f@$% a reputation

“Better not be going all the way to Richmond or I got something for you,” I heard muttered behind me. I chose to ignore him, as did everyone else on the BART car. But I knew the threat was directed at me.

Minutes earlier, along with a crowd of others, I boarded the train at the 19th Street, Oakland transfer stop. Everyone filed in down the aisles to make room for all the bodies that were just trying to get home or wherever they were going after a long day of work or school or whatever they were doing.

As the doors closed, I ended up standing beside a 6 foot 4 inch or so man standing beside his bike, when suddenly, “Goddamnit! I just fucking fucked up my whole fucking leg,” he shouted.

Oh here we go, I thought to myself, used to the occasional asshole ruining everyone’s BART experience. I didn’t even have my earbuds in to tune this out.

I reached for the bar overhead to stabilize myself for the ride. He limped around me.

“I’m about to fucking lose it in about 5 minutes,” he continued to yell, his face beet red.

Someone offered him a seat typically reserved for the old or disabled. I stared at my Sudoku iPhone app. A 3 goes in this square, a 7 in this one.

“Oh my fucking God. I’m fucking bleeding.”

A 4 here, here, here, and here. I was on a roll.

“Miss, you don’t even care that I’m bleeding? It’s because of you that this happened to me!”

I turned, surprised that this asshole was talking to me. I didn’t look at his leg.

“What are you talking about?” I said loudly, looking him in his eyes. “I didn’t touch you.” His eyes shifted away as if he was surprised I was not apologizing.

“Don’t talk to me,” I said when he looked back at me. “Don’t talk to me,” I squinted. His shoulders hunched slightly and he said nothing. I turned back to my Sudoku and felt the silent car’s eyes on me, but only through their peripheral vision so as not to be drawn in.

Now where was I… oh right, 4 here and here. But it was harder to concentrate on my puzzle. I wished I had said something better, more biting. But I’m not a good toe-to-toer, I could never play the dozens… “Yo’ mama so… Wait let me think.” Plus I think about the image I’m supposed to be projecting as a doctor, a mother, an educated Black woman.

“Better not be going all the way to Richmond or I got something for you.” I was surprised to hear it. Is this mother fucker threatening me? I thought. But… say nothing. Ignore. De-escalate. Doctor. Mother. Woman.

He stood at the next stop and announced, “I’m going over here to my bike.” He walked around me, without so much as brushing up against my arm on the crowded train. But at the next stop, as I turned to get off, on my way to pick Avery up from basketball practice, I heard “Uh huh,” muttered behind me. But…say nothing. Ignore. De-escalate. Keep walking. Doctor. Mother. Woman.

When I recounted the scene to Robert on our living room couch an hour later, his eyes squinted. I could see my protector, my part thug Richmond boy, peering through what normally appear to be the eyes of my well-dressed, part nerd Black man.

“I would have said, We don’t have to wait for Richmond. We can get off the train and handle it right now, bruh,” he said matter-of-factly. And I knew he would. Fuck a reputation.

“You can say something like that, but I can’t” I said, becoming more and more angry that I hadn’t handled the situation differently. But then what?

Robert nodded, knowing that had it been him in that BART car, he wouldn’t even have had to say it. Doubtful the tall, red-faced man would have said a word to him or any other man in the first place.