It’s eight a.m. and I’m at the bus stop in my mostly white neighborhood in my mostly white city. I’m reading a book by a Latino novelist as I wait for the Rapid Ride that will carry me past dying motels and new mid-rise apartment blocks into downtown. I don’t look up as the bus stop crowd grows with the regulars. We’ve never spoken because that’s how we roll in this city. Surely, I’m familiar to them. Surely, I stand out. Or maybe, they “don’t see color.”
I’m used to it – the whiteness of this neighborhood, and my brownness in its whiteness. I’ve lived here over forty years after growing up in a mostly brown neighborhood. When I see another person of color on my streets, there’s a jolt of recognition and a simultaneous urge to suppress it, like maybe we’re not supposed to acknowledge each other too outwardly. Or maybe, I just don’t know the protocol.
I sense people behind me so I glance over my shoulder. I don’t make eye contact, but at some level, it registers that they are people of color and I give a mental thumbs-up that is visible to absolutely no one. I go back to reading about a millennial who leaves behind his Texas upbringing and Latino surname to make it in the New York fashion world of privilege, but soon there is pacing behind me and mutterings about “over your shoulder.” I should be paying more attention, but I keep reading about the protagonist struggling with identity and disillusionment. Something splashes the back of my legs and feet. It’s July and I’m wearing capris and sandals. I turn and see the puddle, foam dying at its edges, the smell of beer rising from the sidewalk. A can rolls hollowly on the ground. As her boyfriend studies his phone, a young woman looks at some imagined point of interest through black-framed glasses, not unlike mine.
“Why did you do that?” I say.
“Accident,” she says, smirking at her own bullshit.
“No,” I say, “why did you do that?” I step forward for an answer.
Suddenly she’s in my face. I watch up close the movement of her penciled brows, gold ringed- septum, bared teeth, and neck tattoo as she hisses, “Fucking bitch, you know what you did.”
It occurs to me that she could punch me in the face. Yet, I don’t lean away. I tell her I don’t know what I did – that she has to tell me. I stand there. We breathe each other’s air.
Finally, she spins away, still insisting that I fucking know what I did. I take a step again. “Look, if I offended you, it wasn’t intentional.”
She’s not having it. She paces back and forth, swearing under her breath. I wonder what to do next. I turn, see the white people at the bus stop, watching, waiting for the violence to happen.
Donna Miscolta is the author of the story collection Hola and Goodbye: Una Familia in Stories (Carolina Wren Press, 2016). Hola and Goodbye was selected by Randall Kenan for the Doris Bakwin Award for Writing by a Woman. It also won an Independent Publisher Gold Medal for Best Regional Fiction and a silver medal in the International Latino Book Awards for Best Latino Focused Fiction. She is also the author of the novel When the de la Cruz Family Danced (Signal 8 Press, 2011). She has stories forthcoming in Moss and Blood Orange, and contributes book reviews to the Seattle Review of Books.