Bobby and Me (a short story)

Riding the bus hasn’t changed much since I was a kid but I don’t have to straddle the race line in the middle of the bus with my friend Bobby. People of different backgrounds, colors, personalities and gender walk through the folding doors, pay their money and take any seat in that economical ride to the next stop in their life.
The young girl sits across from me. She is pierced in numerous places on her face and ears. Her stark white skin is framed by her hair streaked in the colors of the rainbow. Arms crossed and almost asleep her head lolls from left to right and back again with the rocking of the bus as it bounces over uneven roads. She must be deep asleep because she makes no attempt to hold her head upright.
A soft conversation is being held in the back of the bus about how to sell on E bay. One of the older women in the conversation comments that this is how she stretches her Social Security check. Her friend laughs that one day she may make enough to give the damn pittance back to the government…claiming she will be rich beyond her wildest dreams. Her entrepreneurial companion joins her in the reverie and they return to the serious nature of descriptions to get the most from their E bay posts. Whoever says that the ambitious don’t ride the bus hasn’t ridden in a long time.
A woman reading a book wearing an oversize bike helmet for whatever reason rounds out those riding the bus with me; Hemingway, “Farewell to Arms”. I never could understand ‘highbrow’ books or the need for reading them but embarrassed, I tuck my detective paperback deeper into my jacket pocket. At each stop we sometimes gain new riders and sometime loose passengers to the darkness of the night and the next stop in their life.
My ride is taking me to my night security job at the shopping center…it pays the bills and keeps me off the streets. I sit with my lunch tucked close to me, my book in my jacket pocket and loose my battle against sleep as the road and bus gently rock me into unconsciousness. I join pierced girl across from me in the fog of dreams.
Bobby and I are kids again riding the bus through the streets in the ‘burbs of St Louis Mo., headed to the bridge that crosses the Mississippi. This is our favorite hangout away from the dirt and hectic life of the city. At the bridge we discuss the state of the nation, mathematics, religion, and the news in the papers. Well Bobby does. He’s the one that always has a stack of books with him. All I want to discuss is basketball and my chances of making it to the pros. I’m the one with the ball under my arm, always shooting at an imaginary hoop during the imaginary game that is taking place wherever I am. And I always…always hit the game ending, game winning shot from half court.
Sometimes Bobby gets political and talks about the injustice of having us, one black and one white having to sit in the middle of the bus, one in the “back of the bus” and one in the “front of the bus.” I say, “That’s the way it is and us talking about it ain’t gonna change it.” Bobby says, “It still isn’t fair,” and ads, “I don’t much care for the way people look at us.” It’s been years since that black lady refused to give up her seat on the bus but something’s never change is some parts of the world.
We sit on the bridge and carry on talk like this for hours on end. Me, with my second- hand shirt tucked into my too short coveralls and feet in sneakers full of holes hanging off the bridge and Bobby sitting clean and neat as the professor he hopes to be one day. Sometimes I’m blinded by the shine on his leather shoes. The fact that I’m from the projects and poor doesn’t keep him from hanging out with me. He even says that my race isn’t a problem, “we’re like brothers,” he says.
Bobby always brings lunch on our trips to the bridge and a bottle of milk, both of which he shares with me. He don’t even wipe the bottle off after I take a drink. I take a bite of the ham sandwich his ma sent along with him and start in again on how I’m going to make it to the pros. Bobby jokes with me once again, “Your color might be a problem. You know that…” and I cut him off as I always do,  “It won’t.”
The years raced by and the days at the bridge continued until we graduated from high school and he headed off to some private college up north. I feared for Bobby up there, with his smarts and all he ways, always to outspoken for his own good about prejudice in America.
Me, I went off to junior college with hopes of making the leap from there to a big college with a scholarship for basketball and on to the pros. But Bobby was right, my color made a difference. They didn’t want my type at college I went to. And now, without the proper education, the schooling I should have taken advantage of instead of dreaming about the pros, I only qualify for a night watchman’s job.
The bus hits the bump that comes before my stop to wake me from my dreams and memories. I grab my lunch, thank the driver for the ride and step into the damp, cold night, stretch to wake up and begin to think more on things and times of me and Bobby.
I wonder how he made out up north and if he had as much trouble being accepted as an intelligent black man as I did  being a white man who couldn’t jump.

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