Ain’t saying nothin’, Ronnie tells himself. He jounces anxiously in his seat, breathing through his nose; the bus passes the Rite-Aid on Greenwood. Never did. He never called nobody no nigger, not since that one time in school and got in trouble. Don’t say the n-word. You can’t. But they call white people names. Back in school they did him: Whitey, whiteass motherfucker, pecker, what was it? Peckerwood. Retard special ed white boy, they called him. They were in LD too, but he always was the one they picked on. Not just n-word, white kids did too, but a lot of times them.
Call each other n-word too. All colored people do.
Well, they just better not try anything today. Actions speak louder than words.
The bus door clacks open, and two old colored women in wide-brimmed hats, thick butterfly glasses and lumpy stuffed jackets climb up the little stairstep, moving slow like it hurt to move fast. The driver, fat bald white man, says “Well, look who’s here! Good mornin’, ladies!” Church ladies. They smile wide and cackle softly. Drop like potato sacks into the sidelong seat behind the driver, nodding hello to the other riders nearby: two colored men in shabby work clothes, white girl dressed nice and made up, not pretty though. One man nods back, barely, the other doesn’t. The white girl glances at them, moves her mouth upward in a mopey smile, drops it back, blankfaced again.
That makes four colored people, one white girl, him. No, two white people counting him. Five colored people, there’s one more, man in a suit and tie with glasses in the back, reading a newspaper.
Church ladies didn’t nod to Ronnie. He’s too far back, past by the middle door, two seats behind it. He didn’t have nothin’ against no old church ladies, even if they was colored. N-word. He don’t bother nobody, they don’t bother him. Try to start something. They better not, they’ll wish they hadn’t. He snorted with amusement.
He touches the hard, sleek object in his coat pocket. Like touching his nuts in school, quick and furtive, staring at the teacher. She see? No. My piece, he thought. My damn piece, dammit! Piece meant gun, that sounded cool. He was strapped. That meant he had a gun. That white boy be strapped, dammit! His piece.
Anybody tries anything, he was ready, dammit. That’s all. Just let ’em try. Go ahead, n-word, make my day.
It was Dad’s. Dad was in the veteran’s hospital for his liver. He found the gun in Dad’s tool box under the sink. It was good one, looked like: Hi Point C 9, said on the side. Had bullets in it, all ready to go. Dad might have hid it from him, never said he had one. But Ronnie knew how to fire it because he’d seen it done on TV. A lot.
Anybody mess with him today, they’d be sorry all right. Those n-word kids day before yesterday on this same bus, middle school, sitting in the seat behind him, wiping stuff on the back of his coat, laughing. When he got home, it was all stained white. Like birdshit. Didn’t know what it was. Might have been drugs.
Like to see them kids get on this bus right now, he thought. Screw you, goddamn’ n-word porch monkey, see my piece? See my fuckin’ piece, motherfucker? That’s how they talked. They didn’t think he’d be some bad dude, but they’d sure find out. Bad white dude, motherfucker! Dude was strapped. And if they told on him, he would shoot, next time he saw them. You die, fucker.
Dad said, “This used to be a white man’s country in my day. They’re just big goddamn stupid porch monkeys, the whole goddamn stinkin’-ass bunch of them. Belong in the damn zoo. Never should have brought ‘em over here. Can’t even say anything to them, get crucified for it. Just stay the hell away from them as much as you can.” But you can’t, they come after you. Can’t stay away if you’re with them all the time, like at school.
Dad was real mean with Ronnie when he told him what to do while he was away at the hospital. Got mean like that sometimes, been drinking all day. Kept saying stuff over and over, Ronnie would drift, Dad would get mad. “Now look, stupid-ass, you better pay attention. You behave yourself while I’m gone, you hear me? And don’t tell them at school that you’re here alone. You wanna get put in a group home? Huh? Count your damn blessings. You got any idea how lucky you are not to live in a goddamn group home already? Well, that’s where you’re gonna end up. With a bunch o’ niggers dumber than you, probably.”
Dad was supposed to be home this week. The doctor said it would be Wednesday. Plus the phone rang last night, and quit before Ronnie answered it. Something heavy sank in his chest when he heard the ring, another, another, more, and got way worse when he picked up and heard the dial tone. Waited for another ring, never came. Up mostly all night, afraid to sleep and miss a call. Thought he heard another, might have been a dream. The sinking again, just remembering.
The bus lumbers over to the curb, stops. The two men in work clothes get off, and a big-ass colored man in a blue windbreaker lurches on. “Well hello!” he says to the driver, in a high, whiny voice. He walks with a funny limp, scowling and blinking one eye. Ronnie’s seen him before, he’s a panhandler, stands around on High Street by the old Woolworth’s, usually. Something wrong with that one eye he’s got, always blinking. Was doing that the day he asked Ronnie for money that one time he waited for the bus there. He said “Scuse me, sir. Are you a Christian?” Ronnie just ignored him like he didn’t hear. The man went away mumbling. Ronnie heard him asking someone else further down the street. Saw him other times, but he didn’t ask Ronnie again.
Four colored people, two white counting him.
The big man sits down, across from the church ladies. “Hello Miz Brrrr, Miz Sansasss, how you doin’ this fine day?”
“Well hay-low, Mister Frzzh!” They grin just like monkeys in a monkey cage, big teeth between swelling red lips, muddy faces all lined and sagging.
They start in talking, everybody at once. Ronnie can’t hear what all they’re saying, just a word here and there. They’re all laughing and doing that whinnying sound. The bus driver’s laughing too.
The man’s voice goes loud. “Yes indeed, the Lord has a plan for all of us, and I know his eye is on the sparrow,” he says. “I praise Him every day of my life for the way he has blessed a poor sinner like me.”
