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There were three other men waiting for the bus when I sat down. It was mid-afternoon, August, in a suburb ten miles from Atlanta. The bus ran every half-hour.
We were waiting at a transfer point, where some ten buses stopped in front of cheap plastic pavilions. Our bus had already arrived, but no driver was in the seat and the doors were closed. From my seat on one of our pavilion's benches, I laid my head back onto the clear plastic wall and closed my eyes.
"Hey, what's happening," a drawling, female voice asked, and I opened them again. She was talking to one of the other men on the benches.
"Hey, how you been? I haven't seen you in forever." He was eating buffalo wings and drinking beer out of an Igloo cooler. He was thin and seemed excitable. They were both ungroomed. More pleasantries were exchanged, and he handed her a beer.
They were talking loudly and quickly, and the man sitting next to me seemed irritated. He was a big guy, powerful-looking, and very clean and conservative in manner. He wore the uniform of a low-level grocery store employee and had been trying to read a DuPont Registry car guide, a $10 magazine that gave stats on the finest and most expensive cars available to consumers. The chatters were interfering with his concentration. The fourth guy at the bus stop, a businessman seated next to the guy with the cooler, kept his eyes steadily closed.
"So where you going?" the man asked.
"Nowhere, nowhere. Just hanging out."
"Where are you going?" she asked.
"Broad Street," he replied.
"What are ya doing down there?"
"Just got to get back to Broad Street. I can't stand it out here. There's nothing out here, I gotta get back to where the action is."
You're going to hang out on Broad Street?" she asked, with a voice that was intended to be respectful but carried across her suspicion.
"It's the only place to hang out," he said. "Got to get where the action is."
"That's cool," she said, finishing her beer and throwing the bottle away. "Gonna pick up a 'ho?"
"Maybe," he said, saccharine, and the man next to me coiled in disgust. "Not gonna pay for it, though," continued the Broad Street man, and looked around and laughed. I smiled thinly at him, which was the most positive reaction he got from the men around him.
Cool, cool," said the woman. She waited a minute or two, and asked, "Well, I got to start moving on. I'm supposed to meet Angela."
"Awright," said he. "Ya'll gonna have a good time tonight?"
"We'll put something together," she said. She waited a minute or two more, then said, "Hey, man, can I have another one for the road?"
The man next to me narrowed his eyes, with a look that said: crack ho. She was unkempt and dirty, all right, but she looked perfectly content with alcohol.
"You want another beer?" the other man asked, pretending to be annoyed. "God damn, woman, you trying to break me? How many beers you think I got?"
You got four left in there, man," she said. "Come on, just one more? Come on, pleeease?"
"Ya'll listen to this," he said, looking around and grinning. This time, no one smiled back. "Listen to this woman, trying to play me." He pulled another beer out of his cooler and handed it to her.
"Thanks, Jake," she said. "I really appreciate it."
"It's all right. You go and have a good time."
"Thanks," she said, and wandered off.
Silence for a few minutes. The DuPont guy re-opened his magazine. The bus driver did not approach. I closed my eyes.
"You like chicken wings?" asked the man with the cooler. I opened my eyes. He was talking to me.
"You don't like chicken?"
"I like chicken. I just don't like picking the meat off all the bones." He nodded in response.
"These are some hot chicken wings," he said. The DuPont guy was considering curling up his magazine, but didn't quite.
"Yeah?" I said.
"They are really hot. I mean, these are really fucking hot." He sounded pretty excited.
"It's a hot day, to be eating wings like this."
"Yes, it is," I agreed.
He stepped out of the pavilion with an empty bottle in his hand, looked around like he was getting away with something, and, ignoring the trash can, pitched the bottle behind the pavilion, over a chain-link fence, into the abandoned military housing that stood behind the bus stop. That was fine. A glass bottle would do more good in the "abandoned" housing than it would in a trash can.
He ambled over to his seat and pulled out another beer. He opened it, took a long swig, sighed exaggeratedly, and reached for another chicken wing.
"See, a little white guy like you couldn't eat chicken wings this hot on a day like this," he said.
"That's probably true," I said.
"But me, I can handle it. That's what being African's all about."
"Yep," I said. I didn't think that was how skin pigmentation worked, but I was no more an expert on the subject than he was.
He nodded, then said, "Oh, looks like that's the bus driver."
The DuPont guy and I had our backs to the direction of the bus drivers' break house. We turned around, and saw a driver headed our way. The DuPont guy stood up. As the loud guy tucked his fresh beer back into his cooler, the DuPont guy walked around me, outside of the pavilion, faced the approaching bus driver, and shouted at the top of his lungs:
"You stupid fucking nigger, HURRY UP!"
The pavilion was silenced, shocked. The man in the business suit opened his eyes wide, then quickly looked down.
The screaming guy was black. He wasn't blue-black, by any stretch, but he was a lot darker than the bus driver, the guy with the cooler, or the man in the suit.
Incredibly, the driver didn't seem to notice at all. He continued to walk in the same, steady pace towards the bus. He walked to the driver's side window, reached through, and threw the handle that opened the bus's double doors.
"God damn you!" shouted the DuPont guy. "It's about fucking time!" The bus driver seemed totally oblivious, and simply waited for the four of us to file onto the bus. We did so, paying our fare, and sat down. The driver entered the bus, sat down, and without turning to face us, asked,
"Do any of you need transfers?"
No one said anything. The driver closed the doors, started the bus, and drove away as if nothing had happened. The DuPont guy started quickly flipping through his Registry.
"Got to get back to Broad," said the guy with the cooler. In the many, many hours I spent on Broad Street, I have never seen a hooker there, day or night. The place was crawling with cops and pimps, who left each other alone; one could arrange to meet a hooker there, but the whores themselves stayed very far away.
We rode in silence. The bus stank. The air conditioning was inadequate, but the bus wasn't filling up with people very quickly. After a while, we arrived at a Piccadilly Cafeteria, where this bus always stopped for three minutes to begin moving on.
After a few seconds in front of the Piccadilly, the DuPont guy shouted, "What the fuck are you waiting for?" Again, the bus driver ignored him perfectly. I could feel tension crawling up my back, fucking with my arms and making my neck and temples tingle.
"The bus always stops here," I said, cleanly and distinctly.
"He turned around, confused, and said, looking at me, "Why aren't you going, you stupid fuck?"
"The bus always stops here," I repeated, sliding my hand into my pocket and ever so lightly gripping my knife. "It's against policy to be early. The time that the bus leaves the Piccadilly is recorded on the bus schedule."
"What?" asked the duPont guy, but he was losing his nerve.
"You asked," I said, and he turned around. He didn't say anything for the rest of his ride. When he eventually got off the bus, in front of the grocery store where he presumably worked, he shot the bus in general an eat shit and die look, then disappeared. No one ever mentioned him.
I rode the bus into town and took the train to Broad Street, where I'd meet my next bus. I never did see the guy with the cooler there, but Broad Street is a crowded and busy place.
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