The Bus Ride
The youngest one wouldn't stop crying. Sitting in her mother's lap, neither a bottle or a lollipop would help. It didn't take long for her older sister, a girl just shy of 4 years old (though she seemed to have to cognitive skills of a child just turning 2) to begin crying as well. They were sitting at the back of the bus with their parents, a big diaper bag and two strollers. They were tired, filthy from head to toe, cold and Native.
For a while, I didn't notice. The sounds of crying children are not new for me. I read my book and lived in my world. But after about 10 minutes, my brain finally clued into the fact that they were still crying. I began to pay attention. To look without watching, to hear without really listening. The way someone will be when they want to overhear a juicy bit of gossip that they shouldn't be privy to.
The father, a big rough looking Native man in his 30's, kept telling the girl to stop being bad and to smarten up. She kept on wailing. The mother made a comment about the bottle, and he took it out of the bag and gave it to the little girl. She looked at it and realizing that it was completely empty (which was more then her father could do), threw it back at him. To which he responded by flicking her on the tip of her nose. "Now be good!" he screamed into her face. Naturally all she did was cry harder. Her sister had simmered down a little by the lollipop that her mother had shoved into her mouth.
"Give her the bottle," the mother said again.
"I did, she didn't want it." He spat.
"Give her the other one," the mother told him.
"You told me to save it for later. Whatever, it's up to you."
The father took out a second bottle, this on about a third full with some strange brown liquid. "You can blame your mom for this," he said to the child, shoving the bottle into her face.
The girl pushed the bottle away from her space and cried harder still. I wanted to pick her up in my arms and hold her and give her what she needed so desperately. It was so simple, why couldn't they see it? ‘Please buddy’’, I wanted to scream, ‘just pick her up and love her. Don't you see that's all she needs?’ But he didn't see it, and I couldn't say it. No one could. Everybody wasn't noticing. Well, everyone was noticing, but doing the 'pretending not to notice' noticing. And as much as I wanted to, I wasn't doing much more. All the scenarios flashed through my mind. Confronting him, getting my teeth smashed in. Talk to him calmly; explain to him what to do, getting my teeth smashed in. Like usual my brain wanted but my body denied. As much as I wanted to say something, I was helpless, just like everyone else who was busy not noticing anything going on.
Another Native girl came onto the bus and came to the back, sitting down across from them. Seeing the children crying, she quickly reached into her backpack and produced a little toy from McDonalds. She handed it to the eldest girl but she pushed it away.
"Say thank you to the lady," the father told the girl sternly, but the girl just kept on crying. The dad grabbed it and gave it to the other child. The girl took it and was looking at it when the mother decided to take the lollipop out of her mouth and try to force-feed it to the eldest girl. This made the little girl begin to cry and dropped the toy on the floor of the bus. Each time the eldest girl refused the lollipop, her mother would try again to force it into her mouth. "But its candy," her mother kept telling her over and over.
"When we get home, it's straight to bed without dinner if you don't stop crying," the father pronounced. His words were meaningless to the children, I doubted if they were even able to hear him over their crying. "A shot of Sherry for you," he said to the eldest, "a shot for your sister, and a shot for dad when we get home."
"Great, turn them into alcoholics," the mother said, adjusting the littlest on her lap and knocking one of the strollers over in the process.
"Well at least they’d sleep through the night," he responded.
I wanted to scream. But I sat there, staring at them. The father looked up and noticed me noticing. "See, now all the people on the bus are watching you cry, your bugging everybody so STOP IT!"
The girl looked at me standing across from her. The father went on to other things, but the girl just kept looking at me. I mouthed the words 'it's ok' to her and tried to smile, but she didn't see. Which was for the better, because it was a lie and her and I and everyone else on the bus knew it. I didn't know what to do.
My heart was pounding in my chest, I wanted to grab the kids and run, or at the very least, ask if I could hold the girl to calm her down. It was clear by now that the problem emanated from her, her younger sister was just going along for the ride. Well, the problem didn't emanate from her but from her parents, or lack thereof. I looked at him, the father with so much pity. 'If this were 200 years ago, and you were where you are right now,' I wanted to ask him, 'would you be treating your children as you are now? Would the Elders have allowed it to happen?' But I said nothing. The Elders were long gone, smothered out of existence by Hudson's Bay blankets. Nothing left of their culture but cheap t-shirts with emblems printed on them.
I wanted to do something for these kids, for their parents. But what could I do. I thought about approaching them 50 times, but what could I start that would make it end good? My stop was approaching but I couldn't get off the bus. If I couldn't intervene, I could at least watch and see what the outcome looked like. If it got worse, whether I wanted to or not, I would have to do something. I thought about calling my friend Andy to get in his car and follow along behind the bus. I'd get off the bus at the stop that they did and confront him then, maybe if it wasn't in front of a whole group of strangers he would listen instead of putting him on the defense. And if I had a friend there to back me up... But I knew that wouldn't happen. He wouldn't listen to what I had to say any more then I would have the guts to say it.
I watched my stop come and go, but I couldn't get off the bus. I had some time before I had to pick up my daughter from after-school care. We kept going. I thought maybe I could call someone, but I know that it wouldn’t amount to anything. I've had dealings with those someones before. They're as inept as the red tape that binds their hands behind their backs. Maybe at least, I could get off at their stop and catch a glimpse of where they lived. What good it would do, I had no idea.
The bus was thinning out. There were seats emptying up now, but I remained standing. I wanted to be close to them. I knew I probably wouldn't do anything, but I wasn't going to let him hit her again. The little slap on her nose earlier wasn't that hard, but any
physical assault on a child is way too much. I just hoped that if he did it again and I did try to stop him, that the other people on the bus would at least back me up. The thought of my teeth being smashed in kept coming back into my mind.
The bus was pretty silent, save for the crying of two innocent children, caught in a trap that I saw no way out of for them. The crying would eventually stop, but their parents would always be their parents. I thought about if they were in Foster Care and wondered if their lives would be any better off. Like I said, I've had dealings with those 'somebodies' in the past, I know the whole game. Growing up in a white man's house, losing the last little bit of their culture to our ways. Being assimilated into our society even more then their parents already were.
Finally the mother told the man to take the little one so that she could tend to the elder one. In the process of exchanging the two, the little one accidentally kicked her elder sister in the face, taking her wails to an even heightened crescendo. Neither parent even noticed.
Would this nightmare
ever end? And would it end in violence
About 20 blocks past my stop they finally stood up. I was relieved; this would all be over soon. But at the same time, it could only just be the beginning of Act 2. I made my way passed them to the front of the bus and got off before they did. I didn't want them realizing that I was following them. They got off and I grabbed my cell phone and pretended to make a call. They were crossing the street and I followed from a distance. They got to a row of stores and went inside the hair salon. I remembered the man saying something about getting a hair cut earlier. I stopped to light a smoke.
After they entered, I lost sight of them. What could I do, really? Confront them on being the worst parents I've had the misfortune of meeting in a long time? Punch him in the nose in front of his kids? No. All I could do was feel terrible and get on the bus going back to my stop where I would get off, walk the block to my daughter's school where her daycare was, pick her up, hold her in my arms, love her and never let her go.