It was only sprinkling when I got on my bus, but by the time we reached the Bronx, it was pouring. I had a window seat, but had to slide over when water started pouring in through the roof of the bus every time we rounded a corner; it looked like I was being the jerk on the crowded bus who won’t let anyone sit near her. I took off my headphones so I could explain to people eyeing the empty seat why they wouldn’t want to. The adults passed it up, but one middle-school-aged kid said he was wet anyway and slid in past me, soaking my book, my bag, and pretty much everything else in the vicinity as he did.
He was a funny, charismatic kid who narrated his life as he lived it, saying he’d go ahead and eat his breakfast (powdered donuts) right now, but he wasn’t ready for the soda he’d bought yet. I ventured a comment about sugar before 8 am… soon we were talking about the differences between schools in the Dominican Republic, where he’d lived only two years earlier, and in New York. He liked New York better because our schools serve breakfast and lunch and have full days; his school back in DR was morning sessions only, no lunch provided. Soon he was talking about his teachers this year… especially his math teacher, a former dean who had been slashed in the face by a student, a Blood who challenged the dean for wearing a red shirt to school. “You can’t wear red shirts,” the kid told me. “Every gang has a color. Red is the Bloods. Yellow is Kings. Blue… well, light blue is someone else. I think there’s green, too.”
“So what can you wear?” I asked.
“The uniform,” he replied.
His school is just a few blocks from mine. It’s sobering to remember that there are places where gangs rule, where even adult authority figures aren’t safe. And can you imagine what it must feel like to be a kid in a place where you know the adults in charge get attacked?