The Wheels on the Bus
Go ‘Round and ‘Round

The school bus was rattling down the dirt road, setting all us kid’s teeth ajar. We each hung onto the top of the seat in front, trying to balance our thin books and paperbag lunches in our lap. The accordion pleated road, each bump – I swear, each piece of gravel transmitting its message through the wheels, the frame – and eventually pounding it into each and every one of our collective little butts. Except the fat girl. Her’s were amply plated by thick thighs, and even thicker abdomen, and a butt twice as large as any of our collective own.

Us boys sat on the left side – beneath the wide eye of the driver’s mirror, where she could keep an eye on us unruly children. (You know us boys – always sneaking frogs in, lizards, and toads – and something else sometimes.) The girls – all prim and proper in their various printed frocks and dresses – most of them poor, or in various degrees of becoming poor, or desperately trying to climb out of the poverty they were in. But we all wore clean clothes – or at least most of them; us boys would have our clothes dirty by ten a.m. from recess playing in the rough clay field that passed for a playground there, at the school we were going to. There was no equipment there – the area was too old, the school too new, and this was in the Deep Southern South to boot (meaning the state of Georgia, the USA).

We rode on that bus from hell . . . well, it really wasn’t from hell, but we were a bullied crowd. For awhile there we had a teenage kid acting as “bus monitor” – until I took a swing off her tits going out the door – just reaching up and spontaneously grabbing this young thing’s – this young bitchiest bitch I ever knew (as a young kid, excluding my own mom) – pendulous breasts and whoo-hee! – swinging my young ass (I was only about eight years old) – out the front folding door. She chased me down, knocked me to the ground, and told me not to do it anymore. Seeing as her fist was cocked back to knock my block back to the house I had come from, I hastily agreed (but I was still laughing) – then I scrambled off and ran home, torn between laughing at her and my fear. But after that she left me alone, and I, her.

This time as we were riding the bus – Mark had yet to get on. I was looking forward to seeing him – that’s all I ever did was see him; never got to associate with him, know him in any other way than his name, his way of getting on (with a beaming white smile and crinkles around his eyes – and a pug nose – and wider cheekbones than most, angular somewhat towards the tops; round – curly brown-blond hair – and blue-green or true green eyes). I know because I fell in love with him – a ‘love at first sight’ kind of thing. Perhaps I was sensing a soul mate – it’s happened sometimes. There was only one other from that time . . . a guy called Leo – but that was at a different school, when I was in North Carolina . . .

and the road is wet and muddy, softening the bumps somehow – splashing through the mud puddles, and sinking in the ripples in the wet clay and sand covering the road . . .

and I can kinda see from my position in the seat – leaning in a bit in the aisle, looking right out of the middle of the windshield – there is this black car coming down the road. Now we’re on this hill – not steep; just a gentle grade – but the bus is struggling through the mud, and so is the car. They look like they’re going to meet for a minute – the car fishtailing back and forth, slewing through the mud (the driver obviously had his brakes on: locked and sliding). Then the car mysteriously (and miraculously) slides around us on the left side – while the bus is rocking over to the right.

And it keeps on rocking over – going over, leaning more and more . . . until we are on our side, sliding down the ditch as well as down the road . . .

and all the boys are screaming like a bunch of little girls – not about the accident, but the fact that we’re being thrown into the girl’s side! THAT is forbidden territory – much forbidden both by the driver and our own little boy’s moral code. You don’t associate with girls, or at least not very much. And definitely not on the bus. That was a “Do Not Touch” kind of situation – one instituted by the Driver and strictly enforced by her friend, the overly endowed (and thick framed, come to think about it) teenager who rode on the “hood” of the engine in the bus while we were moving, keeping an eye on all of us. (Yeah – it was that strict back in those days – some of the time. Sometimes it seemed not so much.)

So there we are – canted off-level in the ditch, the windows bleeding mud on the girls side – us boy’s braced as best we could – arms and legs repelling those seats of theirs – lunchs scattered everywhere. Imagine a wet paper bag and peanut butter kind of approach – mixed in with sour milk odor of a bunch of damp kids on a school bus in the mud . . .

