We scramble onto the nearly empty bus and my daughter makes a beeline for her favorite spot, the crow’s nest of the broad back row. We’ve gotten our backpacks off and she’s tucked herself into the space beneath my arm. One of the other passengers gets up to wait by the door. She smiles amiably in our direction, and says, “Kids always want the back, don’t they. Why is that?”
“She says it’s bouncier,” I poke a thumb off to the side, in my kid’s direction.
“That must be it!” She laughs.
My daughter turns her face up to me and asks, “Do you know her?”
“No, we’re just chatting and being friendly.”
“That’s right, we are,” the woman replies to my daughter, warmly, bending a little.
I tell her, like I often do, “It’s good to be friendly. I mean, if you’re with one of your grownups.” She turns her face into my armpit. “And you never have to if you don’t want to.”
“That’s a fine way to put it,” the woman says. “My grandkids are always asking that when I say hello. ‘Do you know them, why are you talking to them?’ I tell them that too. It’s good to be friendly.”
I nod, my daughter furls tighter under my arm, and then peeks out and smiles at the woman.
She catches the flirt and grins into it. Then she looks back at me. “Especially right now, the way things are,” she says, “it’s important. Being friendly.”
She touches a long finger to her forehead, then at me, back and forth, once, twice, describing an arc between our faces. It takes me a beat to see what she’s pointing at. Her dark skin, my light skin, the space between us. Especially now when there is so much hate, is what she means.
Amen to that is what I want to say, but those are words I have no claim to. “That’s right,” is what I manage, here on this bus, which for one long minute is the great grand church of tolerance. My daughter flashes her shining grin.
“You have a beautiful day you beautiful ladies.”
I whisper in my daughter’s ear. “Say ‘you too’ and tell her thank you.”
“I already did, Mom,” she says, a little petulant about my instructions. “I told her with my face.”