The Summers of Our Youth

by Bernice Afriyie

 

I skip to the end of the sidewalk, my feet skidding as I smile at my mom. The sun beats down on my unshielded head and I squint at an approaching figure, the haze disfiguring Mom’s outline. “Hurry up mom you’re so slow. Did you see how fast I went?” I jump up, arms reaching for a yellow butterfly. It flutters up and out of reach. I stand impatiently on the stained, cracked pavement waiting for my mom and brother Elvis to catch up. 

We walk towards a rectangular patch of cement with a silver pole plunked in the middle. Mom stops beside the gleaming pole, leaning in its slim shadow. The shadow darkens her red blazer and deepens her faded blue jeans. Minutes pass and we three remain standing there. School buses, trucks, taxis and cars zip by, the occasional driver chances a look at us, some passengers throw us a smile, but none stop at the bus stop with the shiny poll. The day’s heat and humidity quiets any thought of sighing or groaning in me. Our stiff necks turned towards the east and feet planted to the ground, we are human replicas of the erect pole. A flash of yellow breaks the sun’s medusa-like hold on me. I look impatiently around, trying to see the bus mom is waiting for. I sigh, tugging at her arm and instantly begin to sweat. 

“Stop that Bernice,” she pulls her arm free and looks up the road. She holds bus fare enough for one adult and two children in one hand and a bag of books in the other. 

“You have to be patient, right Mom? You have to be like me,” he straightens up and smiles as mom pats his sticky shoulders. 

I pick a dandelion from the side of the road and tickle my chin with its yellow petals. I turn in circles, my dress fluttering in the summer wind as I chase the crazed butterfly. "Ring around the Rosie."  

“Mommy look,” I call to her, “look at my yellow chin and the yellow sun and the yellow butterfly!” She turns her back to me. A red bus with blue lettering approaches us slowly.

“Elvis,” Mom says stepping on to the bus, “take your sister's hand.” She drops the coins into a glass box beside the driver. She pulls out a piece of paper that I strain to see and shows it to the driver, his blue and red uniform vibrant against his milky white skin. They talk, but their words float above my head, carried away by the wings of a hundred butterflies before my strained ears can catch them. I move forward and overhear the bus driver telling Mom that he can’t let us on. I take another step forward. “Why can’t—” I start, but Elvis holds me back. 

Mom shakes her head at the driver and opens her mouth to protest but thinks better of it. Instead, she slips the paper back into her pocket and shuffles Elvis and me off the bus. The driver puts the bus in park and follows us out. 

The passengers on the bus gape at us openly, impatiently, waiting for the scene to pass and the bus to start moving again. Some stomp their feet and mutter, wagging angry fingers at Mom, stopping only when we hear a blaring police siren growing louder and louder as it approaches us. I pull Mom’s shirt but she pays me no mind, tucking me behind her. An officer walks towards us, his face a dark red except for the white tan line left by his sunglasses. 

The bus driver, officer, and my mom talk, and I hide behind Mom’s back, catching snippets of her argument with bus driver. Mom pointed out that she paid our fare but he would have none of it. “If they’ve paid their fare, arrest me!” He shouts to the approaching officers, pinning his wrists together as though they were already cuffed. “Please calm down,” Mom says, reaching for me behind her back, making sure I am still there. 

The driver flails his arms, steps farther away from the loaded bus. “Arrest me,”he insists for the last time.  

I don’t know for what offense the driver has committed or why we have been denied entry. My lips quiver and my body stiffens with the effort of suppressing tears. 

“Elvis,” Mom says, gently releasing my grip on her shirt, “take your sister and go home.” 

I let the dandelion fall to the ground. “Mommy?” I whisper. 

“Go with your brother,” She says with finality. 

Elvis and I take slow steps down the street toward home. He clutches my hand firmly and tugs at my arm, forcing me to match his pace. I make myself look at them, the adults and the bus and the passengers, and try to make sense of the situation, but the street ends and the passengers shrink before I know what to think. I turn and look back at the road. Shifting street lights, green yellow and red, decorate the sky, crumpled wrappers litter the asphalt and every passing van, truck, bus, bike, taxi and pedestrian slows down to watch Mom and the driver with curiosity and confusion. Elvis makes me stop looking when more officers approach the scene. Mom remains calm at the bus stop, her back against the erect silver pole. 

 

 

Bernice Afriyie lives in Canada  pursuing a specialized honours in English at York University. She enjoys reading, writing, drawing, cooking and traveling. Her blog touches on all things artistic, creative and political at http://thebackwords.wordpress.com/.