Photo Credit: JOSH DOHERTY

So we’re sitting in there hanging on and the teacher / driver (because she was a little bit of both that morning) told us:

“Boys! Relax. Help is coming. You can sit with the girls.”

There were shrieks of protest (as well as some giggles) coming from both sides. And no, we were not completely innocent in that respect. I think I was one of the ones who giggled – then eased my way in.

But there sat Dee. – the fat kid. The fattest girl in the ‘hood. The one us kids tormented mercilessly – kids can be so cruel. I only know of one kid who was really kind to her, and that was later, when I left. He lived right across the street from her – grew up with her in some ways, though he was an Army kid like I and often left the ‘hood for some years at a time. But he grew up with her, told me about her life some. And we knew, us kids in the hood: we tormented her BAD. I’m really kinda sorry we did that – but she was fat. And you know how it can be with a kid. She stood out – really. No one really ‘hurt’ her so much as talk behind her back kind of thing – I mean, we were friendly enough, and would play – but for the most part? Ignored. But hers was not to be a happy childhood; not at all, I from what I heard. She had a really tough time. But then again . . . all us kids of the ‘hood pretty much have had some really hard times at times. But that’s life, I suppose.

So there we are: all us kids guessing, wondering, gathering our lunches and belongings up – and here comes some adult to open the emergency exit up. You couldn’t get out the front – the door was jambed in the mud – so we were going to have to go out the back . . .

Us kids were all excited – and a bit leery of the thing. The door swung open after they had struggled with it for a few moments; I guess the bus’s long box had a twist, jamming it – and then it fell against the back of the bus with a big bang! We eyed the wide opening as some officer stuck his head in. You could see the black car a ways down the road, its nose stuck in the mud in the ditch on the opposite side of the road. The driver was one of the men helping.

Going one-by-one, they ‘escorted’ us off the big bus. Us kids were afraid of jumping – it was a long way down, counting the side of the bus and the big ditch it was in. The ditch dropped in a “U” beneath it, making it an even further drop that it would have been had the bus simply rolled upon its side. So the men were taking us, one on each arm, and lifting us from the squared off doorway as we would stick our heads out. It sometimes took a little encouraging – from both ahead and behind – to get some kids to take that giant leap of faith and jump from the bus, but for the most part the evacuation went smoothly.

Then they came to Dee. Us kids – gathered some distance away – were whispering among ourselves, wondering if she was going to make it; if those men were strong enough to hold her, keep from dropping her in the mud.

“The door’s not wide enough,” I heard some of the kids speculating as Dee slowly made her way from the front of the bus towards the back, escorted by the driver and her aid. You could almost see the bus swaying from her weight – or at least we could, in the imaginations of several young minds . . .

and then came the moment when Dee stood – ponderous in some ways, in some ways not. Her legs, while fat, ended in trim little ankles, her hands? Small and delicate with thin, mobile wrists, and she always dressed good. She practically filled the whole doorway – then we realized: she was holding out her arms. The men grip each, each with two hands – and slowly lifted her from the back of the bus. Her frilly dress was spared the indignation of the mud as they lifted her clear and delicately deposited her on the less muddy section of the road like some landing butterfly. There she stood, beaming and smiling as us kids stood around slack-jawed at staring at . . . everything. The wrecked bus; the mud, the unfamiliar neighborhood; the man, the men, Dee standing in the mud – ourselves, standing in the mud (some of us by now up to our arms in it from playing so much) – when the bus came – the second one –

and we were kind of hesitant to get on (naturally, given what had occurred) – but we did – single file and things, lunches held tightly (at least for those who had them anymore), shoes soaked and feet cold (the water had seeped in) – another driver, and not one we knew (so everyone was more than hush-hushed and quiet – given what we had all witnessed and went through) . . .

and on to school we went.

Boys on the right side, girls on the left . . .

but somehow it was never the same. After that it seemed the girls were cutting their eyes to us a bit much more – and us to them – and you might just catch us all chatting while sitting on the corner, waiting for the bus to come (and throwing Spanish arrows at each other – some of nature’s darts).

Some things never change . . . and some never remain the same.

Riding the school bus was one of them1.