Emperor “Moi” Crush reached out with his furred arm and swiftly took Mike’s rifle away as he armed himself. Charlotta got her gun. Dark legs spread, shaking, cussing at herself for not being able to decide whether to…
“No me pegues, Charlotta, o pegaré a tú novio, mister asian-persuasion over there…”
“Shut up, Moi!”
“Charlotta, this is our only chance… don’t worry about me. You know how seductive the deer can be. Just protect yourself. Now, squeeze the trigger.”
Marlin, the busdriver finally stepped on the kid’s shoe to wake him up. Freddy Guzman was a black kid, fifteen, Marlin guessed. Though he raised his eyebrows when he finally got the kid’s full name.
“Wait, you said Guzman? You’re Spanish. All this time, I thought you and your people were the only black folks in Mount Pleasant, gettin’ on my bus. I felt so sad for ya’ll…”
“Shut up. You say latino, or you say guatemalteco, but I’m not a friggin’ language. My mom’s black. My dad’s in Guatemala.”
Marlin sucked in a breath, bit his lip a moment, then let out a low whistle. Freddy fiddled with his red hoodie. The big headphones resting on his shoulders blasted something pum-pum-pum Uno, dos, tres, cuatro, marchando mi combo forma un alboroto… “And, boy, you disrespectful. You always been disrespecting me on my own bus… but don’t worry, H4 and I, we bout to fix that.”
“Whatever, man. I don’t care what anyone says. Plus, I gotta go someplace…”
But, when Freddy got his bookbag and scooted out of the seat, he saw that no one else was on the bus. How? Usually, it was packed this time of day. Then, snuffed and squeezed his eyes shut, trying really hard to banish only a few hours’ sleep. No, this morning… only a few people. It was weird, and then so much traffic…
“Hey, I asked you something—” Marlin stepped on Freddy’s foot again. The bus’s engine rumbled. Freddy staggered a step, but Marlin lifted his chin at the boy.
“Man, stoppit with that, steppin’ on my adidas…”
“Haha, when I was a kid, it was the Nikes everyone wanted. Thought they still did. Wait, you not the only black kid wearin’ adidas, are you?”
Freddy, his young face, the narrow jaw with stubble just growing on, finally a childish pout came out of him. It squished up his little moustache and Marlin told him that. “I like my adidas, these match my soccer shoes. And I don’t have to be black to wear anything or wear anything cause I’m black—”
“Oh, so you a poet? I bet you think you want to be a rapper or something.”
“No, I’ll make more money as an engineer.”
“Oh, so you a smart little gangbanger, wearing your red—I know whose colors those are–wearing your hoodie down, marking up the back of my bus seats with tags. I woulda never guessed it, a smart gangbanger… You didn’t hear me earlier, I wanted to ask you what is this stuff you keep putting on my seats. I got your marker, time.” Marlin lifted the gray and black sharpie between two fingers, waggled it.
“They aren’t gang tags.”
“Liar, liar.” The bus’s engine rumbled again, this time, it jolted forward. In the middle of traffic. Marlin was not in the front seat.
“Man, what the hell—” Freddy’s voice flew up.
“Do you even know what the Aryan Nation is, this thing you wrote next to what I do know is a gang tag? They hate people like you. And, a swastika is worse. You better watch out walking around with your hood up too, you’re gonna get shot. Don’t look at me like that, you know what I mean. And pull your pants up, tie your shoelaces. Wherever you’re going, with a bookbag and your face scrubbed clean for once, I’m sure they don’t want to see you like that.”
“I’m going to the National Zoo. And no, I don’t know what you mean… maybe I’ll pull up my pants, cause my momma says that sometimes, I know… Maybe I’ll tie my shoes so I don’t trip. But, I’m eighteen, so if I want to wear my hoodie. Then it’s my choice, and I am going to wear my hoodie.
They shouldn’t shoot me. I dare them to shoot me.” Then, Freddy did put up his hood. In black letters and flames, embroidered across its edge, the words ‘For Trayvon’ raised prominently. A person might be able to read that from across the street, even they did see this kid coming, judged him as scary and decided to cross to the other side.
Please report any unattended bags. Safety is everyone’s responsibility.
“Okay, so this bus is haunted, man.”
Marlin wasn’t there. Freddy had just blinked or something, and the old man must have vanished from where he was. Suddenly, he was back in the driver’s seat, buckling up.
“So, that’s how your generation’s gonna do it? I went to Howard. We sat down in front of the Dean’s
Office till they changed things. But you’re going to dare the world to fight you.”
“I am black. And, I’m guatemalteco. And, I’m going to college. I’m going to be an engineer, too, and help out my mom and get my dad back here. But, before that, I need a little money for books and stuff, so I’m working at the National Zoo, just for the summer. Signed up with DC Summerworks.”
“That old program? That used to be Marion Barry’s thing.”
“Haha, that guy was a crackhead.”
