i pulled up next to a yellow school bus at a stop sign the other day. just in time to hear the driver yell at a bus-full of out-of-control elementary school kids: “ya’ll better sit your butts down NOW!”
immediately, i thought of dennis.
dennis was my first kindergarten friend. i remember little about him. except his first name. his purple and black “fantasia” t-shirt. (he wore that thing all the time.) and that he always sat next to me on the school bus…
my family had recently moved to the U.S. from a war-torn country. but for me, shellings and bombings were history compared to the carnage on that bus. because daily—between 2:05 and 2:25—the 4th grade boys who sat in the back would stockpile an arsenal of crumpled paper, spitballs, and similar DIY artillery. they would then systematically fire them in our direction. that, by itself, wasn’t so horrible. a simple flip of the wrist, and spitballs are out of your hair. no problem. but the unbearable part was the accompanying chant. the high-pitched voices in unison, singling me out from the jennifers, kellys, and stacys by repeating: armeenie meenie weeeeeenie, armeenie yellow-polka-dot-bikiiiiiini.
god. i hated it. i’d often imagine myself delivering all kinds of stinging speeches to make them stop. but i hadn’t learned the english words yet to retort. so dennis and i would just sit in silence. i’d usually look out the window and hope they’d get bored. and occasionally we'd exchange a sideways glance and a dejected raising-of-the-eyebrow.
one afternoon, it began as usual: armeenie meeeenie. armeenie meenie weeeeeeenie. dennis shifted his weight in his seat and i turned to look at him. but without a word or looking at me, he suddenly stood up as the bus was rolling. he placed one hand on the back of the seat and turned and calmly faced the back of the bus. his other hand was slowly balling into a fist. then loud and clear like a miracle, dennis declared confidently that those snot-nosed jerks needed to “go take a long walk off a short pier.”
the hallowed silence afterwards was like catholic church on a weeknight. everyone on the bus was stunned. my heart was racing, but dennis sat down calmly and looked ahead. (and i think the bus driver’s eyes were smiling in her rear view mirror.)
the boys looked dazed. i could see them brushing spitballs off their laps, grumbling to each other. but they didn’t say a word to dennis. or me. ever. again.