A loud hiss, the sound of pressurized air being released, made the din of the students temporarily inaudible. The large, yellow, gas-consuming transport behemoth in front of me settled and opened its doors. Not in any hurry, and wearing half my weight in winter gear, I let my schoolmates barge past me to escape the weather. I turned my head acutely to face my three close friends.
“Back of the bus,” I told them. They nodded, shivering. We boarded the steep steps into the bus and made our way through a multitude of loud children to the rear seats. Sheila followed suit, then Joy, then Taylor. Sheila was twelve, naturally a very pale girl, and a lover of dresses, accessories, and fashion (girl things), vampire novels, anime, and dolls. She was tall and thin, had purely dark hair which was neatly separated on tied into little buns on each side of her scalp. Her facial features slightly resembled that of a mouse, pointed and prominent. She wore an incarnadine dress with white buttons and a lace collar which I found adorable, with black buckled shoes and stockings striped black-and-white. These stockings she bore every other day, and they were collecting rips and tears (when I asked her about them, she told me that “threadbare” was her style). I wondered why she wasn’t freezing.
Joy was not tall, just the opposite was she. Stout, and proud were two adjectives that best fit her. She stood straight and as tall as she could, took school seriously, and wore plain clothing. Jeans, a t-shirt, and a thin jacket were all she ever needed. In warm weather, she would shed the jacket and that would be her outfit. She rarely talked about her hobbies, but I knew she played violin and piano. I couldn’t tell if she enjoyed it, perhaps her mother was the reason she played.
Taylor’s long, flowy, hair was dark as night. It went past her shoulders, and almost reached the small of her back. Each week she did new things with it, always growing it and caring for it. She had a feminine, kind face, with long eyelashes and a delicate nose. People were often assumed her soft appearance was matched by a soft personality, and they soon found out they were wrong as they got acquainted with her. She was seen by others as truculent, I saw her as righteous. She had a loud, infectious cackle of a laugh.
Despite our bizarre and differing interests, we had many common traits. We were reticent to those who didn’t know us and we took a long time to get acquainted.
At the moment, Joy, Sheila and I were conversing about boys, and Taylor and a few other kids a few seats ahead were yelling to each other. I heard snippets of their conversation, and at some point I Taylor say this:
“Yo, you are a bitch!” It was followed by clamorous laughter from Taylor and the other kids.
Whatever was funny, I didn’t get it. In my mind, the “b-word” was not something you called someone, and much less something you called a girl. Was it a joke? It sounded like one. I was a little bewildered.
I looked at Taylor. I started to say something, but I stammered, and just made an incoherent mumble.
“Huh?” Taylor queried, turning to see me.
“Um. Nothing,” I said awkwardly. Taylor was about to return to her conversation, when I continued:
“You can say that?” I blurted with sudden clarity.
“Say what? ‘Bitch?’”
“Of course!” She stated, almost too kindly, as if trying to not misunderstand what my issue was. “It’s just something girls call each other.”
“I thought it was especially bad when you said that to a girl.”
“Well, maybe if you’re a boy,” I was a boy. “But it ain’t that bad.”
Sheila and Taylor looked at me. I felt funny. Was is just me? I couldn’t call a girl the b-word yet other girls could address each other as such? Wasn’t it a bit unfair? The whole encounter left me confused. Was that double standard justified by gender? I never found the answer.