The Zero Mile Post marked the meeting of two railway lines and possibly the beginning of the city of Atlanta. Zero Mile is a series of sometimes fictionalized and sometimes real (this one is real) stories based on life in Atlanta, Georgia.
I walked to the intersection a few yards away from my house. It is where the school bus stops. I know the corner well. We stand there in the early hours of the day when it is dark o’clock in the morning. I love the shadows and the black sky before the sun rises. Daylight is dangerous for me.
Someone called the cops on me one afternoon. I stood at the corner. Sometimes I go out very early to meet the bus. I like to be outside. I like to walk. When my work day is busy I can’t meet the bus. When my travel keeps me from home, I am not the one to meet her there. When I am home, I like this little break in my day. This big privilege of meeting my child at the bus seems like a blessing. Until the cop shows up.
I know they have shown up for me. The police car parks across from me and sits. I have lived here for many years. It’s not the spot where they sit to catch the stop sign violators. You don’t even attempt to stop at the stop signs in my neighborhood. I see you speed through. Even when your house and your kids live on the same street. You are the criminal, not I.
I am in black yoga pants. They cost me a lot of money at the Nike store. I wear them to be comfortable, but still presentable. Because I have to think about that when I collect my child from school or the bus. I keep up appearances. My shirt is maroon. I am maroon. I am that escaped slave. I am all the colors brown, red, crimson, rage.
The officer sits in his car and waits. I know many of the police officers in my town, but not this one. I know not to blame him, because he didn’t make the call. He pulled around the corner in a hurry then stopped short when he saw me. The intended target.
“There is a strange woman on the street corner,” I’m sure a neighbor said when they call 911.
I am strange.
I forgot to wear my college diploma around my neck.
I should have tattooed my income tax return across my back.
I forgot makeup and heels and perfume. I smell like milk. And honey. And motherhood.
Everyone wants me to throw away my shoes. They are 11-year-old Vans. Used to be black, but now they are gray. I guess they make me look like a homeless woman.
I have to remind you that being homeless is not a crime.
I wait for the cop to do something.
I stand there for 10 minutes. Ten long minutes.
Eventually I hear the wonderful screeching of the bus tires down the street. I wait to see what happens.
My small child marches off the big yellow bus. I can smell school and happiness. A small hand captures mine.
I think, “F*ck the whole world.” I have this perfect small hand that clings to mine.
You have your fear.
My child doesn’t miss a beat. Six years old.
“Mommy, why is the policeman parked right there?” Even to a child it is obvious and ridiculous.
“Probably trying to keep someone safe,” I say.
I don’t say anything about the police or white people or stupidity, though the words hang in my breath.
“I want to wave to him,” the child says. Because children are smarter than adults. I would have walked away without acknowledging him, but instead we both wave with a big smile and resume holding hands and make giant swing arcs of our clasped hands. I am happiness again.
I feel pity for you. You have your fear. Even a child can see it.
Nicki Salcedo knows the loops and the back roads of Atlanta. She is a novelist, blogger and working mom. Zero Mile stories appear on the Atlanta Loop on Wednesdays.