Like its name implies, the #1 bus has a pretty significant route. Its journey begins just outside Harvard’s Holyoke Gate, a particularly attractive entrance into Harvard Yard and, continuing through Central Square and then past MIT, crosses the Charles River. Now in Boston, the #1 cruises down busy “Mass Av” past the Berklee School of Music, the Christian Science “Mother Church” and its spacious, surrounding grounds, past Symphony Hall, home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra and, a few blocks later, the sprawling New England Medical Center until finally ending its journey at Dudley Station—in the heart of the largely African-American Boston neighborhood called Roxbury. Because of its Harvard to Roxbury journey, by about MIT, the racial mix on the bus switches from almost all white to almost all people of color.
On Saturday*, I watched an escalating interaction between two dark-skinned bus riders, a beautiful, long-eyelashes boy, maybe 2 or 3, and the older, heavy-set woman who’d pushed him in his stroller onto the crowded bus—his exhausted grandmother, I’m guessing. Miraculously, she’d managed to get a seat right next to another dark-skinned grandmother and her grandbaby, a little doe-eyed girl in a stroller about the same age as the boy. The two strollers, side by side, faced the two grandmothers and fit perfectly in the area right behind the driver, the seat having been folded up to give additional space.
The stroller occupants spend some time checking each other out; too cute. But then the little girl moved on to what was a primary importance that hot, hot morning: her juice bottle. Ignored and bored, the little boy began kicking his grandmother. Who eyed him as if to say, “Really? I cannot believe you’re doing this!” But he kept at it and his kicks got harder and harder. She spoke sharply to him in Spanish. He glared at her then, his eyes filled with utter contempt, he spat at her. [Whoa!] She looked out the window but he kept kicking, the bus crawling through thick traffic.
Fed up, she finally up and slaps his leg. I mean, she whacked him! Hard. He screamed, rubbed his leg, cried until, whimpering, he accepted the bottle of milk she offered.
I watched and thought: This is how it starts. This is how another child learns that whacking someone is how to resolve problems.
As a sometimes-exhausted grandmother, myself, of course I wondered what was going on with both of them. Did that not-young woman care for that young child 24/7? And if so, why? Under what circumstances? Who had taught her that whacking someone is how to resolve problems? And, I gotta say, that boy’s distain for his grandmother made me wonder: Is he used to being treated like a little prince? (He could have been; he was beautiful enough to be completely fawned over.) Do those two live in a household where the women are spit upon?
No, I did not intervene.
And THIS is how it starts: A young, slight, African-American man sitting across the aisle from that little boy ( earlier, before finding his present seat, this young man had given up his seat to an elderly Asian woman; clearly a nice guy!) started playing peek-a-boo with that child. I now watched those young yet stone-cold eyes melt. The young man reached over and, jostled by other passengers, the two gleefully high-fived. Over and over. Something Else was imparted with each palm against palm, another lesson taught.
And the kid giggled. Like a kid. Like a little boy with a life full of promise ahead of him, a life that just might be okay.
May it be so.
* Context: It had been almost 100 degrees the day before and although everyone on that bus knew the heat wave was about to end, as this incident unfolded it was hot as hell outside. (Although the bus’s AC was super-cold.)