I always hated the first day of school after a move. Embarrassment was never polite enough to wait until I actually got to the school before it slapped me in the back of the head. Previously it had ambushed me at every new bus stop, but my first day at Jefferson Davis Middle School it waited for me on the bus.
I staggered down the narrow aisle looking for a spot while the driver lurched away from my stop and swerved onto a dirt road. I nearly fell face first into the only empty seat, dropping my brown-bag lunch. As I reached for it, a piggish boy across the aisle leaned down so his face was only a few inches from mine.
"You can't sit there," he said. "That's The Brooks seat."
It was as matter-of-fact as if he said, "you can't drink a brick."
"Who says?" I snorted, "Is there a name on it?"
He reached over and tapped the back of the seat in front of me, soundlessly pointing out the indelible black BROOKS tattooed in capitals on the vinyl.
"Oh," was all I could say.
So, I moved. Squeezed in with a couple of sixth grade girls who looked at me like they were a Siamese Miss Muffet and I was the spider.
On the bus for less than two minutes. I had already trespassed on The Brooks Seat, and broken the taboo of sitting with older girls. I didn't much care though; I was imagining what The Brooks was. He commanded enough respect--or was it fear--to have his own seat. He must be a monster. I imagined a boy like my cousin Dwayne, some hulking kid held back several grades who carried a knife in his boot and chewed tobacco but had no friends because everyone thought he would stab them.
While the bus trundled along kicking red dust into the air, I imagined making friends with him. The Bully and the Outcast. Starting at a new school every six months taught me that "the new kid" was automatically a pariah, but if I made friends with The Brooks I'd leverage the intimidation factor to get what I wanted. I waited and watched the empty seat while the girls tried their best not to touch me.
The bus swung around a corner in the dirt road and groaned to a halt in front of a primer-gray trailer. Silence settled on the bus like the dust. A boy and a girl got on. The bus grumbled back into motion as they ambled down the aisle, and I wondered where they would sit.
Maybe they would stand.
There was something odd about them, about the slope of their foreheads, the way their necks joined their jaws, and the way they kept their eyes on their feet.
They stopped at The Brooks Seat.
They slid into it and sat there staring forward as we jostled back onto asphalt.
No one told them to move.
No one said anything. The bus droned its way down the highway toward the school, but no one spoke. I stared for a full minute, wondering what would happen to these poor, obviously retarded children when The Brooks got on. I looked around the bus and everyone was looking out the windows, or at their notebooks, or at the roof, or anywhere but at another person.
Something clicked in my brain, like that optical illusion where you think you're looking at an ugly old woman, and suddenly things shift and you see a pretty young woman.
It wasn't The Brooks Seat, it was the Brooks' seat. These were the Brooks, and something about these children made everyone so afraid that not only couldn't they look at the Brooks, they couldn't look at each other.
I didn't say anything either, but I looked at the Brooks and felt the power inherent in their genetic code, even if they couldn't feel it themselves.
Tomorrow, I would sit with them.