Black And White

Entry by: Briergate

5th May 2016
Black, and White

Many years ago, when the world was still grey, and illogicality reigned, there was a bus. An ordinary, yellow, American bus which weaved in and out of the Montgomery streets taking workers to jobs, children to schools, and mothers to the grocery store. The bus was unremarkable, for its time, although nowadays we would scoff at the unwieldy wheels and garish lettering marking it out as the workhorse of the road.

The bus had a special, magical power. It had the ability to erect invisible barriers within its rectangular frame. Although these barriers were unseen, they were powerful. They had the strength and durability to cause people to remain within certain lines along the vehicle, trapped behind barriers stronger than steel, although transparent. These invisible walls could not be cracked or smashed, and no human yet had been powerful enough to smash against their transparency to reach the other side.

These invisible barriers had another odd ability. They were capable of dividing people simply upon the strength of colour within each individual's skin. Those with pale ivory faces and straight hair through to ones with peach or pink skin were guided by the invisible walls to sit upon the right hand side of the bus. Those with richer hues of caramel through to jet black satin skin were shepherded to the left. The barriers were stronger than iron, stronger than concrete, and as each person stepped on to the bus and it pulled away in to the stream of traffic, the unseen wall determined where each person should sit.

It is Thursday. An elegant woman cranes her neck watching for the bus that will take her to the office for another day's work. Peering through the drizzle, she waits patiently, the black orchid in her hat band waving in the wind, leaves rustling like an alive thing. She shivers, checks her fob and watches again, because the buses are regular and timely, and she knows in a few moments she can sit, stretch her weary legs and daydream for a while. Sure enough, with the punctuality of a job applicant, the yellow monstrosity snakes in to view, and Rosa smiles to herself, shaking out her woollen cloak and raising her hand to halt the bus.

She pays, and as is obligatory for all with dark skin, she then has to exit the bus, walk the length of it through the rain, and embark again to the back section, marked 'COLORED'. Rosa doesn't sigh, or complain, and she boards the bus again and steps on just as it pulls away from her stop. With a sweeping glance, she realises that while the front of the bus, marked 'WHITES' is completely empty, the back is full to the brim with people. There is nowhere to sit. Frowning slightly, Rosa checks each seat, her eyes wandering from one to the next, taking in damp tousled children, weary workers with gnarled hands and smiling faces, and women smart and ironed for work. She checks, and checks again, and there is no spare seat. She looks ahead, at the rows of seats in the other section. Behind her, a gentleman taps her arm and offers his seat, and she smiles, declines it, and looks forward, almost stumbling as the bus turns a tight corner.

She smiles again. Last night, she had been to hear a pastor speak. Martin Luther King Jr., with his smart suit and close-cropped hair, genteel features and absolute conviction, had addressed their church on issues of racial segregation, and inequality. King is attractive, and charismatic, but more than all this, he is a proud, proud black. He understands the beautiful sheen of dark skin, and the mettle and strength it takes to be a nigger in a white world. He has a way of speaking which makes each listener, usually so docile and accepting of the world, feel suddenly and shockingly empowered. He had looked at each member of the congregation in turn, and made them shout aloud.

"I am as good as any other person."

"I am proud to be black."

"I am proud of who I am, and who I am yet to be."

Without thinking further, Rosa Parks hitches her handbag higher upon her shoulders, straightens them, and walks to the front of the bus. Elegant and slim, she conceals her shaking hands beneath her bag, slipping in to the seat at the front of the bus, to the left of the driver. For a moment, the world stands still. Rosa imagines silence stunning each passenger, mouths open behind her, as if her transgression has actually paused the universe, leaving all in silence except for her own hammering heart. And then, rather than the ground exploding, lightening striking the bus, or her own audacity causing combustion, the bus begins to move again.

