Short Bus

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
Two sisters, one autistic, one creative struggle in a poor area Toronto highschool

Submitted: March 07, 2007

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Submitted: March 07, 2007

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Short Bus Girl

 

My mother worked long hours, she rose early in the morning and returned home after we fell asleep. I took care of Monika, assembling breakfast with whatever I could forage from the kitchen. The three of us, my mother, my sister and I, lived in a small six-plex apartment building. It belonged to my uncle Tonda and his wife. He lived there too, in apartment 1b. My mother told me never to disturb him, probably because she didn’t have enough money for rent. It was a fair trade though; he didn’t bother us in return.

 

I had no fashion sense; I grabbed whatever was clean and went to school. Sometimes my clothes had the odd stain, sometimes they were hideously mismatched. On this December day, I picked a tie-dye tank top, orange snow pants, and ignored my wild un-brushed hair. My sister was autistic, so dressing her turned into bloody war. I had a hard time putting her shoes on, since she couldn’t do it herself. She banged her muscular legs against the kitchen chair, and in frustration chewed on tea towels. Sometimes I deserved what I got, teasing Monika till she freaked, and oddly enough, the pain gave me a sense of satisfaction; breaking through numbness into feeling. It wasn’t unusual for me to show up at school with bruises on my face, or a bite mark on my hand. In the seventies, in Parkdale, Toronto, no one seemed to notice. Except the kids at school, who whispered “ewwww” within earshot.

The two of us would take the short bus to school, mostly because Monika went to a ‘special class’ and my mother insisted I accompanied her. Getting a ride to school wasn’t a big deal, even though I spent a half an hour with the ‘special kids’, they were nice enough, but unfortunately, I had to get off the bus with them too.

“Hey it’s short bus Girl, and the retard!” Mary Mc Kinnes waited for me every morning, with her white blond hair and her face pink from the cold. Her gang of fabulous girl pals surrounded her.

“Ewwwww it’s the loser!” they taunted.

“ohhhghhhh” My sister moaned, covering her ears with freshly chewed mittens.

“I see yarn is the new breakfast food for champion retards, ha ha ha!” Mary stepped forward and grabbed me by my shoulder. “Where’s my money,” she whispered.

My mother gave me a quarter everyday, which back then, was worth two chocolate bars and a bag of chips. One day Mary, who lived near my apartment building, saw me spending my money in a store, and robbed me; taking all the junk food and change. Afterwards, whenever she saw me, she found that it took little effort to get me to relinquish my goods.

Monika started banging her head against a fence post, and I felt shame. My heart thumped, and my eyes watered rebelliously. I took deep breaths, and squinted; crying only made the situation worse. I tried prayer, as a last resort. It seemed like the saints listened, because another kid caught there attention, and they wandered off, after I paid my dues. I grabbed Monika by the arm, and lead her into class.

 

It was normal for me to arrive late into the classroom, after the bell had rung. Everyday the teacher sent me to the principal’s office, even though I explained to him that it wasn’t my fault. I signed a form in the school office, and then I was sent back to my classroom. When I arrived, the classroom snickered under their breaths, making a sick sound like air leaving a tire. I sat at the back of the class, and had to contend with random outstretched legs waiting to trip me, chewing gum on my chair, tacks, and spitballs. Craziness seemed to invade my head, and I wondered if my sister wasn’t alone when it came to madness. I would pull out my notebooks, and draw as the teacher droned on for the day, and when the bell rang I forgot what he had said. Of course, my marks were terrible.

At lunch, both of us ate the processed cheese and lumpy butter sandwiches that I had made, and shared a can of cola. My sister and I sat behind the only tree in the yard. Its trunk big enough to hide us, we would rest our backs against its rough surface, our feet pushing the bouncy fence that bordered the yard.

“Mama said you shouldn’t do it…you shouldn’t do it, you were bad, you didn’t listen in the airport, to tata, remember you were bad, remember you didn’t want to go and you were bad…remember?

“Yah, I remember”, although I didn’t. Monika shouldn’t have remembered that either. When we left Prague, and my father, I was four years old and she was two. She didn’t speak at all back then.

“You wore the red coat, remember? With the wrong buttons done up, and you dropped your doll, it fell down the stairs, and you wanted to get it and tata said ‘no’, he said ‘no’, remember?”

“Sure.” I peeled a scab off my arm and furtively chewed on it. Every lunch it was the same thing. We hadn’t seen our father since we left. He made promises, and plans, to come to Canada, and they all turned out to be lies. He remarried, and every Christmas his new wife sent us books we couldn’t read because they were written in Czech. His mother knitted gaudy looking sweaters and hats that were five sizes too small. Mom cried when she got the Christmas package. She forced us to open it up together though, and afterwards would walk slowly, and deliberately to her room, closing the door behind her; she remained there for the rest of the evening. That was the legacy he left for us.

