December 15th, 1955
The setting sun surrendered its brilliant rays of dazzling light to twilight, and a few other black passengers stared at me with eyes full of misery as they waited at the filthy bus stop. One of them sorrowfully squinted at the setting ball of fire, as if the large celestial figure held all the hope and refuge we all desired each and every day of our gruesome lives. Our eyes, minds, and hearts were weary, worn out from work and the routine even our brains couldn’t seem to break away.
Ten minutes had passed, and a middle-aged African-American man wearing an old, shabby cap on his bald head came forward and faced us opposite side of the road.
“Well boys,” he said with a hopeful tone, “I’ll see you tomorrow around noon if we want to get a seat by the bathrooms for lunch.”
Another man, almost identical to him except for his pot-belly and his head full of hair, behind him, laughed hoarsely and said, “Why, what’s gotten into you, Frankie?” He slapped his knee as if he had heard the funniest joke in his life. “You think we’ll be able to even walk to the bathrooms without being beaten or yelled at? Stop dreaming, and face reality; there’s nothing we could do to make this depression end!”
And then, as if he had written all of our laments, depression hit us like a slap from the store manager. Frankie glared at the man, and sharply muttered, “You stop it now you old’ fool. If you want to be as bitter as the government that “sustains” us, you may be! But I, no, I, will not give up hope, because I know someday I’ll find salvation in this brutal world we call home. Now, be quiet, Joe, or I’ll come over there!”
Just like that, Joe calmed down, turned his head away like a guilty puppy, and grew grim as the bus rolled up to the curb. We all boarded silently, only wanting to get to our destination without interacting with anyone at all; we knew the consequences. We took the seats at the back of the bus, and it seemed like any other day: we boarded, the whites snickered from the front of the bus, and we gave them evil glares from behind.
Shyness consumed me, but I figured that I might as well communicate with “my kind,” as the store manager liked to call it. I extended my hand in greeting to Frankie, who seemed friendly, and had a slight stutter as I introduced myself, “Uh, hi t-there. I’m Richard T-Tomson. I overheard your s-speech sir, and I just wanted to say I a-admire your message.”
“Well then boy, pleased to meet ya. I respect you, young man, for actually considering my opinions,” Frankie acknowledged as he glanced toward Joe, who grunted as he slouched in the window seat. A few minutes of silence past, and I finally thought of a conversation as I regained my ability to speak clearly. “Hey, uh, Frankie, have you heard of the Montgomery Bus Boycott? Personally, I agree with it, but I just can’t walk every day with where I live and with my asthma; I’d just collapse. You sound like someone who supports it, yet you’re here on the bus. Why is that, Frank?”
“Boy, I am supporting the boycott!” he shouted with a smile, as he felt pride assisting in the cause that over 40,000 blacks, just like himself, were taking part in with unity.
“So why are you her-”
“I’ll tell you why! This ride, my friend, is the very last bus ride I’ll ever take in this demonic country! After this, I’ll walk till’ I fall into a bundle of flesh and bones if I have to; I’ve lived a hard life already, and I see no darn reason to waste the rest of it when I have a chance. You know what, boy? I’m doing this because there is absolutely nothing worse that could ever possibly happen to me, that I haven’t experienced already,” Frankie sighed with a sense of relaxation as if he finally found peace on his last bus ride.
About halfway through the trip, the bus jerked to a stop, and my deep thinking session regarding Frankie’s words immediately ceased, as a round, fat white man screamed to the sleepy bus driver in the front of the bus.
“Stop! Stop! Halt the bus! I forgot my briefcase. All my papers are in it!” and just like that the white man dashed off the bus and waddled down the street like an oversized penguin, but what caught my eye was his abandoned seat.
The talk of the whites erupted like flames of a forest fire, and so did our conversations grow in the back of the bus. I then pondered once again on Frankie’s beliefs and saw my chance. I hesitated and chose to speak to the wise man himself for advice.
Holding my hand to the back of my head, I carefully asked him, “Frankie, should I take that white man’s seat. I-I mean, I saw what that brave lady, Rosa Parks, did a couple of weeks ago, a-a-and I think maybe I could be brave like her… maybe join the boycott after the-”
Frankie held a hand in front of me, ending my question, and responded with a mysterious, quiet voice, “Richie, I’m coming to an end in my story, so let me handle this.” He took off his worn-out cap and placed it on my head, and I suddenly felt the previous warmth from his head before.
“Take care, boy.” And as he spoke the last I would have heard of him, he sat down in the white man’s seat and patiently waited for the time to come.
And the raging river of voices, gossip, and talk died down as quick as the speed of light, and every man of each race stared at Frankie as if he had three heads. Shockingly, he held his seat and didn’t stare at either of the men; he calmly closed his eyes as if he was taking a nap in the most peaceful of meadows.
Eventually, the silence turned to whispers, soft as the sound of a rabbit’s hop, and later turned a bit louder, close of the volume of a young baby’s laugh. 20 minutes had passed, and finally, the overweight “penguin” waddled back onto the bus (practically a tsunami of sweat and odor). He expressed with utter shock that a black man was sitting in his seat by forming a perfect “O” with his thick-lipped mouth. Frankly, I remember his little “outburst” as a dramatic scene from the theatre.
“Get out my seat you worthless rat! I did not run that long to come back to a riff-raff stealing my seat!” the man demanded, overwhelmed with frustration.
Frankie sat still, and stared at the man with the most friendly, gentle eyes, and politely said, “No, sir. I’m not breaking any city laws.” I then saw he was quoting Rosa Parks, of what she said to the whites when she refused to get up.
Then, without hesitation, the bus driver rang up the police, and as we waited two white men stared evilly at Frankie as they held him up from the seat and let the fat man sit back down. When the police finally arrived, they forcefully took him away, and even Joe, who was so hard on him, stared at him with despondent eyes.
“Boy, remember me as I’ll remember you! I’ll never stop fighting, even in an airless, dark jail cell!” Frankie yelled something else, but all I could hear clearly was, “Boycott the bus, boy!”
And as the police drove off with helpless Frankie, I held his cap and felt a tremendous wave of realization surge over me. I then walked off the bus, and stared at the night sky, knowing exactly what I had to do. From that day forth, in honor of Frankie, I never did take off his tattered cap, and never felt so proud to have dark skin in my life.
“I have learned over the years when one’s mind is made up, this diminishes fear; knowing what must be done does away with fear.” -Rosa Parks
December 15th, 1955