On the A Train this afternoon, four Black girls are cutting school. (“Why we pick the coldest day to cut, son?” “Son, this is the last time I’m cutting!”)
One girl is light skinned. She has dry, pressed shoulder-length hair with aging twistrows at the crown. The other three are dark with short, growing-out perms and vinyl hairpieces glued at the bang.
All four are discussing how great it would be to be white.
Because white people have bread, son. And son, they have pretty eyes and long hair. They live in Miami and cake up. White people have a lot of cats though, and they stink. But son, they have pretty, long hair, like these ones standing in front of us. Black girls have short hair. It’s not fair. We’re stuck with short hair.
“I have long hair and I’m not white,” the light skinned one offers.
One of her dark friends–the loudest, bustiest of the quartet—retorts, “Bitch, you ain’t all Black! You know you got something in you, some Indian or Puerto Rican.”
All four laugh.
Soon the conversation turns to shape—how the light-skinned one is real skinny.
“Skinny bitch,” says the loud one. “Skinny bitch, you need to eat more chicken and more McDonalds.”
“Niggas like thick girls with guts,” another adds.
“Come get this gut, nigga!” the loud one screams theatrically. Her tummy is peeking out of the bottom of her shrunken T-shirt. It says, “Single and ready to mingle.”
The light skinned one plays it off: “So what if I’m skinny? I’m skinny because I’m a virgin.”
“NOT!” her friends scream in unison.
“Well to my mother I am a virgin,” she quips.
All four laugh.
After awhile, the light one stands up to stretch. One of her girls points at her crotch and claims to see a period stain. She’s being cruel; there’s no scarlet. But she won’t quit: “I’m telling you this because I care. You either have your period on your pants or you sat in something red.”
Stricken, the light one extends her waistband and peers down at her crotch. “I knew it. I knew I didn’t have my period on my pants,” she says quietly.
She sits back down and her arm brushes against mine. Several moments later she turns to me.
“For what?” I ask.
“I touched you and I’m sorry.”
I right my eyes and put on the most neutral smile I can muster. “It’s OK. It was just a soft touch.”
I know I owed her more. But I didn’t know what to give.