Today was a good day, half the morning went by and I hadn’t seen Mary and her friends. Usually we were safe behind the tree, but you could never be too sure. My sister kept on talking, and I drifted into my favorite daydream: A world where everyone was shrunk, thanks to a nuclear holocaust, the radioactivity turned humans into tiny people, and they would live in trees.  Squirrels would be ridden instead of horses, and the best riders would fly upon their steeds from one limb to another. There were famous squirrel riders in the kingdom of trees. One of the bravest was Bolivia (who looked like me only skinnier). Bolivia had a message to deliver; warning her kingdom about a great war that raged on the other side of the forest….

“Stuuuuupid, hey, wakeup.” Mary stepped behind the tree and looked down at me. “Look the smarter one’s got her mouth wide open! She’s gonna drool!”

My sister whimpered and rocked back and forth. Mary kicked her hard. I stood up and summoned up the courage to look her in the eye.

“Whatcha gonna do, stupid. Fight me?”

I kept on staring.

“After school”, she proclaimed, “You can taste my fist” She tried to kick my sister again but I stood in her way so she kicked me instead.

“Fine”

Mary looked at me, soaking in my reply. She looked a little shocked. She rolled her eyes, and marched back to her friends. They were playing truth or dare, apparently. Monika and I were the dare.

“Tata wore the fur hat, Remember, the blue one, he sad he was coming to visit us, he said it remember, Tata is gonna come and visit, at Christmas, he is, going to, remember, remember?”

“I don’t think so.” I said.

I actually faced up to Mary, I couldn’t believe it. Now I would have to fight her after school, in the yard. I felt numb; as if there was no other choice that I could have made.

“Nooooo, he’s coming, you’re wrong, you’re wrong, you’re wrong, you’re wrong!”

“Bolivia had to face the dark wood where rats ran in shadows and giant snowy owls waited to catch her. She clutched her message to her chest.” I thought to myself, as I entered back into my classroom, opened up my notebook, and started to draw. I had a chocolate bar stashed in my desk, and ate it hoping no one would notice.

Apparently it was project day, so we were divided into groups and had to pull out a large piece of Bristol board and illustrate the journey of Marco Polo through China. I didn’t mind that, it was close enough to the adventures of Bolivia, at least, until Mary stepped on my drawing. She left a footprint with her furry boot; zigzag grey marks, over the eyes of Marco Polo. I looked up at her.

“I’m not kidding, I’m going to kill you.”

“That’s fine”, I said, and stared at her, eye to eye. These crazy words were coming out of my mouth, I was surprised. “I’ll meet you outside.” She nodded her head and pushed me for good measure, but I stood my ground. I watched the clock move slowly for the rest of the afternoon, and hoped that everyone would forget.

Word got out though, when I left the school building, and went into the yard, a crowd of kids surrounded me. They started to chant, “fight, fight, fight!” I decided to wait for Mary. I had never fought anyone but my sister. Girls fought dirty, and that was okay, I could pull hair, bite, and scratch, I had enough experience with that.

 

I would be delivering a message of my own, like Bolivia, riding into the battle, delivering it to the rest of them, letting them know that I was tougher than they thought.

“Are you nuts?” Jeremy, a friend of mine, scampered beside me. He was a gaunt, crooked toothed, boy who got picked on as much as I did. “You’re gonna land in a lot of trouble, you’ll get suspended, she’s gonna kill you, her friends will kill you.” I checked the principal’s office window, to see if anyone was watching, I didn’t see anyone, there was only the crowd, and me.

“I’m tired Jeremy, and I don’t care if she kills me. I just don’t want to deal with this anymore.” I was dead, already, nothing left, and I would do what I had to do. Mary approached with her friends. They all wore cool patchy fur and leather coats, tight blue jeans, frosted makeup, and frosted hair. Mary’s curled strands strained against the breeze. She stood, and stared. I imagined my fist striking her prefect face, my nails scratching her skin, my teeth tasting her arm. She must have known that I was on the edge of crazy.

“FIGHT FIGHT FIGHT”

“I’m not going to do it.” Mary said, and then she turned and walked away.

“Awwwwwww” the crowed complained, and dispersed, their sense of excitement leaving them. I felt like a victor and a loser at the same time. My knees shook, and Monika came over to me and held my hand. I responded to her rare affection by allowing her to do so, even though we were in public. I picked up my bag and looked at my sister; she looked away, into the past. The short bus waited for us.

Mary’s brother rode up to me on his bike. “Don’t you touch my sister” he said, “or I’m going to beat the crap out of you.”

“Sure!” I replied, still feeling kind of tough.

“Remember when the city was small, so small and the roofs were all red, and we were looking out of the plane. The plane was riding up, in circles, up into the sky. Remember the plane window, you had to put your seatbelts on, no smoking, and dad was waving, I know he was waving. Down on the ground, he was waving goodbye. We had a yellow blanket; the lady on the plane gave us candy, candy with cows on it, so our ears would pop. He’s coming back you know you’re wrong, remember, you’re wrong.”

“I remember” I said, as I followed her into the bus, and the hinged doors exhaled behind us.


© Copyright 2018 Lydia Knox. All rights reserved.

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