“No, he was a lot of things. He was one of many young people who fought hard and made this city great before his personal problems got to him. And now, your disrespectful ass has a job so you can afford to buy books, and be an engineer and help out your mom, and dress like Trayvon all the time
…But they place people at the Zoo? Kids want to work there? Why? You selling icecream or something? That must be it.”
“Man, I guess I am nervous about it. Plus, look at all this traffic… I’m gonna be late.”
“This your first job, man? Your very first one, Freddy? No, you not gonna be late. Take a seat.”
Please do not stand in the rear doorwell.
“Oh, don’t sit there. The last girl who did was arrested by the deer police.”
“The what?” Freddy looked out the window but didn’t see anything strange except for cars and cars and cars…
Marlin began to drive them. Cars were everywhere, but the pass sort of… passed through the cars.
Then, on Connecticuit Avenue, when it was supposed to go straight across to Porter Street, Marlin turned, and they were flying over Petco, over California Tortilla, above the Uptown Movie theater, then the bridge, the creek, through trees.
“Which end of the zoo?”
“Shit—we’re in the air!”
“There’s the Connecticut Avenue entrance, and then the Adams Mill Road side.”
“The Visitor’s Center, or Lion Hill?”
“I’m going to the rainforest one. I’m going to get to work with frogs and parrots and stuff! It’s going to be so fucking off the chain, man! But, first, I have to check in at the Visitor’s Center.”
Stop Requested. Connecticut Avenue and Olmstead Walk.
“Shit, shit, shit!” Freddy laughed, kicked his seat, couldn’t believe it—the green trees bending out of their way. Surprised squirrels and birds scurrying here and there as they turned out of Rock Creek Park and got back on the street proper. Elegant apartment buildings with silver adornments on the roofs, animals in stone crouching to hold up windows. And then, on the other side, a place called the Zoo Café, and big bronze lion statues.
“Jesús y Maria… you’re taking me to some kind of Zoo Hogwarts or something!”
“No, this is just Connecticut Avenue, son. You sure you’ve been to the National Zoo before?”
“Man, the bus… it’s friggin… coño! It’s a flying bus! This is like… the shit!” He yelled and waved to people down on the ground who couldn’t see them.
Please do not stand in the rear doorwell.
“Stop cussin’, I said.” Marlin complained. “At least cut that out when you’re on your job. You want them to take you seriously.” Marlin parked. “Look. It’s not about acting white, when you work. I know I was afraid of that when I first started… Look at it this way, in fact, this is the only way to look at it. You’re there for the job. You mean to focus on looking professional, helping the customers to get what they want, and respecting your supervisor. No matter what your coworkers do or say to you, ignore them. You make sure your supervisor is happy with you, okay?” Then, after a while,
Marlin conceded, “You can wear your hoodie to work if you want to.”
“And on my breaks. I’m not walking out into the crazy-hot DC sun without something over my eyes.”
“You’re going to get overheated.” Then, Marlin stopped arguing. “That’s a nice thing you’re doing for that kid… I’m proud of you, son.”
Freddy was excited. He ran up to the front of the bus, gripped the silver railing, smiled so much, now his thin moustache was easy to see. It was going to fill in. And, Freddy had very dark, flawless skin, almost diamond-cut cheekbones, brow, everything so well-defined. Nature made him look all the more capable, almost regal. He was on the verge of being a very handsome man.
“And watch out for the ladies, you hear me? Don’t forget that’s what they are. Ladies.”
“Haha, sure. How come you sound like my mom? She’s always sayin’ that to me.”
“Well… go on. I want your first job to go well.”
The bus was parked right in front of the Visitor’s Center. Visitors walked casually by with children eating popcorn, dropping icecream. No one knew they were there. A mural of dolphins and wild teal sunlight drew one’s gaze first, before the many shadowed doors beneath the awning made the entrance to the Visitor’s Center apparent.
Marlin pulled the crank to unfold the doors to beautiful white summer sunlight, and Freddy raced down the stairs. “Marchen!
Please report all unattended bags. Safety is everyone’s responsibility.
“Hey! Hey, Freddy, I think you forgot your bookbag!”
Then, Freddy ran back and got it. Marlin had never seen this kid smile so much in all the days he had driven him to school, home, wherever.
“H4, girl, why were you so cruel to the mean-faced-girl who stood in the rear doorwell, but so nice to the highschooler marking up your seats?”
Metro opens doors, punto com.
“Maybe you’re not all that mean, huh? But the real thing that’s just killing me about this… Why would a kid like that want to work in a rainforest?”
“And Don Omar… why he listenin’ to such old music?”
1, Busdriver Marlin :: 2, The Quiet, Angry-Faced Girl :: 3, Love, After the Deer Apocalypse :: 4, Moises “Emperor Crush” Romero :: 5, Screaming in Spanish :: 6, His Hoodie :: 7, Amazonia :: 8, Behind the Waterfall :: 9, The Cricket Queen :: 10, Don Juan’s