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The Back of the Bus

by Ron Van Sweringen

The bus pulled up short and everyone clamored into the street to board. Dola Martin had to board last behind the white folks. She was heavy-set, not any one of the chocolate shades like most black folks, but such a coal black that her skin gleamed. A straw hat with small blue flowers around the brim shaded her from the hot Georgia sun.

She stepped up to enter the bus, and the driver shouted, “Full up. Wait for the next one.”

Her quick glance down the aisle showed empty seats in the whites-only section, none of them available to a black woman. Other black people packed the back of the bus. Some sat on each others’ laps. The bus driver, a white man chewing a tooth-pick, slammed the doors shut when she stepped back. She suspected he was smiling at her.

Now I’m in trouble, Dola thought, returning to wait at the bus stop. I should have started earlier, Mrs. Hobart will probably fire me for this.

The sidewalk filled with prospective passengers during the twenty-minute wait for the next bus. Dola was not the only black; three others were waiting also. She thought she might faint in the hot sun. Sweat ran down her neck, and her small handkerchief absorbed very little.

Everyone surged forward to board when the second bus appeared. Dola with the other blacks remained back until all the white folks had boarded. Again the driver shouted, “Full up,” and without thinking, she shouted back, “No, not this time!’

Before the driver could move the bus, Dola ran into the street and stood directly in its path.

The doors of the bus flew open. The driver emerged like an angry hornet and shouted, “What’s the matter with you woman? Get out of my way ’fore I run over you.”

“Go ahead,” Dola replied, taking off her hat and fanning her face. “Don’t make no difference to me.” She looked the bus driver in the eye: “ I’m going to get fired anyway, so you might as well finish me off now and get it over with.”

Some of the passengers on the bus leaned out of the windows. “What’s wrong?” yelled a white man in a suit, “I have to get to work!”

“Let’s go,” yelled another.

The bus driver paced back and forth with his hands on his hips, his face beet red. “Hell,” he muttered under his breath.

A woman called from a bus window. “Driver, this woman is my nurse. I have a bad heart and she has to be with me wherever I go.”

The voice belonged to a grey-haired, white woman. She wore a red hat, pinch-nosed glasses and her white-gloved hands fluttered when she spoke.

“Come along now girl,” she called to Dola, “you’re holding everyone up.”

The bus driver looked at the woman and breathed a sigh of relief. He knew the two women had never seen each other before. He turned to Dola in disgust, “You got your ride this time, but your kind better watch your step and not push too hard.”

Dola sat down beside the white woman and put her hat back on, holding her head high.

Her seat companion smiled and said, “My name is Marybell Parker. I’d like someone with spunk around my house. How good is your apple pie?”

Copyright © 2009 by Ron Van Sweringen

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