Creative nonfiction tale about a first school day
Snobbery often comes at a price.
Toward the end of my first high school year, grade eight, Dad was transferred to the western side of Johannesburg. The move required me to change schools. Near the new home were two eligible high schools. The closest school was out of the question—they were archenemies of my previous school—in all things rugby, cricket, and track and field. The only honorable choice was for me to attend the farther away high school—much to Mom and Dad’s chagrin. It was the only time I had ever seen Father roll his eyes. If it surprised me that they let me be—it was also up to me to get to the school on my own steam.
Mother, however, overcome with concern about my wellbeing on the first school day, insisted I take the bus—it was too far to cycle seven-and-half kilometers, she claimed. I relented—it was the bus or not going to the school of my choice.
Yellow school buses were an unknown phenomenon—it must be a North American thing—ordinary city buses did the job. Getting to school was easy enough—I had to travel from the suburb of Horizon to that of Florida. It was quite simple: jump on the bus that said ‘Florida’ on its front. The water shedding moment would only come during the afternoon.
Unbeknownst to me, the city buses that did the school kids-run in the afternoon did not change the signage of their end destination. The buses also had numbers. The number-system was apparently the way for school children to identify the correct bus that would take them home. Oh, and they wouldn’t drop you off in front of your house, but only on the closest large road to your house. Knowledge of the city geography was a must.
Without a worry in the world, I got onto the bus that stated, ‘Horizon,’ at the end of the first school day. Not being familiar with the route the bus usually took, I observed how the bus systematically emptied itself of school children. I sat toward the back of the bus. With school having started at 7:30 and letting out at 2:00 p.m., the first time I considered something to be amiss, was when we’d been going for an hour and a half. That morning the bus ride had only taken twenty minutes.
Ever so often I would catch the eyes of the driver in his rearview mirror when the next kid got off. By 4:15 p.m. there were only seven of us remaining on the bus, scattered amongst the benches. I made a note not to take that particular ‘Horizon’ bus in future since it had to be following the protracted scenic route of the western suburbs.
When the last child, other than myself, stepped off the bus, an ominous sense of doom took hold of me. It was impossible not to read the pity in the bus driver’s eyes as he kept glancing at me in his mirror.
My wristwatch showed 5:00 p.m. as we turned off the street through two gargantuan barn-like doors—suddenly to be surrounded by at least a hundred other buses. We were home—we had arrived at the bus depot. The driver found an empty spot and maneuvered his charge into place, killed the engine, grabbed his belongings, and stepped into the corridor at the front, facing me.
With my tail between my legs, I trudged toward the front.
“Where were you hoping to have gone, son?” When his sturdy hand came to rest on my shoulder, it required immense willpower to rid my voice of the tremor that had taken hold of me. “Horizon, sir.”
I avoided eye contact—the humiliation was too overwhelming. I would be the topic of gossip at school: imagine, a grade nine student who didn’t even know how to take the correct bus home! Silly goose. The driver’s heart was as large as his hands, and minutes later, he had me seated in the bus terminal office, phoning Mother.
Mother, a wise woman, didn’t say a word when she picked me up half an hour later. She allowed me to talk and share my experiences of the first day on the drive home. She was more interested in hearing about the new teachers and whether I’ve made a new friend.
When we turned into the garage at home, I turned to Mother. “I will not take the bus again. Ever. I will cycle to school.”
“It will be fifteen kilometers every day.”
“ I know.”
“You’re also aware that during the summer months it rains almost every second afternoon—nasty little thundershowers?”
I shrugged, my lower lip trembling. “So be it, Mom. I am not taking the bus.”
And that was that.
For the next four years, Monday through Friday, I cycled to school. During the two months of winter, we only had occasional frost. It never snowed. The hardest were those famous flash showers, between 2:00 and 3:00 pm, often spiced up with a handful of hail. Since we wore school uniforms, it was no small feat to get the crucial things, of which I only had one, like a blazer and a pair of school shoes, dry for the next morning.
Only years later did I appreciate how, taking the wrong bus, had launched me on a path of challenging the status quo and learning to persevere in the face of obstacles. It wasn’t all bad—the nerdy little boy had finally embarked on his first lesson on the importance of grit.
Thank you for reading!
And if you enjoyed this story, check out a collection of my short stories here.
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