Leslie Bull: poet, performance artist, filmmaker

The Bus

by Leslie Bull

The white couple are sitting sideways on the bus. He (she?) is big, 5'9" and about 300 pounds. Scruffy, boy's haircut brushing collar of tan button up shirt stretched over round belly, handsome, square jaw, youthful-looking features, a few scraggly reddish blonde hairs sprouting from pointy chin. She (definitely) is smaller and older, pale-skinned, thick, and compact, with a shapely head and round, piercing, almost maniacal green-grey eyes. They sit in the seats near the back that allow them to look out the bus' large side windows, his arm around her shoulders, squeezing her puffy red winter coat.

Facing them on the other side of the aisle is a single Black guy. He looks like mid forties and used hard. His jeans are neatly ironed and his shoes decent, yet there is an aura of desperation about him. He has two visible scars, one thin and vertical above his left eyebrow, and the other cut deep across the bridge of his flat nose. One front tooth is missing, although it doesn't keep him from smiling. A cold smile that creases up his face but never reaches his eyes.

Along the back of the bus, next to the sideways seats is a long forward facing bench. In the middle is a young, slender white girl with a long face and almond shaped eyes, her straight, sandy brown hair pulled back into a ponytail. She is dressed in a blue fleece pullover and clutches a sheath of papers tightly in her hands. To her right, near the windows (close to the couple) sits a tall, light skinned Black kid of maybe nineteen or twenty, the attractiveness of his regular features set off by a thick mane of loose curls. He is dressed in baggy black jeans and a matching powder blue parka and baseball cap, a thick silver chain glistening around his neck.

The two guys are mackin' on the girl.

"So where ya goin'?" Cold smile inquires.

"I'm goin' to the Lloyd Center to apply for a job," The girl answers.

"Where at?"

"At a hat shop."

A conversation ensues between the three of them about the name of the shop and where it is located within the mall.

"Do they drug test?" Blue parka inquires.

"I don't know and I don't care, 'cause I don't use no drugs, I don't smoke no weed, and I don't drink." The girl chants in a singsong voice. The guys' eyes widen in surprise.

"Hey can I see those papers?" Cold smile says, reaching over to grab at the girl's papers, but she holds them tight, moving them to the side, out of his reach. She thumbs through the papers handing him the pages that give the job description, and keeping back the rest.

"These here papers are my business," she says quietly, but firmly.

"How old are you?" Cold smile asks, looking The girl up and down hungrily.

"Sixteen." She answers, and both men break up.

"Ughhh. You's young." They reply in a chorus.

"I just turned sixteen on Friday and I'm looking for a job," she says matter-of-factly.

At this point the red coated Crazy eyes who has been dimly following the conversation all along begins to pay particular attention, gazing at the young girl protectively, although it seems clear that so far she is handling herself just fine.

"I'm twenty-three." Cold smile announces.

"You are not." The girl blurts out.

"Whadya mean? Ya sayin' I look old?" He retorts.

"Not old, just older. Older than twenty-three," she replies diplomatically.

"Hey why don't ya tell her your real name, R. Kelley." Blue parka cuts up. The girl laughs and Cold smile groans.

"Man, you's a killer bro, a killer for sure," he says, shaking his head.

"You know why he said that right?" Handsome face whispers to Crazy eyes.

"Ya, ya, I know, R. Kelley supposedly likes young girls," she replies into his ear.

The conversation continues with Cold smile doing most of the mackin'.

"Sounds like it's time for a change in yo life baby," he says to the girl.

"I don't mess with no older guys."

"Listen up baby girl, I'm from the East Coast and we got a different kinda game out therec"

By now Crazy eyes is following the conversation like mad, giving the girl reassuring smiles when she looks her way.

Suddenly Blue parka addresses The girl.

"Do you know her?" He says, gesturing toward Crazy eyes. "'Cause she sure is all up in yo bizness. She sure is into you, she sure do like you." He says rudely.

Handsome face flares up.

