As a Girl, I’ve Been Taught

I’m on the 3 Jackson bus in San Francisco after taking my SAT, chin resting on my backpack. Inside my bag are ten number-2 pencils, a calculator, and a banana peel. A man steps on the bus and swings into the seat behind me, his hand on the metal pole between us. He begins to slur loudly, with a certain breathy force, at the women close-by: “I like your hair.” “I’m a good man. I’m nice.” At the next stop a woman exits through the back door, head down, headphones blocking his voice. He yells, “That’s a nice-looking girl right there, okay?” I find myself, with a rush of self-hatred, wondering why he hasn’t yelled any nice things at me.

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