I stepped onto the bus, surprised to find it nearly full, unusual for this time of day. A hispanic mother and daughter, perhaps 1 1/2 years, sat close to the front. A few hispanic men, older were dotted around the front section. In the back, taking up two seats each, was a large group of teenage boys ranging in age from 13-17, a mixed bag
of ethnicities. I had never seen them before. I recognized the woman and some of the men, regulars. But these boys were new to me. A rough
group, not only in appearances. They had the feel of tough city kids
. I paused briefly trying to decide where to sit. I had never felt so uneasy
, so out of place riding this bus as I did this day. I did not like the nudge one boy gave to his buddy, elbow to ribs, before pointing to me with a smirk. I sat in the only available space away from the group, back to them.
Only two women on the bus and one child surrounded by harsh words and crass talk. I wince at the conversation, at the cruel laughter designed to make us uncomfortable. Words no child should hear followed by hoots of laughter, degrading. The mother stares stonily out of the window pretending to ignore, pretending she doesn't hear the talk about pussies or the worse derogatory comments. How can she not hear? I am trying not to squirm, to not give them the satisfaction of knowing I am uncomfortable. The adults ignore all of them. They say nothing. Neither do I. It is allowed to continue.
I shift my focus to the child. She smiles at me around the bottle of water that she is sucking on, oblivious to the verbal attack flowing around her, so innocent. Twinkling eyes grin at me. I smile back. She calms me, gives me courage. Her mother and I, two women, two different worlds. She expects this disrespect, appears resigned to it, she lets it continue like the others. I hope the child does not give up like the mother. Anger rises in me, more so at what is not being said, at what is being allowed. It is unacceptable.
I turn to look at the offenders, a dozen hard-edged youths. No expression on my face, no reproof in my gaze, no anger in my eyes, just directness. I look into their eyes, one by one, not away, not backing down. I will not allow this to continue. A child is at stake, one not touched by this ugliness yet. I send a silent message with my look. I turn towards the child, indicating her, emphasizing her, and then back to the group. They have the grace to look away. Some turn red. Message received.
For now at least, they feel shame at their lack of respect, if only for the moment. The bus grows quiet. I turn back to the front releasing my stare. I see the mother relax and hug her daughter close, murmuring in her ear. I see one old man look at me with something akin to respect, a nod in my direction. Why didn't he say anything himself to the boys? I don't understand it. As long as this behavior is condoned, it will continue. I hope that next time, someone else will also indicate his displeasure, better yet speak up.
I feel I have won a battle, maybe only a small one, but one none the less. For now, it is enough. It has to be.