writing exercise, 24 march: the reluctant i

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The number 66 bus looped around its little holding area, the kind in mall parking lots that have glass plate ceilings printed with multi-colored designs that look like swirling gusts of wind to shield the riders from the rain. It came to a stop in front of the small crowd of people but its doors remained closed. The tired faces of the riders morphed into the vexed faces of people who just want to sit down somewhere, anywhere, after having walked every square foot of the mall for the past four hours. Why shouldn’t they be able to rest when they were ready to? It was a personal affront in their mind and their expressions began to show it. Maybe the bus driver could see the questions on their lips and burgeoning hostility in their eyes, for he opened the bus doors quickly and said “I’m early. I can’t start boarding for another four minutes,” before quickly closing them again.

Sighs cascaded from open mouths as everyone resigned themselves to four more minutes of bodily agony. There were some that stood close to the curb so that they could be the first to step onto the bus once its doors opened again, and there were others that leaned against the triangular plastic directories that displayed the bus schedules on one side, a list of stores and a map of the mall on another, and an ad for an expensive-looking purse on another. I stood next to a small puddle that had formed where the cement was uneven, watching a small bird flitter and splash around, seemingly unafraid of the giants it was surrounded by. It had rained the day before, but the only water that remained was in those puddles that pointed out the poor craftsmanship of someone’s work, or maybe just the natural wear that happens in places where people spend a lot of time standing.

The bus doors opened, and the sound was like air exiting a room, like a vacuum seal. Four minutes was not so long. Most of the people got on the bus; the others must have been waiting for a different number. I slid into a window seat near the back of the bus. Through the window, there was a boy leaning against the triangular plastic directory with his hood over his head, obscuring the features of his face. His skin was rich and dark like coffee grounds, and his enormous pants hung low on his thin body. He couldn’t have been more than seventeen. Another boy came up behind him, close to the same age with the same enormous pants and hooded jacket but with broader shoulders and sharp eyes. He touched the boy on the shoulder and the boy pulled his hood down and turned toward the other boy. Their words were muffled by the glass, but the other boy’s face started to look hostile and demanding, his eyes narrowing and his mouth tightening. The first boy was in mid-sentence when the other pushed him into the directory.
The noise of his body hitting the hard plastic was loud enough to make the people sitting inside the bus turn toward the window to see what was happening. The second boy had dragged the first boy toward the curb and started hitting him in the face and head with a closed hand. The weight of the second boy’s fist must have been numbing; the first boy got a single swing in, but after a few punches from the other, he just stood there like the wind had been knocked out of him, like receiving the next punch was something he didn’t mind.

The people standing around them had stared, but they eventually just turned in the opposite direction or moved away from the fight. Only one man stayed to watch, and he moved closer to better see. He was a tall, large black man, maybe forty years old, with a rotund belly, wearing a tailored black suit with a purple tie and long black peacoat over top. He smiled as he watched the two boys, exposing the gap between his two front teeth. He laughed, chuckled. He bent over, legs bent, and rested his hands on his knees, watching, jeering. He encouraged the second boy, loud enough to hear from inside the bus, shouting “That’s right, you get him, boy! You tell that nigga who’s bad.” He laughed as he said it, like it was an old joke between the two of them.

Eventually, the first boy fell to the ground, curled up, and it was over. The second boy walked away. The older man went back to waiting for his bus, the people around him continuing to ignore each other, and the people inside my bus turned forward and exhaled, letting go of their breath that they had been holding. The bus driver started the bus, softly rattling the glass that had separated those inside the bus from those outside, and pulled out of the holding area and onto the road, heading toward the freeway.

[The Exercise: Write a first-person story in which you use the first-person pronoun (I or me or my) only two times–but keep the I somehow important to the narrative you’re constructing.]

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