Today I rushed towards the bus, wending my way around strollers and shopping bags, in and out of the light April rain. As the bus pulled away from the curb, I looked up from putting my CharlieCard back in my wallet to see three seventh graders perched at the back of the bus.
Partly because I wanted to talk to them, partly because there were no other seats, and partly because I was propelled by the forward momentum of the bus, I quickly plopped down next to one of them and said hello.
“Hi, Ms.” they said in a chorus.
All three had their phones out and were scrolling down their screens while I asked about their days, the classes they’re taking, and the PARCC exam they took today.
“How was it?” I asked the girl next to me.
“Hot.” I thought I heard her say.
“Was it on fire? Did you need a fire extinguisher?” I asked jokingly. She looked at me like I was crazy. Which is fair because on a scale from Teacher to Marx Brother that leans decidedly away from the former and towards the latter.
“You said it was hot,” I explained.
“Oh! No it was haaarrrddd,” she reiterated. Ah. I see. From there the conversation was interrupted by one of the boys. His screen scrolling had landed him on a song and from the phone’s tiny speakers issued Spanish rap. I think. It was really hard to hear. Which is not to say that it wasn’t loud, but those phone speakers don’t give much definition to the sounds issuing forth.
“Is that your song?” I ask N.
“No, Ms.” he answers, “that’s his song,” as he gestures to the boy next to him. But before I get a feel for it they’re on to the next one.
“Ms. you wanna hear my favorite song?”
“Sure! But not too loud since we’re on a bus”
“Naw Ms. you sure?”
“What’s the song?” But his response went way over my head and provided no context other than his addition of, “es dominicana,” just like the three students riding with me who all hail from the DR.
“Why wouldn’t I want to hear your favorite song?” I asked, surmising that it probably has content he’d rather not share with me. So I added, “if you feel like you can play it on the bus, I’m happy to hear it.”
“Ok.” He pushed play. After about fifteen seconds of noise (and I’m not denigrating the music I really just couldn’t hear anything out of those speakers), he interjected: “Ms., did you hear that?!”
“Ms., ¡tiene palabras malas! ¿Ms. escuche a canciones con palabras malas?”
“Si,” I responded, I do listen to music with bad words. A song, maybe two. “Pero,” I continued, I don’t listen to it on a public bus or at school. “Creo que puedes escuchar a lo que te gustas,” because everyone should get to listen to music that they like. But you have to be smart about where you listen to it.
He seemed satisfied with this answer and suggested that when I get home I listen to the song. To his friend he suggested that I’d be dancing within dos horas with my feet and my shoulders.
“I dance better than that!” I responded, this time in English. “I use my hips, I know bachata.”
Without a hint of malice he responded, “No Ms. bachata is boring.” Which is fair, because it’s a partner dance that probably scares thirteen year old boys who are waffling between the girls-have-cooties world and the girls-have-boobs world.
However, the mention of bachata peaked the interest of the girl next to me, who suggested that she likes salsa y merengue better. And then she insisted on playing her favorite song (which I have tried to find; I think this is it, though no promises because her cell phone speakers are even worse):