing cabs.

The driver announced that another bus would come.

“When?” shouted Merari.

The driver shrugged.

Michele shrunk away, leaned against a street sign, feeling ugly and helpless. She didn’t notice the old white Cadillac beside her until the redneck in the big white cowboy hat spoke.

“Bus broke down?” he asked.

She nodded, looked away. He slid over to the passenger seat, stuck his head out of the window to get a better look.

“The nine-oh-one? Headed for Lakeview?”

She nodded again, turned her back so he wouldn’t think she appreciated the conversation.

“Need a lift?”

Did she ever. She had to get to work on time, had to get paid, had to eat something today. But every alarm bell in her mind said it was too dangerous. Other girls did things like this. Not her.

“Come on. I don’t bite.”

She couldn’t remember speaking at all, not in a long, long time. “Can my friends come?” she asked.

She didn’t have any friends.

“More the merrier.” He grinned. He did not appear dangerous.

Behind her, two of them were smoking. Two of them were laughing. She took a tentative step, then another.

“This guy wants to give me a ride to Lakeview,” she said.

“White girl speaks!”

“Girl, you gonna be front page news. Dude’s an axe murderer. He gonna cut you into pieces.”

“I know,” she said. “But I have to get to work. He says he’ll take all of us. It’s safe if we’re five against one, isn’t it?”

Merari raised her eyebrows. Aliyah gave the guy a hard stare. Laura blew smoke rings. Vanessa laughed.

“They already turned off my electric,” Michele said. “I have to get to work on time.”

The others stared at her. Stared at the dude. Looked at each other, looked back to her. They gave the white Cadillac a long, hard appraisal.