The Rider, Part 1
Romulus Threat had enough. Oakland exhausted him. Tired of the swirling around huddled Black people waiting for the bus at his favorite stop.
He hated that Jamoe Penny had the wherewithal to synchronize his cheap watch to the minute to know when the Eighty-Eight Bus would settle at Stanford Avenue and Market Street. Fatigued hovered over him, knowing the same ill-tempered driver he disliked would let Jamoe on without paying, and then watch him roam through the aisle and onto the seat directly behind Romulus, so he can spray flecks of spittle on his earlobe about the gossip of the day – reminding him of failure.
The rickety city bus rumbled into the lane, wheezing and hawking out brown exhaust from its backside. Several Black men and an animated, head-nodding Black woman, bopping to screechy sounds through cheap earplugs, milled around the bus stop pole like flat-footed lindy-hoppers waiting their turn to seize the dance floor.
The Eighty-Eight looked ill-fitted to be a real downtown bus line, he thought. With the way it trudged and swayed along the edges of Downtown Oakland, never catching a waft of the new, pristine settlements among aging storefronts and decrepit-looking SRO, at one-time audacious hotels. It even bypassed the alighted pathways to the new people: a coterie of fresh-faced troops bounding streets with such white exuberance and always in dire search for late night amusement. Romulus thought he had seen this before and disliked the way the young white men pumped out their chests when seeing him as if they
He glanced into the bus to see the young driver looking askance at the hovering crew standing in front of his door. His mouth screwed to one side and his body carrying a world-weary slouch in his shoulders and eyes pointed heavenward as if searching for some divine patience. The driver had a round, moonish face with a tight curly mass of a beard covering the chubby cheeks and chin of his maple-colored face.
“C’mon now, c’mon. Ain’t got all night,” he exclaimed, breathing through his nostrils while his eyes tilted upward.
The hard-bopping woman leapt on first. Her bleach-cleaned white jeans held her hips snug while she shimmied them side to side while unfurling wrinkly dollar bills into the machine. The driver sighed, looking away at some random unoccupied building across the street. She did a quick dip of her torso before dancing along the aisle. Her dirty white blouse held white tassels from both sides of her body; they flapped side to side looking more like unfettered squid tentacles. Romulus stood aside a moment to watch the procession of hunched over Black men that followed the dancing woman. Their bulking backpacks accompanied each with small pieces of clothing peeking out through overburdened seams of the bags slung over their right shoulders. A young man cut him a flitting glance before sliding in front of him to climb onto the bus.
The boy barked his way, “You aight?!” His coarse breath warmed Romulus’ face even as the stench of sour cream turned his stomach.
“I don’t know anymore,” he whispered into his hands, stupefied by the flashing limbs of the boy springing up the bus steps.
Romulus didn’t like boys like him or the way their bowing legs worked overtime to hold their sagging pants up. He didn’t recognize them. He remembered Big El telling him – the last time they crossed paths after El smelled his first real flit of free air after years of hard time in Folsom – that the new world was awash of fools’ gold. The day they shared a bench in front of City Hall, El’s head moved in quick swivels all day, confounded by the many children ambling about like old men with belt loops hugging around their kneecaps.
“They open for business,” he sighed to Romulus, near shock gripping his jawbones. “They act like they don’t know they are sweet meat in a village of hungry bears.”