“Amen,” the ladies say back, nodding, grinning wider. He must go to their church.
Another stop. Uh-oh, look at these two getting on. Ronnie scrunches up, gets still, watching.
The two dark young men in loose pants hanging low walk past the sidelong seats, tough, doing a roll, smiling at the big man, not saying anything. Big man glances at them, blinking, holding still. They laugh loudly, with an evil sound.
Something’s up. Ronnie grips his hand around his piece.
They sit down nearby, each taking up a whole seat, leaning back with their legs stuck out in the aisle, talking. Ronnie can’t hear them at first, then, loud: “—just like a bitch!” says one, and the other does that high, rising laugh.
Trembling just a little, he grips tighter. Please, hand, don’t shake.
“I tell you, he winkin’ at me like a damn bitch,” says the one of them. “I think I gonna have to kick his head, y’know?”
“Punks be on this bus, man,” says the other, lower, scarier voice, clucking. “Have to fuck somebody up today.” More laughing. The big man is staring at them now, between blinks. The ladies wilt, mouths hanging, and the white girl looks over her shoulder, afraid. The young men are grinning, leaning forward. Big hungry cats at the zoo.
Is the bus driver gonna say anything? He’s glancing at them in his mirror, hard-eyed. Probably get in trouble if he does. In the back, colored man in a suit grunts, turns his newspaper page. Irritated, but he ain’t gonna do nothing.
Ronnie presses his finger through the loop over the gun’s trigger, but keeps it in his pocket. Worried they might look back his way before he was ready, see something. See him shaking a little. Arm won’t hold still, dammit! Other arm won’t either. Hold still! The top of his head gets all stiff, like it’s frozen. He feels something weakening, dwindling all through him, like he might even fall right asleep.
“I’m scared,” whines the big blinking man, watching them.
“Said I’m scared.”
“What you sacred of?” says the deep-voice one, laughing like they do.
“I’m scared o’ you.”
They laugh higher.
The big man’s face stays serious, eye keeps blinking. “See how scared I am? My hand’s shakin’.”
He holds up his big mitt of a right hand, like swearing an oath. That hand, upright, is as still as a statue’s hand. His eye’s still blinking.
A long silent moment passes. All at once they both laugh hard, hysterics, so much they’re rolling around in their seats, like little n-word boys. One sits up, mad all the sudden, or acting it.
“Fuck you, man,” he says. “You hear me, nigger? Why’on’t you tell your nice lady friends there ’bout how–“
“Now fellas,” says the driver, loud voice to interrupt, “am I gonna have to call the police or would you two like to get off this bus? ‘Cause I want you off this bus right now.”
“Right,” says one. “You go ahead. They’ll take him too.”
“Let’s go,” the other says, and they both laugh louder, but it sounds fake now. They jump up as the bus lumbers, leave through the back door, right by Ronnie. Never glance his way on the way out.
They’re off. “Good riddance to bad rubbish,” says one of the church ladies, slow and even, like an announcement on the PA at school.
At the same stop, a pretty, dressed-up white girl has come on, long blonde hair, big dark shades, doesn’t know anything just happened. She walks back, sits across the aisle from him.
The big blinking man and the church ladies are murmuring to each other. Driver stays quiet. The big man won. He wasn’t really scared.
They were lucky. Lucky n-word niggers. He studies the blonde girl. If they’d bothered her, he would have shot. Sure would have. He’d make himself not shake. He could if he tried hard.
Colored man in a suit pulls the cord for the next stop, gets up, glares at Ronnie, a look of disgust flaring his big nostrils. Ronnie, surprised, notices the smell. One hand still curled around the gun, his other hand, still trembling bad, he pulls from his coat pocket to touch his crouch, reached further down to under his butt. Uh-oh.
Dammit! Had an accident. His face warmed, got hot.
The colored suit man walks past like in a huff, gets off by the front door. Church ladies nod, say nothing, he says nothing. The big man up front with the still hand glances back at Ronnie, blinking. Ronnie looks away.
There were a bunch more blocks to go to Ronnie’s stop. Plus they had to go past the middle school, kids going there might get on. Breathing deeply, trying not to smell it, but there it was. The blonde girl, frowning behind shades, changed her seat to further up in the front of the bus.
Ronnie pulls the bell cord, ding, gets off the bus at the next stop. “Watch your step,” calls out the driver.
He’s on the sidewalk. It’s colder out than earlier, seems like. Sees his breath.
Wouldn’t go to school today. He has a long walk back home now, in slimy pants.
He didn’t smell anything too much now, in the cold. It might have been the other people stinking, Ronnie thought. The colored man in the suit, blaming it on Ronnie so that girl wouldn’t think it was him. ‘Cause Ronnie just squirted a little. Wasn’t shaking no more, neither. Was he?
He pulls out his hand, looks. It shakes just a little. A little more. More, the more he looks. He puts it back in his pocket. His other hand shakes in his other pocket. Tears sting his eyes in the cold wind.
He wasn’t going to live in no group home. They better not try it. They can’t make him. Shoot them all. Nobody better not try to bother him while he walks home, neither. He could take care of himself. He’s strapped, dammit! A skinny, sad-faced colored man in a long worn coat passes him going the other way, gives him a funny look.
Goddamn monkeys, thought Ronnie as he stepped faster with many blocks to walk. Stupid-ass, stinkin’-ass stupid porch monkey niggers. The whole goddamn bunch of ‘em. They got no idea how lucky they are.
Pete Risley is the author of the novel RABID CHILD, published by New Pulp Press. His short stories have appeared in Plots with Guns, Pulp Metal Magazine, Powder Burn Flash and Thrilllers, Killers ‘N’ Chillers.