Become an O:JA&L Member through Patreon.

R.A. Shockley

When to Cry on the Bus

Crying Women by Mikuláš Galanda


Greenville, SC (1955)

I like first grade, but I hate the bus. Mr. Hendricks takes me home in it every day, from school to the bench by the drug store where Mom meets me. It’s a city bus—big, white, smelly, and near empty. When I’m good, Mr. Hendricks pays me no attention at all. He just drives, opens the door for people, watches them drop quarters and tickets into his glass box, and closes the door. He never smiles. Not at anybody.

Today, only a block from school, he pulled his bus to the side of the street where he never did before, a place I think he wasn’t supposed to, and made its wheels bump. Then he got out of his seat and came stomping down the aisle toward the very back, toward me, heavy and mean looking. His face and neck were red the whole way. He had sweat over his eyes and was looking right at me.

Mr. Hendricks didn’t talk. He just yanked me up by my arm and dragged me up front, back to the bench right behind his seat. I used to sit there every day—Dad told me to when he rode home with me on my first day. But yesterday I’d been twirling and playing on its pole right before the first time Mr. Hendricks stopped his bus. That time he stopped right in the middle of the street, and cars honked. He got out of his chair that time, too, grabbed and squeezed my shoulders so hard they hurt, and yelled “Sit!”

That’s all he said, but when he got back in his chair and shoved his stick it made a loud, scrunchy noise, like maybe he broke something. I could see his face in the front mirror, and he saw me back. He looked like he was going to yell at me again, but he didn’t.

I sat as still as I could the rest of the way, my hands in my lap, my knees pressed tight together to keep me from moving and making him mad. I tried not to cry, and I didn’t, but I knew people were watching me. My eyes got wet but I don’t think anybody saw.

So that’s why today I went all the way to the last row in the back, back to where the brown people sit, the ones Mr. Hendricks never talks to unless he has to. One woman had on a hat with feathers and a hundred colors. She smiled when she caught me looking, and I liked her right away. But she stopped smiling and stared at the floor when Mr. Hendricks came to get me.

After the bus started going again, I peeked back at her from my bench. I wasn’t doing anything but trying to be good and not to cry. She smiled again, but her face was all wet.

Mr. Hendricks’s eyes were still in the mirror, watching to see if I was behaving. I didn’t want him to, so I put my hands up beside my face so he couldn’t do it.

In the back, the nice lady raised her hand to hide her face, too, but she didn’t cover her eyes up. It looked like she was smiling beneath her hand, but her eyes were brown and wet—like she was smiling and crying at the same time.

So I cried too. We could see each other, her and me, and it didn’t matter. Not as long as Mr. Hendricks didn’t know.

I hate the bus.

I hate Mr. Hendricks, too. I can’t help it.

We’re near the drug store now and I’m glad. Mom will be waiting there on the cement bench, and she always asks first thing what I learned today. It’s fun to tell her—but I won’t tell about the bus.

I hate the bus.


About the writer:
R.A. Shockley, a long-time fan of flash fiction, lives and writes in Athens, Georgia. He is an alumnus of several writers’ workshops, including Wildacres, Bread Loaf, Sewanee, Kenyon Review, Crazyhorse, and Appalachian Heritage (among others). Shockley has been awarded two writer’s residencies at the Wildacres Retreat in North Carolina. A Pushcart nominee (2017), R.A. Shockley has placed work in Fiction Southeast, Flash Fiction Magazine, Main Street Rag, Del Sol Review and others.

Image: Crying Women by Mikuláš Galanda (1895-1938). Tempera and ink on cardboard. 21.7 x 31.2 cm. 1938. Public domain.

Become an O:JA&L Member through Patreon.