After a mountaintop experience with Carrie Mae Weems and my college bestie Kim last weekend in DC, I returned to NYC on Monday. That same night I had an awesome time at a cocktail mixer. I engaged with literary agents, editors and other writers and was feeling uber inspired as a creative and as a Black woman. Then I decided to take the bus back uptown to Harlem after the Writers & Wine event and had the CRAZIEST bus ride ever!
I boarded the bus at 23rd St. and maybe two stops later a woman and her young children boarded. They had to be about 2 and 5. The young mother, a Latina, answered her phone and began to argue immediately with the person on the other end. She was loud, belligerent and had zero fux to give about anyone hearing her conversation or being bothered by her high volume. After 10 minutes I was done and snipped, not so quietly, but still under my breath, “Shut up. I paid my fare and don’t wanna hear your crap.” Clearly the vino I had been sipping earlier that evening was talking because if homegrrrl had heard me, I have no doubt she would’ve ripped me a new one– verbally and physically. She was sitting two rows ahead of me so I guess the old Black woman sitting in between us was the only one who heard my rant. I was annoyed that this woman was infringing on my high and not even tending to her young children. 15 minutes goes by and she’s still arguing. To myself I begin to call her “ghetto” and “ratchet” because belittling someone, boxing others that aren’t like us into stereotypes makes us feel better, if not almighty. It’s called privilege. And even though I didn’t have enough money on my Metrocard to cover the fare I still felt like I was better than her.
After awhile her tough demeanor started to crumble. With her youngest crying, she stammered, her voice cracking with anger, “You’re supposed to be my brother, but you keep telling me I ain’t sh*t! I do everything for daddy. I just left him after spending the day cooking for him and he asked me why I had to leave so soon. I have two f*cking kids! I’m a mother and no one seems to think I have my own issues! But Yolanda ain’t sh*t, right?! Yo, how can you say I don’t do sh*t!” If her kids were not staring her in the face, I know she would’ve started crying.
All of a sudden from the last row in the back of the bus a woman cries out, “No!” I thought she was talking to Yolanda, but then she starts screaming “Nooooo, Nooooo!” without ceasing. There’s only five of us on the bus at this point. We’re maybe at 86th Street. The old woman turns around to me and says, “What’s with all this drama on the bus tonight?” I say I have no idea, but it is really crazy. I can see the reflection of the woman who’s screaming in the window across from me and note that it’s a young Black woman who is actually on her cell phone. After wailing, for what seemed like forever, she starts shouting, “Daddy, all day I knew something wasn’t right. I could feel it in my bones. That’s why I kept calling.” She starts sobbing, “Oh God, I can’t believe mommy is dead! I can’t believe she’s dead.” Now everyone is silent. Even Yolanda shuts up.
Oddly Yolanda, the old woman, and the Latino brother sitting across from the three of us are ALL looking at me. At this point I’m stunned. At this point I KNOW at the next bus stop John Quinones from What Would You Do is going to walk on the bus. I’m not joking. I just knew this was an episode for the show. It had to be. I’ve been riding public transportation and I’ve seen someone get stabbed; I’ve seen someone get their chain snatched; I’ve seen a lot of ill stuff go down, but the pain and suffering that had gripped this bus ride was by far the illest. And the strangest.
I walk to the back of the bus and by now this sister, who’s maybe 35, was inconsolable. I tried to offer her a tissue, but even though I’m right in front of her, I feel like she doesn’t see me. I touch her knee and ask how I can help her. She doesn’t respond. I’ve never been in the presence of someone inconsolable. It’s the most heart wrenching experience ever! She’s still talking to her dad saying she doesn’t know how she’s going to get to Milwaukee, but she’s going to the bus station tomorrow morning and she’s “getting on a bus no matter what!” The bus? Milwaukee? No money for a ticket? I’m shattering into a million pieces on the inside. My back is to the front of the bus and I keep waiting for John to tap me on the shoulder asking why I decided to get up and help this woman. But he never did show up. I thought the bus driver would say something, but he never did. It’s NYC and the MTA is on it’s crew to stay on schedule no matter what. I want to help this young woman. So much of my work is about empowering sisters like her, but I was utterly helpless. I walk back to my seat and Yolanda and her children are gone. It’s just me, the Latino brother and our elder. I say quietly, “She just found out her mother died.” The brother who seemed so hard before, lifts his eyeglasses to wipe away his tears. Now why did he do that? I could no longer hold it in and I too cry. The older woman pulls out a tissue and wipes her eyes. The young woman got off around 103rd Street before any of us. I WISH I had gotten her number or something. Two stops later when I stood up to exit the bus, I put my hand up to say good night. The man stood up and raised his hand and put his palm to mine and said, “Be safe ma.” I walked home, my mind in a depressing fog. I was changed, but troubled. I can’t understand why God would put me in that situation. When I got home I kept thinking that I need to be more mindful. I think I needed to be reminded that with #BlackGirlJoy there is also pain, pain that we don’t see. The pain we hide. And so I need to be slow to judge and to use compassion like I use passion– to sustain and inspire. I share this story to remind you to be mindful, to be compassionate, and to be slow to anger and judgement. There’s a great deal of pain right here in our midst so after you pray for Paris, Nigeria, and Mali, pray for your neighbor, pray for that woman sitting on the bus or train next to you. Pray for me. You never know.