On the Bus by Mireya S. Vela

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emtpy school bus showing older green seats

Most Memorable: May 2018

I like riding in the back of the bus. This seat has the benefit of a corner. I can sit, lean to one side, and fall asleep.

The bus is nearly empty. I wrap my arms around my backpack and press my items close to my pregnant belly. I doze off.

I’m asleep for 20 minutes—the distance between my college and the junior college closer to my home. When I open my eyes, there is a man seated next to me. The bus is full, and standing students crowd the aisles.

This is always the case at this time. It is worse when it rains; sweaty bodies and wet sweaters accost the senses. The scent reminds me of wet dogs.

I blink and look around. I resettle my bulk and close my eyes again.

I’m visibly pregnant. But I’m scrawny from months of vomiting. I’m 20 pounds lighter than I should be. I’m wearing tights under a beige baby doll dress and brown Mary Jane’s. My hair is pulled back in a ponytail. I’m blatantly aware I look like a kid, even though I’m 21.

When I open my eyes again, I find that the man next to me has pulled out a switchblade. He’s caressing the end of the blade with his finger as he talks to me or to himself or to the bus.

“Fucking pedophile,” he says. “Fucking looking at little girls. I’m going to gut him if he looks at you again.”

I look at the man he’s referring to. He’s a kid—maybe 18- or 19-years-old. He is looking at me. A lot of men do. It isn’t because I’m pretty. Even with my eyes closed they can see into me. They can tell I’ve been abused. They don’t know it. But they want to know how much and for how long. They want to know how “good” I am or how my flavor changes when I’m vulnerable with fear or humiliation. He sees me and revels in the power of his maleness.

I’m thinking, Please don’t look at me. Please don’t look at me.

“He just has to look at you one more time, and I’ll kill him,” says the man next to me.

I want to tell him I’m not a little girl. He continues to mutter, and the kid continues to throw sideways glances my way.

Can’t he see the blade?

The kid gets off before I do. When we arrive at my stop, I stand up unsteadily and navigate my body down the steps and onto the sidewalk. The man with the blade rides the bus towards the station.


We are at the station waiting for the bus that will take us from Mexico to the United States. We’ve bought our tickets, and I’m counting on my aunt to put us on the right bus. My aunt is counting on me to keep her safe, even though I’m only 16. She’s in her fifties and prone to severe anxiety. Despite this, she bravely accompanies me. I gather our bags, drag them inside where it’s safer, and find her a place to sit.

“Wait here,” I say. “I’m going to see if I can spot our bus.”

“Okay,” she says.

I walk back outside, leaving her protected, surrounded by a crowd of people. I push my way through to see which buses have arrived. I don’t see ours.

When I return to check on my aunt, a haggard man is seated next to her, leaning on her shoulder. She is shaking.

“What happened?” I ask. I glare at the man. He’s drunk.

My aunt trembles and shakes and pleads with her eyes.

“Did this asshole do something to you?”

“He leaned on me and his head slid down my chest,” she says, trying not to sob.

“I haven’t found our bus,” I say. I reach into my pocket.

We’ve been speaking in Spanish. The drunk man initially ignores my rant, as he struggles to stay upright. But I stare at him intently as I pull out my pocket knife. I open it, and hand it to my aunt.

“If this asshole leans on you again, stab the motherfucker.”

He starts a steady prayer, “No. No. No, no. No, no, nonononono.”

He lifts himself off the chair and staggers away.

I leave again to check on our bus. When I return, my aunt is cleaning under her nails with the knife.


I’m in third grade when my bus driver takes a special interest in me. I’d climb onto the bus in the morning, hoping he didn’t notice me. Then climb back off in the late afternoon, hoping for the same.

After school, I find a cracked green vinyl seat and sit for an hour—a car ride from school to my house would have taken five minutes. At my stop, as I exit, the bus driver throws an arm in front of me.

“Aren’t you going to say ‘Bye’ to me? Maybe you can say ‘Have a good evening.’”

I freeze. I’m eight, but I knew what this meant. The door is wide open. At the foot of the steps, my mom stands waiting. While the driver continues to tease me, she never speaks, never moves.

I mumble, “Good night.”

“I can’t hear you. Say it louder.”

I become flooded with my own timidity and my Spanish mouth, trying to say those English words. I glance at my mom, cross-armed and silent. Even from the top of the steps, I can sense her fear.

“Good night,” I say, louder.

“That’s good.”

I can feel him still watching me as I walk away.

With his eyes, he lifts my dress to see the stains in my underwear.


Mireya S. Vela is a creative nonfiction writer and researcher in Los Angeles. In her work, Vela addresses the needs of immigrant Mexican families and the disparities they face every day. She tackles issues of inequity and how ingrained societal systems support the (ongoing) injustice that contributes to continuing poverty and abuse. Ms. Vela received her bachelor’s degree in English from Whitter College—and will receive her master of fine arts from Antioch University in 2018.

STORY IMAGE CREDIT: Flickr Creative Commons/ThoseGuys119

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