In college, I rode a bus from my apartment complex to campus and back every day.
Some days, a girl rode the bus who, I liked to think, was like me. Quiet. Shy. Serious. From the way she dressed and watched the familiar Columbia, Missouri, streets glide pass through the window, I thought maybe she was an artist. I liked that.
Other days, there was a boy on the bus who would talk to me. He wore glasses, had a fleshy face, a denim jacket. I don’t remember his name. Maybe I never knew it.
One day, the girl and the boy were on the bus together. The boy started talking to me, and the conversation inexplicably drifted to the liberals and weirdos and troublemakers on campus. His speech became louder, more animated, and though he pretended to be talking to me, I knew he was talking to her.
She shifted uncomfortably in her seat, refocused her gaze through the glass. He continued. I did nothing. Said nothing. Rehearsed in my mind, “please shut up please shut up please shut up,” until the bus ride mercifully ended.
Why did I not defend the girl on the bus from the bully on the bus? Why did I not say something, do something, anything?
I’ve known people of all persuasions since who, no matter how harmlessly conversations start, can’t help but turn it back to their pet issues. They don’t want a discussion, or even an argument. They just want to make you, and everyone around you, uncomfortable.
I don’t know what happened to the bully on the bus. Maybe he’s on the ballot somewhere Tuesday. She’s a professor.
I hope that I’ve grown since then, but sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night and think about the bully on the bus. And the silence.