"You need to show my wife some respect," he says in a low angry voice.

"Fuck you asshole." Blue parka retorts. "Whaddya doin' getting' all up in our bizness."

Now Crazy eyes gets riled up.

"I'm not up in your bizness, I'm just sitting here while all y'alls talking, I can't help it if I'm sitting right here listening to all this conversation." She shoots back, voice rising and eyes glaring.

"Ya, show some goddamn respect," Handsome face growls.

Blue parka looks incredulous. The situation escalates.

"I'll kick yo fucking ass, bitch. You's a fucking woman and I'm a man. I got a dick and you don't." Blue parka shouts at Handsome face.

"That's right and I got a big ol' fist right here." Handsome face shouts back.

"You's a fat fucking faggot."

"That's right I'm a big ol' fat faggot."

"You's a pussy licking fucking freak"

"That's right, all day long, all day long." Handsome face says smiling and gesturing as if to say, "bring it on".

Blue parka looks around confounded, like, "Can you believe this shit?" He seems utterly confused by the turn things are taking.

"You's a fucking freak," he sputters.

"That's right," Handsome face replies, cheesin'.

"I'm gonna kick yo fucking ass. Let's get off the bus right here and start slugging!" Blue parka rages.

"Goddamn right I'll get off here and start slugging." Handsome face says, sounding calm and slightly eager, "I wanna see what happens when this 300 pounds comes down around your neck."

"That's right this is our stop, we're getting' off right here," Crazy eyes interjects, turning to the boy and lecturing in a loud voice, "here we are your elders and you're talking all disrespectful to us. I got kids your age you little punk."

Blue parka's large, thick lashed eyes register disbelief.

"Faggot fucking freaks!"

"You're gonna see just how freakish it gets here in a minute if you keep this shit up." Crazy eyes warns, her eyes beginning to roll around in her head like a frightened horse.

The crowded bus comes to a stop. Everyone is turned around in their seats watching the melee.

Handsome face, Crazy eyes, Blue parka and Cold smile get off the bus. The girl stays on, traveling toward her potential job at the mall. Handsome face and Blue parka square off.

"You ready to go little man?" Handsome face says, puffing up his chest and leaning toward Blue parka.

Blue parka, who has been up on his toes since he got off the bus, looks suddenly unsure. Cold smile gets him in a huddle, starts pushing him back, cooling him off.

"I thought you wanted to kick my ass?" Handsome face taunts, clenching his fists.

"Go on now," Cold smile replies, trying to sound like he's doing somebody a favor, and all the while guiding Blue parka away from Handsome face and Crazy eyes. "Y'all go on now."

"Ya, come on baby, let's go." Crazy eyes urges Handsome face, who looks loathe to give up the idea of a fight.

Grumbling weakly, Cold smile leads Blue parka away.


It is the next night and I am afraid. My ptsd triggered from the night before. I am imagining the film of my life. Riding the Tri-Met while the phrase "Break yo'self bitch," reverberates throughout the bus, but only I can hear it. It's all in my head.

Tonight, for the first time since we moved here, I went out in my neighborhood at night by myself to wait for the bus. To go meet Boosey. I find my behavior puzzling. I mean just yesterday I was giving Boosey what for after them two guys took off.

"How ya gonna start somethin' with them guys when I gotta ride the bus by myself?"

"I'm sorry baby, I didn't think."

"I mean it was sweet of you and all to stick up for me, and I have to admit it was kinda fun loud capping those fools, but I got to ride the bus by myself."

"I'm sorry."

"Okay. I mean, don't get me wrong, you were fantastic! You's so fucking crazy baby. Did you see the look on that boy's face when you kept smiling and nodding at all the names he called you? He was so freaked out that you weren't ashamed."


"Then when you agreed to fight him and got off the bus he looked so confused, kept looking all up in the older guy's face, and that guy didn't wanna fuck with you."


"Still, I'm glad nothing happened. That boy was too young, the same age as our boys."

