'The Bus Ride'

Story Time

May 30, 2001|By William Miller

Editor's note: In 1955, Rosa Parks took a stand for what she believed was right -- that she should not be treated like a second-class citizen because of her color. In this story, a young girl also makes that heroic choice.

Every weekday morning, Sara rode the bus with her mother. They sat in the back, like always, apart from the white people. "It's always been this way," Sara's mother would say, squeezing her hand. "Just be glad we have a seat to ourselves."

Her mother got off the bus before Sara. She worked in the kitchens of white people while Sara rode alone to her school.

One morning, Sara decided to find out what was so much better about the front end of the bus. She stood up and walked down the narrow aisle.

The seats didn't look any different. The windows were just as dirty and the noise of the bus was just as loud. What was all the fuss about?

Sara kept on walking, all the way to the front, and sat down across from the driver. She watched him shift gears and turn the big wheel with both hands. He shot her an angry look.

"Little lady," he said. "You sit in the back -- you always sit in the back. You know that. If you can't follow the rules," the bus driver said, "then you can walk the rest of the way." He pulled the door open with a bang.

Sara felt lonely and afraid. It would be easy, she thought, to walk down the steps, walk the rest of the way to school. But that was a very long walk.

"You can close the door," Sara said in a small, confident voice. "I'll ride the rest of the way."

The bus driver got up from his seat and stomped down the steps. The white people on the bus were angry. "Hurry up," they shouted. "We're going to be late for work."

The bus driver came back with a policeman.

"What's the problem today?" the policeman asked.

"There's no problem," Sara said, her heart pounding.

"You know what the law is, don't you?"

"Sure I do," Sara replied. "We learn them in school."

"That's right," the policeman said, smiling. "Well, one of the laws says that your people ride in the back of the bus. So, if you don't want to break a law, you should go back to your seat."

The policeman shook his head sadly and picked Sara up from her seat. He carried her to the police station.

Inside the police station, Sara sat at a big desk, while the sergeant called her mother at work. A tall man with a camera took Sara's picture. "I'm from the newspaper," he said. "I write stories about people who do brave things."

The word about Sara spread quickly. Many people came by to look at her. Someone brought her a candy bar. Sara didn't realize how hungry she was until she took a bite. When the candy bar was halfway gone, Sara's mother walked in the door.

"Let's go," she said, reaching for Sara's hand. "I think it's time to let the police go back to chasing real criminals."

Sara's mother came into her bedroom that night and held her in her arms. "I'm not mad at you, Sara," she said. "You're as good as any white child in this whole wide world. You're somebody special."

"Then why can't I ride in the front of the bus?" Sara asked, feeling more confused than ever.

"It's the law," her mother said. "But that doesn't mean it's a good law."

"Won't the law ever change?" Sara asked, looking up into her mother's tired eyes.

"Maybe one day," her mother said softly.

The next morning, Sara's mother asked if she felt like walking instead of taking the bus. Her mother was trying to smile, but Sara saw that there were tears in her eyes.

"It's not such a cold morning anyhow," her mother said. "God gave us two feet -- He didn't give us an old bus, now did He?"

"Sure, Mama," Sara said. "I like walking. I don't mind."

Together they strolled past the bus stop. People turned their heads and whispered. A boy Sara's age came running up with a newspaper and a pencil.

"Can I have your autograph?" he asked. Sara's mother took the newspaper from his hand and smiled.

"I guess my little girl's a hero now," she said. Sara looked at her picture on the front page and felt embarrassed.

"Let's go, Mama," she said. But it was too late. Many people, black and white, came up to shake her hand. The newspaper man was back, taking more pictures.

As the crowd walked behind her, Sara began to feel proud. "It's OK to smile," her mother said. "You're somebody special."

No black people rode the bus that day -- or the next. The bus company got mad. The mayor got mad. People got so mad they finally changed the law.

Her mother smiled. They sat down together.

The Bus Ride text copyright (c) 1998 by William Miller. Illustrations (c) 1998 by John Ward. Reprinted by arrangement with LEE & LOW BOOKS INC., 95 Madison Ave., New York, N.Y. 10016.

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