Behind her, Rosa can hear a growing consternation. Hushed voices rise and fall animatedly, and she can sense the weight of eyes upon her back. She stands straight and faces the front, and a small part of her beyond the fear marvels at how different it feels to travel from such a seat. The road widens before her, and Rosa almost smiles to see the path ahead from this new vantage point. She flinches as she looks up a little, and sees the angry eyes of the bus driver trained upon her in the central mirror. She holds his gaze, and it burns. Finally, he pulls in to the next stop on the route, and turns to her. They lock eyes, and he shakes his head, and then opens the doors to let the next set of passengers on board.

A white woman wearing a plush fur steps in to the bus, pays, and turns to sit. She stops when she sees Rosa, and her mouth falls open. Behind her, negros pay and return to the back entrance to board. The woman raises her hand and points, horrified.

"What do you think you're doing? No blacks allowed past that point. You need to move," she says, indignation raising her voice to a shrill pitch. Rosa smiles, and looks ahead. The bus driver forgets to move on when the last passengers board, intent upon the altercation taking place in the mirror behind him.

"I said, move, Nigger," the woman says. Rosa shakes her head, looking straight ahead.
"Move. Move!"

Rosa is shaking visibly now, her handbag clasped to her stomach, her arms rigid. She continues to stare at the front of the bus, even as two tears roll down her elegant face. She does not move. The woman, enraged with the effrontery, stalks to the bus driver and demands he manage the situation. He steps from the wheel and turns to Rosa.

"You have to move. See?" he points to the sign demarcating where coloureds must sit. Rosa is crying fully now, and still she sits.

"Sir, no."

The bus driver throws his hands in the air in frustration.
"Do you not know that the Klan have lynched niggers for less?" he asks, shaking his head before seating himself behind the wheel once more. The woman in fur is agitated and shocked, standing next to the driver as the bus pulls away. She shouts at him, and he responds, and Rosa sits.

At the next stop, the driver disembarks and calls for two police officers. They board the bus and assess the situation, taking in Rosa, the woman in fur and the passengers packed in to the back of the vehicle, trapped by the invisible, impermeable barrier.

"Right. Off, now. You need to leave," one of the officers says in an incredulous voice. Rosa stares ahead, clutching her bag.
"No, Sir, I will not. It is my constitutional right to sit when I have purchased a ticket. There were no seats left in the designated area. I. Will. Not. Move," she states politely and clearly. The police officers glance at each other, and then shrug. One seizes Rosa roughly, dragging her from her seat. Her bag drops and she reaches for it, and is shoved roughly, falling as she tries to avoid the rough hands.

Behind her, a swell of anger and frustration erupts, and while the passengers remain behind the unseen barrier, they shout and jeer at the officers. Rosa's bag is kicked, her belongings spilling across the floor, and she is dragged to the door of the bus and manhandled off, her wrists placed in cuffs as she sags against the taller of the two officers. The driver watches the altercation, before shrugging once more and resuming his seat. The woman in fur, mollified now, walks indignantly to a seat as far away from the one Rosa had inhabited and sits primly, retrieving some smelling salts from her purse and dabbing at her eyes every now and again.

The passengers look out of the window, watching as Rosa is led to a police car and taken away. They watch in silence, staring out at the scene, and then as one, break in to applause. They clap, and whistle, and cheer. The bus shakes. There is a ripple. As unseen as the barriers marking out the divide between white and black, there is a pulsing energy which touches first one, and then another passenger. It hits with a force so great that each person flinches from the impact. It enters and creates a new feeling within each. It is hope.

Silent now, the passengers place their hands to their hearts, marvelling at this surge of energy. It works swiftly, igniting each person.

Inside themselves, they hear a new voice speak. It is solidarity. It is unity. It is strength.

"I am as good as any other person."

"I am proud to be black."

"I am proud of who I am, and who I am yet to be."

In front of them, the invisible barrier shakes with the new force. Unseen by any eyes, across the barrier, a web of cracks spreads quickly and methodically. A single shake will bring the barrier tumbling to the ground, letting the people behind it surge across the yellow bus, sitting where they want, and where they deserve, and the whole grey world will reel from the impact.