The bus barrels down Sherwood Drive, and all too predictably comes to a halting stop. I look up from my phone when I hear the doors begin to open. The fumes from the bus’s gas exhaust comes through the door, and threatens to choke me. I live far from the University, and the distance has only one benefit – I am always guaranteed a spot on the bus.
Today is a Monday, the busiest day of the week for this particular bus. My backpack sits on my lap, and when I look to my left, across the aisle is a girl that mirrors my stance. We are poised within our small seats, waiting for somebody to sit next to us. My eyes take in this girl. I have seen her before on this bus and she gets off at the University stop, which I do too. We are very similar in many ways. She looks to be young, in her first few years of study. She wears converse, just as I do. She keeps what would normally be in her purse, in her backpack as I do. She listens to music the whole way there just as I do. There are so many similarities between us that I am surprised that I have never it before.
As the bus makes its way across the city, more and more people come on. Soon, a stranger is sitting beside me. I expect this. The doors close and the bus begins to move with people still searching for a seat. I swivel my head back to see that the rear of the bus is full. There are several people exasperated because standing on public transit in the morning is almost worse than missing the bus entirely.
My gaze travels to the left, and through the heap of heavily clothed bodies standing in the aisle, I spot the girl I had examined a few stops before. The girl who I feel to have so much in common with, is sitting alone. The seat beside her stands empty and her small form rests against the wall of the bus. She has pushed herself up against the rattling metal, as if she is sitting alone because she is taking up too much space. I envy her lonesome ride, as the person next to me reeks like smoke and looks as if they had slept in their clothes the night before. My mind puzzles over why she would get to ride alone, even with a fair amount of people struggling to keep from falling over as the bus moves closer and closer to the University.
I become curious, and shift forward in my spot to see around the packed bodies. Her hand moves from her lap, to adjust her black hijab. The jarring movements of the bus causes to the fabric to slip backwards, revealing a small portion of dark hair. The girl who has so much in common with me shifts the fabric forward until it is framing her face. Her face is probably only a few shades darker than mine. The hijab that conceals her modesty, repeals the other bus riders in a way that my curls do not. Her darker skin unnerves the passengers in a way that my light skin does not. Her existence as a thriving minority figure scares the other patrons in a way that my threat of success would never do.
My life encompasses a narrative that fits comfortably into people’s minds, while this girl’s prosperity and future triumphs doesn’t taste familiar in people’s mouths just yet. This girl does not get the luxury of escaping her skin in times as simple as a bus ride. Nobody on this bus knows anything about her or me, but through systemic privilege I can be defined by my actions, and uplifted by my anonymity.