• Call + Response

Woman on the bus by Dayo Otolorin

A short story by Dayo Otolorin.

I'm out. I'm out of that place. I'm outside and it's hot. The hot air is touching my face. It's packed outside but I'm free outside, so I don't bother. The students are screaming and laughing. There are having a good time. I get on the bus. The bus is packed as well. My headphones are in and I sit down. The woman comes in with three kids: a daughter, a son and a baby. The woman looks angry or maybe that's her face. The seats are full. The baby in her daughter' arm. The daughter is small, but she carries the baby well. She says (loudly) to her daughter. "Are you gonna ask someone to stand up for you or what?" "You can't stand on the bus with the baby in your arm." The bus is still and quiet. The students aren't laughing anymore. Everyone's eyes are on the woman including mine. The passengers are focused. The bus is still still. No one is moving. No one is moving.

For a second, it feels like the woman and her three kids aren't there, just as if they were a figment of my imagination. The bus driver is also quiet. The daughter looks around in desperation, but no one budged. The bus driver and the passengers aren't saying anything, but their eyes are filled urgency. I stand up, I didn't have to, but I felt like I had to. The daughter thanks me but the mother doesn't. It's like now, I'm a figment of her imagination or maybe, she doesn't see me. The car is moving. The students are laughing now. The woman says to her daughter (loudly) "Sit upright" "Cover the baby" "Make sure the blanket covers him fully" She says throughout the bus ride. Calling attention to herself every now and then. Why is she mentioning these things throughout the ride? Is it going to make the passengers think she's a good mother? If she is so worried, why doesn't she hold the child herself? I wonder but I don't judge.

The passengers are irritated; you can see it in their eyes. I am not irritated, well not right now. I just want to go home. The lady sitting beside the daughter holding the baby, stands up and there is a vacant seat. I sit there. It's close to me. I gave up my seat earlier, so I felt like I deserved it. I didn't have to earlier, but I did. I deserve this seat. The woman says again (loudly) to her son, "Aren't you going to sit down?" But there are no vacant seats, she says again louder than before, "Aren't you going to go?". The passengers are looking at her once again, but I wasn't looking, I just wanted to go home. The boy comes to me. He says to me, in a fragile voice "Can I sit here, please?" I stand up again. The mother doesn't acknowledge me or thank me. Maybe she doesn't see me.

The passengers' eyes are on me now; their eyes are filled with pity. They say, "Why did you stand up in the first place?" not through their mouth but through their eyes. I wonder the same thing. My palms are sweaty. My legs are heavy. The passengers are exiting the bus not all but some. It isn't hot anymore. The woman leaves through the front door in which she came through. The passengers' eyes include mine follow her out bidding goodbye. I sit down. There are few minutes left. The bus stopped. I exit the bus.

There is the bus driver, the woman and her kids, the passengers, the students, and I. We are not one in this; everyone plays a particular role. We have different perspectives, we are coming from different places, going to the different places but right now for 30 minutes, we are together on the bus ride. We don’t know each other; we don’t plan to. The woman paints herself as the loud person and we receive her as that person. I’m painted as the pitiful girl. The students are painted as the carefree ones. The passengers are painted as the haughty ones. The bus driver is painted as the annoyed one. We all judge without realizing. We take in these events as we see them, looking at the first layer without looking deeper. When we all leave this bus, we forget all these events until we are reminded of it through something similar. Our memories are positioned in relation to relevance. This memory might not be a relevant memory to the woman or the bus driver, but it is to me. This memory is one I’ll remember for a long time.

Dayo Otolorin is writer of Nigerian descent and a student at Temple University, currently studying Public Health. Otolorin maintains that their work is her writing the words she would "never say out loud".