A Woman on the Bus: A Political Allegory

She is a middle-aged black woman. She wants to get to a job interview for a good job that she’s very excited about. Since she doesn’t own a car, she has to take the bus.

The bus doesn’t actually go through her neighborhood, so she has to walk a mile-and-a-half to the nearest bus stop. So she puts her nice shoes in her purse and puts on her sneakers for the long walk.

As she walks past the edge of her neighborhood, the streets get cleaner, the storefronts nicer and the police seem to vanish. Trees shade the sidewalk. She approaches the bus stop where a handful of others are waiting.

She looks around at them. There is a younger white man and a white woman together, dressed nicely but casually, as if they are going on a date. There is another white woman, older, dressed very primly, staring ahead at no one, talking to no one. There are two men, clearly gay by the way they are holding hands and teasing each other. One is white, the other is Hispanic. Lastly, there is a black man, older than her, wearing a crisp but weathered grey suit, and smiling pleasantly at her.

“I’m sorry, ma’am, but you can’t sit there,” she hears a voice say. She turns to see the bus driver looking over his shoulder, preparing to shut the door but looking directly at her. 

The bus arrives and the driver opens the door. The woman waits as the other passengers board. The last one to step into it, she sees an immaculately clean interior, not brand new but very well maintained. The seats are leather, the windows are all spotless, the floor newly swept and barely scuffed.

The other passengers find seats, except for the older black man. He stands toward the rear door of the bus, gripping the stainless steel stanchion. The woman looks for a seat and sees a spot next to the older white woman just two seats down from the front. She moves to take a seat, smiles politely at the woman, and begins to sit.

“I’m sorry, ma’am, but you can’t sit there,” she hears a voice say. She turns to see the bus driver looking over his shoulder, preparing to shut the door but looking directly at her.

“Why not?” she asks softly, confused.

“Bus Club Members only get seats,” he says. “But don’t worry, we’ll get you where you’re going safe and sound. Just grab a handle and remain standing.”

“Bus Club?” she asks him, reaching for a grab handle. The bus starts moving forward gently.

“The public pays taxes so we can have buses, but Bus Club members give millions so that we can have really nice buses.” 

“Yes, ma’am. You know, the folks who pay for the buses.”

Bewildered, she shakes her head. “But I pay taxes. That’s what pays for the buses isn’t it?”

The bus driver smiles. “Well, yes and no. The public pays taxes so we can have buses, but Bus Club members give millions so that we can have really nice buses.”

“But there are empty seats. Why can’t I sit down?” she asks.

“Rules are rules. We don’t get nice buses if I let just anybody use the seats.”

Now the woman is getting irritated. She shakes her head again. “That’s ridiculous. I’m going to sit down.”

The older white woman turns to her now, gives her an angry stare. “I don’t think so. This is my bus, not yours.” She puts her coat in the seat to prevent the black woman from sitting down.

Incredulous, the woman grips the grab handle tighter and looks around her. The other passengers all look concerned and irritated with her. The older black man, though, just smiles pleasantly as if nothing unusual is happening.

“This is  bullshit ,” she says angrily.

“Ma’am,” the bus driver says sternly, “please watch your language. I don’t want to have to ask you to get off the bus.”

I pay taxes! This is my bus, too, and I deserve to sit down as much as the rest of these people.” She is furious, shaking her finger all around.

The bus driver stops the bus. It isn’t a scheduled stop. When the woman looks outside she sees a long empty street populated with warehouses. No one is on the street. n

“I’m going to have to ask you to disembark the bus, ma’am,” the bus driver says. He opens the rear door.

“Hell, no!” she says. “I paid for this bus, I paid for my ticket and I am not getting out until I get where I’m going.”

Now the bus driver stands up and walks toward her. “Ma’am, you are not a Bus Club member, you barely pay anything in taxes, I’m sure.” He shakes his head dismissively. “I mean, just look at you.”

“If you don’t like it, go buy your own bus,” he says dispassionately. 

She stares at him, barely containing her rage, her knuckles white with her grip on the grab handle.

“This is my bus, too,” she says.

“You’re lucky we let you use it at all,” a voice from behind her says.

She turns. Everyone is standing now, but it is young white gay man who is speaking.

“If you don’t like it, go buy your own bus,” he says dispassionately.

“What the hell is wrong with you people?” the woman says, staring defiantly back at him. “It’s a public bus, for goodness sake.  We’re all the public. This is my bus, too!”

“That’s not the way it works, ma’am,” the bus driver says. “Please exit the bus.”

She lets go of the handle, turns to the rear door. She reluctantly walks toward it.

“It’s not so bad,” another voice says. The woman looks up.

It’s the older black man. “It’s a nice bus,” he says. “And it goes fairly close to where we’re going.”

“Ma’am,” the bus driver says again, gesturing for her to step out of the bus.

The woman looks at the bus driver, and back at the black man. She turns her head and takes one last glimpse at the other passengers, all still standing and staring at her angrily.

“Is there another bus coming anytime soon?” she asks the driver.

“You want a bus, join the club,” the older white woman says nastily. “As if you could.”

“Go buy your own bus!” the Hispanic gay man shouts.

Horrified, the woman steps quickly off the bus. The door closes quickly behind her and the driver puts it into gear.

She stares back at the bus, at the passengers in the windows. No one is looking at her. It’s as if she was never on board, as if none of this happened or mattered to them.

The bus glides smoothly away, engine purring.

The woman begins walking. She is still miles from her destination.

She looks forward, relieved to be away from those awful people.

“Fuck that bus,” she says.

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