The night before, when he came home after school and work, Randy had been tired. He had taken his first midterm exam on the college level, and this morning he felt good about the unknown results. The English test had been difficult, but he’d studied hard the weeks prior and the night before. He was certain he’d get a good grade. This confidence had him smiling while he waited for the bus.
Most of his buddies and some of the people he worked with said he was wasting his time going to school.
“Man, the dice have already been rolled for black dudes like us,” said his oldest friend Jacob. “It’s messenger, cabby, restaurants, janitor, or the streets. That is where dudes like us get our money.”
That’s what Jacob had told Randy when he went to the G.E.D. program offered through the library. When he fished the program and passed the test, Jacob told him, “Man, you tripping, if you think the white man got anything for you but jail.”
What Randy saw around him agreed with Jacob; most of their friends, their brothers, and their fathers had done time in jail, but Randy knew black men did live without jail. He saw them in the subway, on buses, and he watched them going to work at jobs that weren’t on street corners. The first time he’d voted, he’d helped one become president of the United States. Last night’s test, like passing the G.E.D. exam, had made Randy think Jacob was more wrong than right.
Today he has to work seven hours inside the golden arches before he goes to school. The sun isn’t up, but he and six other people at the bus stop were. He yawns and adjusts his book bag on his shoulder.
“Now cut that out, young blood, you know those are contagious,” says Mr. Peters. “I see you yawning then Imma start, and the next you know Imma think about going back up stairs, calling in, and getting back in my bed next to the Mrs.”
Randy laughs and shakes his head no. “Mr. Peters, who are you trying to fool?” he says. “There are two things that are stopping that from happening. First, you haven’t missed a day of work in twenty-three as you have told me many times over these three months that I have been catching the bus with you. And second, Mrs. Peters just finished her shift at the hospital, and she is not about to have you coming back in the bed disturbing her rest. So, sir, I am going to keep on yawning, and you can join me if you want, but that bus coming up the avenue has a seat for you just like it does everybody else out here.”
The two ladies standing behind them start laughing too. “Randy, it is too early for all that truth this morning,” one of them snickers. “You should let Mr. Peters have his little fantasy. He can dream about going back upstairs if he wants to.”
“I ain’t dreamin’,” Mr. Peters huffs. I am a grown man. I can go back upstairs if I want to.” The brakes on the bus squeal as it comes to a stop in front of the crowd. “But I don’t want to,” he says, climbing the stairs. “Mornin’ Malcolm,” he says to the driver.
“Good morning, Mr. Peters. When are you going to let the ladies on first?”
“When they get out here first,” Mr. Peters answers, flashing his bus pass.
Randy, who has stepped aside to allow the ladies to enter, sees police squad car lights approaching the bus. His stomach tightens and flips. He wishes he had got on the bus first like Mr. Peters. The squad car blocks the bus and puts a spotlight on those remaining outside of it.
“Hey, you with the bookbag, hold it right there!” comes from the speaker of the squad car.
Randy takes a step toward the door of the bus.
“I said hold it!”
He stops, and the others walk past him, boarding the bus. He would have done the same in their position. No one wants a hassle with the police.
Both officers are out of the car approaching him. One has drawn his pistol.
“Step away from the bus.”
“What’s in the book bag?”
The officer with his pistol holstered asks.
“Books and my lunch.”
“Books? Drop it to the ground.”
Randy lets the book bag fall from his shoulder to the ground. When he does, the officer with the holstered gun is upon him. He trips Randy to the ground, causing his chin to hit the sidewalk, which forces his teeth into his tongue. His mouth fills with blood. The officer handcuffs him while his partner goes through Randy’s book bag. The officer who cuffed him searches through his pockets. He has stripped off Randy’s shoes and socks and is going through both. Finding nothing, he puts on latex gloves and forces his hand down the back of Randy’s pants and around to his crotch area. Randy is still laying face-down on the sidewalk.
“Anything in the book bag?” He yells to his partner.
“Just books and a sandwich.”
The officer who searched Randy un-cuffs him. The other officer throws his book bag to him. They return to their squad car and pull off, allowing the bus to leave. Just then, behind the bus, Jacob pulls up in his Chevy with the music blaring.
The bus driver calls, “Randy?”
Randy sits up, spits out blood and then stands. He waves the bus on and walks to the Chevy.