"If he's old enough to talk crazy he's old enough to get his ass whipped!"

"Still, I'm glad nothing happened."

"Me too. I guess. Although it would be such a relief to just go off. I coulda gone to art class feeling all relaxed."

"It was kinda fun. The whole bus was looking and that boy sure didn't think we were gonna start getting all crazy. Maybe we can do it some other time, in another city we don't plan to visit much, 'cause I don't want to feel afraid to ride the bus by myself."

And I am afraid. More afraid than before. Usually I'm hardly ever scared on the bus. Now tonight I'm scanning every face, and by the way, what am I doing out on the street after dark anyways? On the very next day after the incident? Normally if it is night and I am alone I take the truck or wait for Boosey to go with me. Tonight I decide to take the bus up to the school to meet Boosey so we can walk home together.

I don't know why.

Except it feels familiar, the fear. Feels like all those years I spent on the street doping and hoing. All those years I walked worse streets than this mini little bad 'hood has to offer. So long ago, ten years now.

I don't know why, when I arrive at the bus stop fifteen minutes early, I don't take the two minute walk back to the house to wait, and instead stand at the corner stop where there is a lot of drug traffic, and pretty soon three young guys, about the age of the young guy from the bus yesterday come to the stop and surround me, one on each side and one behind as I stand on the curb facing the street. They talk loud, addressing one another around me and over me and through me as if I wasn't there, standing too close.

"Wuz up? Wuz up? Where's the heat?" Their voices whirl, distorted, distant and then booming in my ears. I pretend I don't notice, give no energy to the situation, slip my hand up into my jacket sleeve. I have already turned my diamond ring around so the stones face inward, toward my palm, and I wonder at my own stupidity in wearing it. I really must be slipping. I can see from the shadow reflected onto the pavement in front of me that the boy behind me is raising his arms up, motioning behind me. I feel hyper alert and calm. A bit player in a played out drama where I passively/actively participate in my own doom. "Wuz up? Wuz up?" They buzz. Come on. This adrenaline junkie is an old hat at getting her fix.

I contemplate walking off, crossing the street, but I don't. Something inside won't let me, insists on her right to wait for the bus, to play her part. Suddenly the bus is there, pulling up, and I get on, pay my fare, receive my transfer. The three boys are standing outside the door.

"Are you getting on?" The bus driver inquires.

"Ya, ya, just a second" one of the boys, the very light skinned, almost white one with the aquiline nose and the mess of tiny braids says, still talking to his friends.

The driver shuts the doors and the boy says, "Hey!" and she opens them again and the boy still doesn't get on, still yammering to his friends, one of whom says, "Tell that bitch to wait." Causing the driver to slam the door shut and drive off.

The boy's face looks surprised and then angry as she pulls away. "Hey! Hey! Let me on!" He shouts running alongside the bus for a moment and then yelling "Bitch!" and slamming his fist against the glass doors.

I sit down near the front of the bus as it glides away from the angry boy, across from a chubby, pink-cheeked blonde guy wearing sweatpants and a ponytail.

"Did you see that? He hit the glass" The man says, shaking his head.


"That's why I would never live in this neighborhood, too dangerous."

I make a noncommittal sound and look off to the side.

"I mean the driver was only right to take off. After all, she could've called the police."

His words send a chill through me.

"Those boys are just lucky the driver doesn't call the police right now," he goads, his voice rising a register to make sure the driver hears him.

His words plop into my stomach like glops of wet cement, raising bile.

"What good is it gonna do to call the police?" I snap, "just give 'em an excuse to go jack somebody."

The cherub faced white boy looks shocked and uncomfortable, shifting around in his hard molded plastic seat, pursing his lips prissily.

"Well somebody has to do something about those people, they're so angry."

Suddenly I am tired.

"Maybe they got good reason to be angry." I grumble.

"Maybe. But I'll tell you one thing, if it were me I'd call the police."

I stare out the window while his words harden in my gut.

"I hate the police."

<< Back >>