by Jenn Virškus
It isn’t too crowded on the bus this morning. I grab a seat under the window in between an aging woman and a young girl. The woman is picking her nose, really digging in there, working that rubbery cartilage like a sculptor works clay. I turn to the girl.
She looks young, can’t have been more than seven or eight. She sits quietly hugging her backpack, her tiny, wire-framed glasses sliding down her nose, long, curly pony-tail hanging over her shoulder. She wears a plaid skirt and blue blazer. Catholic school. Nice.
“You ride this bus every day alone?” She nods her head. “You know not to talk to strangers, right?” Another nod. I take out a stick of gum, offer her one. “Piece of gum?” A head shake, no. Good girl. “This your bus to school?” A nod. “How old are you?”
Ha ha. “You like school?” Head nod again. Okay. Questions that require answers. “What’s your favorite subject?”
“You guys doing algebra yet?”
She rolls her eyes. “I’m in fourth grade.” Snot.
Hmm. Fourth grade. What do they study? “Multiplication tables then?” A nod. “How high can you go? Ten times ten?”
“Uh, yea. I’m not in kindergarten. I can do up to twenty-five times twenty-five. Now we’re doing decimals.”
Well excuse me. I don’t have kids. Do I look like a guy who has kids? I’m wearing a blue hoody, a backwards baseball cap (to hide my receding hairline), and a cigarette behind my ear. I smoked a fat joint for breakfast and am now drinking a large cup of cheap coffee at 7:45 in the morning on the bus. She gets off at the next stop. Doesn’t even say good-bye. Brat. Kids these days. No manners.
I wish my mom had a car. Then I wouldn’t have to ride the bus to school every day. People always want to talk to me, I don’t know why. My mom says never to talk to strangers on the bus, but sometimes you have to, or people get weird. Aggressive. That’s worse. I try to sit in the corner, but today I have to sit under the window, in the seats reserved for seniors and the elderly. There are two seats open, one next to an old lady picking her nose, the other next to a fat man. He looks like Santa Claus. I sit next to him. At the next stop, a man in a blue hoody sits down next to me. He has a goatee; his clothes are clean enough, but he smells funny anyway. I think it’s marijuana—my mom told me what it smelled like one time so I would know. Know to stay away. I try.
This man is a talker. I hug my backpack, and stare straight in front of me.
“You ride this bus every day?”
Here we go. I wish I had headphones, then I could ignore him, but my mom says I have to have all my senses to protect myself. So I glance his way and just nod my head.
“You know not to talk to strangers, right?” Yeah buddy I do. So why do you keep talking to me? He offers me a piece of gum. “Piece of gum?” Are you kidding me? I shake my head no. “This your bus to school?” Duh. Why do you think I’m dressed like this? Britney Spears video? “How old are you?”
Ugh. Okay fine. “I’m nine.”
“You like school?” Will he ever stop? “What’s your favorite subject in school?” Nope.
He looks stupid. I try to sound smart. “Math.”
“You guys doing algebra yet?” How does this guy even know what algebra is?
“I’m in fourth grade.” Obviously.
“Multiplication tables then?” Yea. “How high can you go? Ten times ten?” I guess he’s not getting the smart vibe.
“Uh, yeah. I’m not in kindergarten. I can do up to twenty-five times twenty-five. Now we’re doing decimals.” Jerk.
Before he can ask any more questions, we get to my stop. I get off the bus as fast as I can, and walk straight into school. I put my backpack in my cubby and take my place in the second row. I hope my mom gets a car soon.
Jenn Virškus is a multilingual adventurer, sailboat racer, ski instructor and freelance artist of Lithuanian descent. Visit her on the web.
photo by Alex Nowik