“Just Ride”

This is an entry to a recent contest that I entered.  The contest was to describe a day in the life of the character that changed him or her forever.  I made it to the first round of finalists.  I was very excited and honored.

The sun rose casting its pink orange glow through the threadbare sheets hanging on the windows. Small feet shuffled into the room stopping at the bedside. “Mama?” Mama lifted the blanket’s edge silently and without pause, the little being cuddled next to her warmth. Mother and daughter dozed off and on together for another hour as the sun finished its climb over the horizon.

Hand in hand, they walked down their street past old men on porches and women sweeping sidewalks. At the corner, they stopped and beads of perspiration ran down their faces under the relentless sun. The child fingered the cloth of her Sunday dress. “Where are we going mama?”  The mother smiled and patted the child’s head.

The bus sped down the road and roared to a stop. Its doors swung open and the rancid smell of diesel filled the air. Holding hands, they climbed the steps and walked down the center aisle past blank faces and stares, eyes straight ahead. Settling on the back seat, the child bounced her legs anticipating the ride.

Start and stop. Start and stop. They rode for hours looping the city but never leaving their seat. They watched the people. Couples, businessmen, housekeepers, women with small children revolved in and out of the bus doors.

Mama’s hands shook as she smoothed her dress and the child’s unruly hair.  She rested her hands on her legs as if to stop her foot from tapping.

“Mama…” the child began again.

“Shh… Just ride, honey, just ride.”

The child wiped grime off the window and watched the world at 35 miles per hour. The rich people’s neighborhood where laughing children played football on the lawns while golden retriever dogs and women in tennis whites supervised, downtown where men and women dressed in earth tones and hurried expressions carried very important things in their arms and in their minds, and then back to her side of town where women with hollow eyes and tired expressions boarded the bus taking them to their housekeeper and nanny jobs.

The familiar tapestry lulled the child to sleep until the smell of the diesel intermingled with the air conditioning. Her stomach lurched, and the bile in her throat woke her.

“Mama!”

Mama continued to stare hard at the doors every time they whooshed open. “Shh..it’s all right now. Just ride.”

Swallowing hard and picking up her feet, the child felt the vinyl sticking to her legs. The pop when she pulled her legs free was painful but pleasant reminding her of a hard sneeze.

The mother reached into her bag and pulled out two peanut butter sandwiches made from stale bread. They ate in silence and shared a thermos of water. The sun was high overhead by now, and the bus driver pulled over to end his shift. The child lifted her hand to wave good-bye, but the driver didn’t even look back. They were invisible to everyone, and they continued to ride.

Towards evening, the bus slowed to a stop and opened its doors to a group of businessmen and women. They flooded the bus with their spicy aftershaves and perfumes, chattering on phone earpieces and shifting their weight under the heft of their briefcases.

Again, Mama’s hand touched the child’s hair, and she pulled at the hem of her own dress.  Then, Mama stiffened and drew in a hard growl-like breath. The child looked up at Mama’s tortured face. “What is it, Mama?”

Caught off guard, the woman answered, “Your father.”

Father? She knew the word, but it had no meaning to her. “Father” belonged to the children playing football on the green lawns and to the nice Mexican family across the street whose mother worked in the rich neighborhood while the grandma watched the children. She looked down at her coffee colored skin and felt her red frizzy hair. She had a father?

She strained to follow Mama’s gaze but she couldn’t see above all the talking heads. Impatiently, she unstuck her legs from the vinyl and started to stand on the seat. With the better view, she saw blue eyes and a white face taking them in with pure hatred. “Oh!” She fell back into the seat with her hands covering her mouth as if to keep in the bad that she was sure made him hate her. Father.

Next to her, Mama raised one hand in a silent goodbye. The bus slowed in the rich people’s neighborhood purring to a stop, and as the doors swung open, the smell of barbecues and freshly cut grass filled the bus. The white man called “Father” and the talking heads made their way out to pretty wives, smiling children and panting dogs.

Then, the bus doors closed firmly keeping all the unworthy inside, and again, they were alone. Start and stop. Start and stop. Back through the city, across the river until its doors opened one last time.

Wiping tears from her eyes, the child grasped her mother’s hand tightly as they exited the bus for the first time that day. The revving of the engine startled them as the doors slammed shut, and they stood there watching the bus disappear into the distance just as the sun went down.

The contest required the ending and closing mentioning the sun, but the rest was my own creation.  I hope you enjoyed the story.  

About Jen Cross

Born and raised in Dallas, TX, I enjoy writing books about life in Dallas and relationships and their many ups and downs.
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