The Bus Ride
by Emmoretta P. Jones
It was rush hour and the south bound #4 Cottage Grove bus was crowded. I barely got a seat. I found a spot and squeezed between two CTA riders at the front of the bus, near the driver. Having boarded the bus just after work from downtown Michigan Avenue, it would be quite a while before I reached my destination at 87th Street. Clutching my purse on my lap, I eased back into my seat and made myself comfortable. The early springtime weather still carried winter’s leftover chill. Many people were bundled up wearing heavy jackets and coats, leaving less space for those standing passengers. However, I was comfy-cozy, nestled in my seat, surrounded by the cushiony coats of my fellow passengers. I dared to doze during the ride.
After 35th Street, however, I was wide awake as the bus started making stops in the neighborhood community. By the time we reached 55th Street, most of the standing passengers had gotten off, freeing up a few seats. At the next stop, a young mother [who I’ll call Young Mama] boarded the bus with her crying, runny-nosed toddler. She paid her fare and, with hand held tight, led the tearful little girl to two empty seats right across from me. Young Mama lifted her child into one seat and then sat down in the other one. The possibly 2- or 3-year-old continued to cry profusely causing other riders, including me, to take notice.
It’s not uncommon to see a child crying, but I wondered why the little girl was so unhappy. I observed that she was wearing just a short, thin jacket with no hat or scarf to break that bitter wind outside. Perhaps she was just very cold. Whatever the case, this child was sobbing. My goodness – what was the matter? I probably was not alone in my feelings of concern.
“Shut up!” Young Mama barked. The girl kept crying. With a stern facial expression she raised her voice a little more, “Shut up!”
The little girl drew in deep breaths, tears and nose running, in an effort to muffle her weeping sounds. She was able to quiet down for a moment but when she exhaled, the wailing returned. “I said SHUT UP!” this time Young Mama raised her hand to the child as a warning.
With the threat of getting hit, the toddler’s second attempt to stop crying was a bit more successful. She clenched her lips so the loud wailing was reduced to suppressed whimpering sounds. This display brought the entire bus to complete silence.
A middle-aged woman [who I’ll call Older Woman] sitting next to me gave me a nudge and in a low tone asked, “Can you believe the way she is treating her child?”
“I know,” I shrugged. “But what can we do or say about it? It’s not our place.”
“The hell it ain’t! I’m gonna say something,” Older Woman responded. Looking over at Young Mama,
“Excuse me, but I don’t think you should be yellin’ at your baby like that.”
I was just as shocked as Young Mama probably was when Older Woman actually said something to her.
“She’s not a baby, and there ain’t nothin’ wrong with her,” Young Mama replied.
“Well, I still don’t think you should be tellin’ her to shut up.”
“Lady, I can speak to my child however I want to.”
“Well you should be tryin’ to find out what’s wrong with her instead of sayin’ shut up.”
Everyone watched the tension building between these two women.
“Like I said, there ain’t nothin’ wrong with her, and you need to worry about your own kids!”
“L’il Gurrrlll! I done raised my kids. They’re grown and in college! And I hope the state takes your baby away from you!”
“Well since you’re such an expert on raising kids, why don’t you take her?!”
“Naw, I’m not tryin’ to take nobody’s kid…” Older Woman started.
“I can’t stand you old people…always gettin’ in other folks’ business!” Young Mama stood up, pulled the buzzer for the next stop, and with hand held tight, led the toddler to the front of the bus.
By now, the little girl’s nose was muddled with snot! To my surprise, Older Woman grabbed some tissue from her purse and extended it to Young Mama, “Miss, here’s some Kleenex for her nose.” Young Mama looked at Older Woman sharply, “I don’t want nothin’ from you!” Another concerned female passenger [who I’ll call Concerned Passenger] seated in the front next to the exit door held out a wad of tissue, and Young Mama accepted it.
“Thank you,” Young Mama managed a weak smile for the generosity of Concerned Passenger. She began vigorously wiping her daughter’s nose. The bus arrived at her stop and the doors opened. Before exiting, Young Mama turned to Older Woman sitting next to me and hissed, “You need to mind your own business old lady!”
“Well, I hope they take your baby from you!” the older woman shouted after the young mother as the doors were closing.
The last exchange of words between the two women elicited ripples of laughter from the remaining passengers. The incident, however, was no joking matter. Once our bus was in motion again, several of the other riders commended Older Woman for speaking up.
“I get tired of seeing these young girls with these babies that they can’t take care of! Nobody told’em to have’em!” Older Woman preached. Some listening passengers shook their heads in agreement, and others voiced their opinions as well. From this outburst spurred an open discussion amongst the passengers, expanding on their principles of raising kids. It felt like I was on the bus ride version of the Oprah Winfrey Show.
While the other riders talked, I still wondered why the toddler was crying so incessantly. An array of reasons went through my mind. Was the young mother an abusive or neglectful parent? Or did we, the passengers, jump to conclusions? The answer to the mystery behind the toddler’s tears – we’ll never know. Parenting is a privilege that has bountiful rewards. But parenting is also the most challenging careers of them all.