[On the 7, northbound at about 8pm.]
Is she French? Italian, Eastern Europe? I don’t know. I can never make out the words when they’re speaking, her and her daughter.
Here she is today, forty maybe, with short hair, in a lavender turtleneck and shades perched up above her forehead. She has that refined sensibility you can’t fake without overdoing it, the steady poise that lives on the other side of the Atlantic. Her expressive brown eyes smile with pride at her young daughter, a girl of perhaps eight whom she’s picked up, as usual, from gymnastics class. They smile together, separated by decades but linked by love and blood.
Now, a boy running on, followed by his young father. The little force of nature bounding in between other passengers, holding something like a Nintendo DS in hand but equally excited by all around him. He squeals with delight. Dad’s behind him, smiling at me as we laugh at each other in understanding. Kids. It’s a good thing.
Father and son are dressed alike, you could almost say matching: fresh, flat-billed baseball hat with cornrows peeking out underneath, black felt street jacket over a black and umber sports jersey, dark jeans and basketball shoes, glossy with the thick white laces. Be black and be proud, Malcolm X said. They had the loudness and rhythm and chaotic colorful verve I call American.
With age we forget how to transcend race. The little boy ran over to the little girl. Continents, ethnicity, histories and oceans meant nothing to them. They briefly stared at each other like puppies in love, and then you’d guess they’d always been fast friends, the way they’re playing now, he a little younger than she. He’s squeezing into the seat where she’s sitting, showing her the game he’s playing, the two of them talking and smiling with their big eyes and baby cheeks.
I watched the Mom and the Dad. He stood in the aisle next to her, and they followed in the lead of their respective children, talking and smiling, laughing in the shared act of parenting, a lifestyle you treasure even when you lament it. Sure, their conviviality required a touch more effort, but it was no less magical to witness. It was happening. They may have been the two least similar people on the bus then, in dress, temperament and origin, but I know what they were thinking as they watched their children play.
We have a lot in common.
When it was time for Mom and daughter to leave, she thanked the young man for his company–nice to meet you–and he responded with enthusiastic fervor. He reached an arm around her in an awkward hug. The space in the aisle, his other hand holding toddler stuff, the moving bus–it was uncoordinated, inelegant…and absolutely magnificent.
It didn’t matter the awkwardness. I could see that he wanted to, needed to. The equal plane, convivial with such a seemingly different person, being spoken to not through the context of race but from the wider commonality of personhood. In her eyes, he lived as a good man. He was just another responsible parent.
The interaction had meant the world, and it was important for him to say so.