The next year, I would take the number 2, 3, or 4 to school. Those were the busses that stopped in front of Central Park at 110th street, just two blocks from the Harlem neighborhood where I lived. This area is called Central Park North, now.
But when I was nine–the first year I went to Dalton–my mother paid for the bus to pick me up in front of our apartment building.
“SuSu, the bus is here!” Gene yelled up to our fourth-floor apartment.
After Cousin Reesie died, Mama asked her roomer–an older woman named Mazie–if she wanted to rent our extra bedroom. Mazie locked the door as I thundered down the stairs–my navy blue bookbag with the orange-colored circled “D” slung over my right shoulder.
Why Gene called me SuSu, I don’t know. But when I reached the sidewalk, spotted his oval-shaped head sparkling with close-cropped silver hair, framed by wire-rimmed glasses, and felt the warmth of his gold-teethed smile, I didn’t mind.
Why wasn’t my mother putting me on the bus? She had to leave at six to get to the cafeteria at Standard Brands by seven to make lunch for the employees. But the school bus arrived at seven thirty. Since my father had left the marriage when I was an infant and was often unemployed, my mother supported me alone.
Gene–the neighborhood number runner–was out early every morning collecting bets from his customers before they went to work. He lived in a rented room in the building across the street. When Gene found out Mama needed someone to make sure I got on the school bus, he agreed to shepherd me in exchange for dinners at our house. Gene could cook, but I think he preferred our company to eating alone after making dinner on his hot plate.
It was actually a van, not a bus. Now, we would call it an SUV. Although five or six other children took the bus with me, I only had eyes for Stanley. At five years old, bundled in his hooded, puffy dark green jacket, with his chubby cheeks and round, milk-chocolate face, Stanley resembled a delicious bon bon. He was also quite huggable. I don’t remember when or how it started, but I began telling Stanley fairy tales. Using elements from Grimm’s, I mixed them with exploits involving my twin cousins and me.
Because I had no siblings and we were only three months apart in age, Sister and Brother–what they were called in the family–became my first friends. Nearly every weekend during my childhood they came to our apartment with Aunt Scoot to play with me. In my stories, all of us went to outer space to tangle with witches and dragons or slipped on our invisibility cloaks to rescue the princess from the ogre’s dungeon. Of course, we were always victorious.
Often, the adventure wasn’t over when Stanley and I arrived at school. When that happened, I would finish the story the next day. He didn’t ask questions, but Stanley’s eyes were bright with excitement. I delighted in his pleasure.
Years later, as I opened the door on my way into the fifth-floor school hallway, Stanley walked towards me. He was now a slim ten-year-old wearing professor-like black-framed glasses. When I said hello, Stanley responded politely. Although I wanted to give him a hug, I knew that he would think that was too babyish, so–with difficulty–I restrained myself. I don’t think Stanley remembered our time on the bus. But the euphoria that floated between us then, which I am feeling now as I remember it, compelled me to become a writer.
Wendy Ebo Jones-formerly Wendy Jones, president of Ida Bell Publishing – is using her pen name here for the first time. This change makes it easier to differentiate her from other writers with the same name. Ebo is the original spelling of a family name.