Rear-View Mirror, 1955

by Johnes Ruta

I had been watching the cotton puff clouds moving across the blue afternoon sky as I hurried up Wilcoxson Avenue hill from school to get to the bus stop, and now I waited for the bus, sitting on the wood bench under the old oak tree at Paradise Green. But now the bus finally came and I had to climb aboard so that the driver could close the door behind me.

The bus lurched away from the curb, but Iím happy to be on my own.

Every three weeks, after I get out of my fifth-grade class at 3:15, my mother sends me to ride the bus by myself to see my father's barber on the East Side of Bridgeport, where my father will come to pick me up on his way home from work.

Giving the driver the quarter my mother always sends me with, I ask him for change so I can deposit the 15c fare, and he clicks out from his coin changer one nickel and two dimes... I say thank you to him and walk down the center aisle, to take a seat alone behind the side rear-door exit.

The bus heads southward down Main Street, past the stately brick Town Hall, toward Stratford Center, where I always like to look out at the nice clothing shops, the big hardware store, the bakery, and the old-fashioned movie-house. --But as we come under the railroad viaduct, before we even get to the Center, I suddenly realize that I don't remember putting anything into the fare-coffer.

I reach down frantically into my pocket to see whether I still have the change the driver gave me, and, when in my hand I discover still the two dimes and one nickel, I am seized with fear and shame.

What the heck am I going to do, I wonder. I look up toward the people sitting at the front of the bus -- Should I just walk up there and drop the coins in? Tell the driver that I forgot to put in my fare? Yes, that's it.

But while I'm trying to gather my courage the embarrassment freezes my whole body, and I realize I can't just get up in front of everyone, though I know I'm not riding this bus honestly. Getting more nervous as I decide to stand up, I glance at the driver's mirror, wondering whether he is waiting for me to come back and deposit my fare.

As though he has felt my look, he suddenly glances up into the mirror back into the bus, catching my stare. I quickly look away, but now I'm pinned to my seat in terror--

Outside, the scenery is rapidly going by, and by now the bus has already turned west onto Stratford Avenue, past the little factories; then passing by the long Catholic cemetery... And then I begin to wonder where the heck I'm going to end up when I die -- Going through the "bad section" of Old Stratford Avenue, I still can't stand up : I know I'll grow up bad if I don't do this, but in my left hand I'm still hiding the coins I'm going to put into the fare box. I've got to do it! If my mother finds the change in my pocket that I have left over, she'll know that I couldn't have paid for my bus ride, and she'll ask me why, and then probably take back all the money, even the dime that she would let me keep to buy a chocolate bar.

The bus is coming up to the bridge over the Old Yellow Mill River, now only four blocks from my stop in the "Italian section". I'll get up now and go out through the forward exit and tell the driver I still haven't paid -- But I'm still frozen watching the people sitting in the front seats, what are they going to think of me? My heart is pounding out of control.

Almost to my stop, I reach up and pull the buzzer-chord, standing up dizzily trying to muster the courage I need. I look at the money in my hand, and the driver glances again into the mirror. What will I say?

The rear door springs open next to me, and in a split-second I instead step down to the street, at the last moment leaving all the shiny coins on the top corner of the step-well before I get off --- hoping that the driver or someone will find them...