A couple of days ago I was waiting for the bus when a trio of kids sped past, backpacks bouncing. They whipped around the light post and practically slammed into the snowdrift. Chattering among themselves they didn’t seem to be paying any attention to me.
Until I heard a “Hi, Ms.”
“Hi! What bus are you waiting for?”
“Oh well I was gonna take the ** but my best friend isn’t here yet,” the girl responded. Then she clarified, “Well, he’s my best friend,” as she pointed at one kid, “but he isn’t,” as she pointed at the other, “and so I’m waiting for my other best friend,” as she turned back to me. Before I could respond with some tender lines about being nice to everyone, the not-best-friend-boy rallied.
“I don’t have a best friend!” he defiantly responded, as though best friends were far beneath him.
But the trio seemed to recover quickly, bouncing to the next topic as they kicked a bottle between them and going back to ignoring me. I tuned out for a second, thinking about how much energy they had, and tuned back in to hear:
“But that’s fucked up shit!” best-friend-boy said. I raised my eyebrows and interjected.
“Come on, guys, watch your language.”
“But we’re not in school.”
“Yeah but you’re representing the school.”
The rebuttals came all at once: “The school isn’t on our shirts!” “Who cares?” “Can we represent some other school?” “You can’t give us detention any way!”
True, it wasn’t on their shirts and I couldn’t really give them detention feasibly without knowing names. But in principle I felt I had to respond when they cursed in front of me and at a loud volume in a public place where I worry about adults getting mad at them. So I said something lukewarm about integrity and school values.
“Fine,” the girl said in a conspiratorial tone as she turned away from me to form a huddle with the boys, “debemos hablar en español.”
Quickly I responded: “Pero entiendo español, pues…” her grand plan of using Spanish to get around me wasn’t going to work.
And with that she spun the cap of the bottle with her foot, spraying Pepsi onto the snowdrift.