she gets to sing. i don’t

I rode the bus earlier today. An older Nigerian woman, mid- to late- 40s, was standing in the middle. She was singing, not loudly, but audibly. I’m a big-city girl born and raised. I don’t stand next to people singing on buses. I manoeuvred past her, to the back, I could see her. As the bus went south, her singing got louder. It wasn’t very good, but hey. Do your thing.

Then she started moving to her music, grinding and swaying her hips. The older white women on bus played right up. Looks of disgust and distaste to reflect their opinion of the crazy African woman. Conspiratorially looking at each other, noses wrinkled in unison, backs straightened, chins raised. I’ve had too much race theory recently – ideas of civility, performance, fetishism through my head. I couldn’t even smile apologetically when they looked at me, expected me to, as the only other black woman on the bus. Couldn’t do it. I haven’t been able to play that game for years. Felt the relief in the bus when she disembarked. Watched the fa├žade of propriety fall away.

And I was angry as I watched s(w)inging-bus-lady walk away, hips swaying still. Was fighting too much inside my own head. I’ve got my own sign with “crazy African woman” on it somewhere in my mental. I’ve rejected expectations, notions of performance, they were driving me crazy. Internally conflicted, because I saw the madness s(w)inging-bus-lady displayed. Real recognise real. And it made me angry. Not at the race ish, I’m too weary for that right now. I was angry because s(w)inging-bus-lady had something I didn’t.

I envied s(w)inging-bus-lady her madness. She gets to sing, carry music in her voice and body. I get to hide, surrounded by fear and anxiety, silent screams and fetal pose. I’m still recovering from the last (very recent) episode. I still get those dreams.

She gets to dance.

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