“How you doin’,” I asked in a calming voice.
“Those fat bitches,” she replied, exasperated. “If you'll excuse my language.” She was looking down the sidewalk at a trio of ladies walking away from the bus. “They left they baby all the way over there in the alley.” When one of the women turned back to her– our friend the speaker was still halfway stepping onto my bus– she yelled, “Yeah you better walk away before I call CPS on your dumb ass! You wanna bring your three aunties out on the town you still can't even hire no babysitter… all y’all dumb bitches oughta be ashamed of yo’selves!”
A scruffy young man in an entirely different headspace stepped aboard after her.
“Hi, how you doin’,” he said to her.
“I said how you doin’, sister.”
Clearly still incensed, but knowing to be polite to this unrelated figure: “Fine thanks for asking.”
I smiled. She was mirroring my initial words to her, and so was he; I’d just exchanged a how's it going and thanks for asking with him in earshot of her. Kindness can be infectious. But so can the lingering aftereffects of anger.
“Hey,” he said again.
This time she reacted as any woman wishes she could when a man unduly bothers her, exploding with careless abandon: “Ah already spoke to you so what are you still doing in my face!?? A person don't have to talk to every single person the whole goddamn night when they tryna go home!”
The expectation of sensibility latent in her outburst prevented the air from becoming threatening. Respect was still floating about. He blew her a kiss, unfazed but acquiescent.
She said, “I apologize bus driver, I’ma be quiet now.”
“Okay, but it's all better now…”
“Ah just don't know how I'm gonna make it to my destination with all these people bothering me!”
“Well, let's see what happens!” After a pause I added, “I admire your integrity. I respect how you’re standing up for yourself.”
Everyone’s got a different strategy. Hers was of the stripe that can lay down the law with an authority that still feels respectful, that somehow doesn’t strike one as judgmental.
I don’t know how to do that. I’m so busy thinking of the angles and generally overwhelmed with life that the clarity needed to invent such forceful statements on the spot without fearing their outcome eludes me. I tend to think a few chess moves ahead, considering how I can get along with whoever it is.
But I’m glad folks like her exist. Those ladies needed to be told off for abandoning their baby in an alley, and she was just the one to do it. The just-too friendly guy needed a boundary drawn for him, and she cast it down with iron and fire. She has skills I don’t have.
It takes multitudes, this life does. We all have our role to play.