Little Suit counts couples, a mental reflex from her perch in a single-seat on the driver's side of the shiny imported bus. A pair with identical elephant pants and silver chin plugs, very retro, very edgy. Another two with Gucci shades - rip-offs, of course. Gal pals in iceberg lettuce uniforms. Bland but crisp. Much ado...
Little Suit is coordinated with herself: her black French braid is crowned by a banana-colored straw hat. A perky honeydew melon-tinted feather is stuck in a cantaloupe-colored satin band - not real satin silk but acetate rayon, both add-ons from Planet Discount at her bus stop. A little hat to deflect urban dust, a shield from brassy sun. Nothing churchy. Nobody looks like that anymore. Except sistahs. Little Suit passes flocks of them once a month in the taxi through Harlem on her way to brunch at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Homely pigeons parading on their day of rest. Birds of paradise along glutted sidewalks.
Little Suit is pleased. She can stretch a dollar, turn a head. The flat straw brim touches neat eyebrows and adds innuendo to her face. Plum smooth skin, the color of sassafras tea. Intelligent eyes. Full glossy grape lips. Pretty enough.
The bus turns sharply from Madison Avenue toward the upper West Side. It is a bus not old enough to malfunction without political scandal. Everyday complaints percolate - brakes, back doors, front doors, special "kneeling" step for the elderly and the disabled. Even the overhead bars for strap-hangers are wrong. Much too high.
What Little Suit craves is an express bus straight through Harlem. The subway is too muggy and roundabout; daily cabs too costly, and this bus never takes less than thirty minutes! But she endures.
Today the air conditioning doesn't work. Windows rattle like ill-fitting teeth. Little Suit reprimands herself: she should have waited for another bus. The hair at her temples is slowly crinkling in the humidity. She counts the weeks since her last "touch up", then calculates the price of a salon relaxer, then remembers her college loan at the first of the month. She feels the hat tighten as her hair thickens and rises ever so slightly.
Suddenly Little Suit senses something strong. What should she call it? "Scent-sational"? "Potentate"? "Gr-r-r-roar"? Whatever. Shelve the daydreams in fashion ad copy!
But the smell persists. Not exactly funk, but too real for her patience so late in the day. Of course, it belongs to a man. Where is he?
Little Suit pretends to follow the progress of an orange mohawk bobbing to the back and scopes the straphanger just above her shoulder. Lightweight tan suit. A tie. Too collegiate. His old school colors? A correct attachˇ. A young wannabe MBA? Younger than she. How irritating. A brothah who doesn't give eye-contact. Getting off at Columbia University? Quietly Little Suit slides her window open and daydreams. . .
Nothing tops her apartment view of the Hudson River! The George Washington Bridge stretches a twinkling constellation close enough to touch. Inside, her narrow windows rise from parquet floors to high molded ceilings. Everyday Little Suit makes promises to herself. Someday she will buy a dump just below 145th street. To renovate. Just like her boss. Her decor will be hyphenated and hybrid, evolutionary and confrontational. Soho in the shadows of City College!
In the meantime, her one room will have to suffice.
Back home, Little Suit didn't have choices. No matter how far they vacationed, Daddy and Momma faithfully hunted down their own people's neighborhood for fried chicken and collard greens. Even in a place like New Hampshire, family was meat and potatoes....
For about ten blocks Little Suit inches the window open until it moves no further. A breeze plays with the brim of her straw hat. Wilted passengers sway and hover all about. The young manager has pushed on further to the back exit. She notices...
...the hair in front of her. Reddish brown, but obviously Asian. Not India, but Far East. Something about the way the hair falls. It has weight. Does she like it tinted? Just a girl. The posture is adolescent. Interracial? Whatever. Yesterday she saw a sistah with short blond dreadlocks.
Live it! Like extreme! That's why she came here! Cribbing in a big closet! Back home her people have already moved up to ten-room houses on the Main Line! With custom-made plastic slipcovers on fake French provincial living room sets! Yes, they still buy sets! Look at that woman by the exit! Black patent leather platform maryjanes! Black fishnets - OK. But a black and white polka dot skirt? Short, too tight, rayon and linen blend! Red puffed-sleeve blouse, imitation foulard! Is she for real? Yes! This ain't Soho! It's Friday! After seven o'clock! And summ -
The pain is instantaneous.
A thud against her left ear. Her hat tips and topples into the aisle. For one slow-motion instant Little Suit can't decide which impulse to obey - retrieve the straw hat before it is crushed by a shoe, investigate the moisture trickling down her cheek, or feign a concussion.
Like a Frisbee. Flying through thick bright air. Her open bus window a sure-fire magnet.
Fortunately, the edge of the window deflects the blow. She gets hit with more flesh than rind.
"Are you OK?" the hand giving back her hat inquires. Little Suit nods thank you, aware of other voices. Clicking their tongues, sucking their teeth, damning everybody and everything from the mayor down to junk food's role in criminal behavior.
The pain subsides. Too quickly for self-pity. Her hat is bent irreparably. Her silk and cotton blend chemise will have to be dry cleaned. The stain might set in even though watermelon is ninety-nine percent water.
The wannabe MBA gets off. At the university. Little Suit is relieved. Superior sympathy from an uptight-fast-track-isn't-this-one-big-happy-melting-pot-if-you-want-it-to-be brothah always gave her an acute case of gas.
Fortunately, she will be getting off in two more stops. Pranks like this always make her feel stupid. And guilty. Why?
She will chastise herself later.
In the privacy of her closet.
© Yvonne Chism-Peace
Yvonne Chism-Peace's fiction has been published by Thought ("The Key", Spring 2002); Moxie ("Aftertaste", online); In Posse Review ("Tumbling", online); Saint Anne's Review ("The Dusk", Winter 2001).
Under the pen name Yvonne, she has published three books of poetry: IWILLA SOIL, IWILLA SCOURGE, and IWILLA RISE (Chameleon Productions Inc. 1985, 1986, 1999) for which she won NEA fellowships. She was the poetry editor at MS. magazine (1974-1987).
Submit your comments on this story to our MoxieTalk
discussion group by clicking here!
You can also send your comments directly to the author using the
You can do both by typing your response below,
submitting it and then copying it, going to MoxieTalk, and pasting it
into the form there for posting a message.
Copyright 2002 Moxie Magazine All Rights Reserved