I hit the stop button on the grab bar, and we all get to hear that Bronx—1 bus chime. This driver, I almost like. All the drivers recognize me and my old wheelchair. Squeaky, old-ass, rickety piece of shit. Just like me. This skinny white driver gives me a sorry smile every time he presses that lift button. He knows that one slip, one fall, one misstep, could put him in a wheelchair, too. Change his life for good. He can imagine being crippled. But he can’t imagine being black or being a woman.
The black drivers never smile. Fuck them. They clench their jaws because I slow them down, and they just see another hard-up sister, like all the other hard-up women in their lives. They see my skin directly and don’t give a shit about my wheelchair.
Skinny white driver hits the lift button. The bus is crowded, and I feel impatient eyes on my back. I hear everybody exhale. That’s right. Don’t hold your breath, motherfuckers, because this shit takes a while. You all should see how long it takes me to roll the fuck home on a Sunday.
After an eternity of struggling, the lift wheezes, makes a grinding sound, and stops. It’s stuck. Like I willed it to happen.
I roll my eyes and size up the men on the bus right quick. There’s a beefy brother. And there’s a strong-enough looking college boy with his face buried in a textbook. I figure he’s on his way from Fordham. I can’t pick weak-ass boys who’ll drop me. They’ll spill me and my shit all over the Grand Concourse.
I hear someone behind me suck their teeth. I twist around and scan the aisle behind me, itchy to make a challenge. It’s either the fussy-looking bitch fanning her raisin face with a church bulletin and staring out the window now, or that Latina cashier I recognize from Compadres Grocery on Walton, the one who’s always snapping her gum or scrolling through her damned phone with her impossibly long, loud-ass fingernails whenever I roll up to check out. They avoid eye contact.
I turn back around and scowl at beefy until he stands up. I wave my hand like a Jedi at college boy. He acts like Environmental Science has his full attention.
“Hey! Do you mind?”
His face stays buried in the pages.
The entire bus is fixed on us. The air is sucked out of the aisle. The driver signals to beefy that they can do it without college boy, and he prances his skinny ass over behind me to start pushing me toward the door.
“I got you,” skinny says.
“Like hell you do. I’m too heavy. I need this one here!” I say, pointing at college boy. “But he’s too good for me.”
This privileged prick won’t even look at me. I want to force his head up with my mind, let my rage clasp around his throat and choke the life out of him. Look at me, motherfucker.
I can’t take it anymore, this waiting. This miserable life with my mama long dead and gone, and my legs all useless, and no sex and no love and no joy, and nobody knows what it takes to wheel myself out to a cemetery on a Sunday all alone. And I take my rage, and I scream “help me!” as I smack that college boy’s book onto the dirty bus floor.
College boy startles, jumps up in shock, like he’s been dreaming all this time, or maybe like he’s in a dream for the very first time and only just now realizes it.
Hearts all over the bus are pounding with electric adrenaline anticipation of his next move. He takes it all in immediately. He shakes his head side to side as he slides an index finger from his right ear across his cheek toward his mouth.
My face is on fire. It sinks in across the bus in a wave of horrified realization. College boy is deaf.
“Oh no,” I say. “I’m so sorry.”
His book lies there like a dead bird. Like a life that I’ve taken. A name is written on the inside cover. My shame breaks me open, and I weep brutally as his name is etched forever inside everything I will ever now be.