The Washington, D.C. traffic crawled past the bus stop where I waited, heat waves dancing above each car. I glanced at the brochures and maps for each historic site all neatly piled in front of me while a slight breeze blew my hair around my face, the most relief I had felt all day.
People in suits rushed by en route to important meetings or lunch dates, high heels clicking, briefcases swinging. All around me was the snap-and-flash of tourists’ cameras mixed with idling car engines moving so slowly they were almost stopped. Tour guides pointed to and explained almost every building, raising “oohs” and “ahhs” from the groups following close behind.
Through a short break in traffic, I spotted a woman across the street firmly holding a sign that read “Picketing for Pride” in rainbow lettering. Her hair hung around her face, damp with sweat. Her eyes stared straight ahead, ignoring those looking at her in disgust. She didn’t move; she didn’t blink. She stood strong as rude comments and crumpled McDonald’s wrappers were thrown at her from car windows. “Sinner!” they yelled, barely audible over the noise.
It amazed me that she could remain so dedicated through such abuse. She never fought back or sent a resentful glare toward her opposition. Even in the unbearable heat, she stood tall with her sign held high.
I found myself weaving between cars to cross the street. As I stood beside her, her eyes still stared straight ahead, not even acknowledging my presence.
“It’s pretty hot out,” I said. No smile, no nod, nothing. She just ignored me. “Hey, if you want to take a break, I’ll hold the sign for you. You must be miserable in this sun.”
“Exactly one year ago today, my brother was tortured and left to die because of his sexuality,” she snapped, finally turning to face me. “He was tied up and beaten simply for who he was. I think I can handle a little heat.” Just as quickly as she had turned toward me, she turned away, staring ahead once again. “You better get going,” she said, nodding at my bus that had pulled up.
I looked at her, at the sweat dripping off her chin, and then at the brochures I held. Suddenly the Lincoln Memorial, the Smithsonian, the White House ... it all seemed unimportant. I dropped the brochures into the trash, watched the bus pull away, and remained next to her. She turned to me and smiled faintly as a crumpled Big Mac wrapper landed at my feet.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.