Ma and I stood at the bus stop, the rings of cigarette smoke circling her head like a cancerous halo. I watched them disappear when the wind of passing cars scattered and distorted their defined borders into nothingness.
“The smog from these fucking cars will kill ya.” She said, just as the bus crested the hill. “Get your token out and be ready. You know how these goddamn people are, always shovin’ ya out of the way.”
I pulled out the dime sized plastic token from my shirt pocket, along with a rock hard shard of a BBQ potato chip and two Rice Crispies from yesterday’s breakfast. Seeing these made me ponder Ma’s lack of laundering skills and my envy of children with clean clothes. I was so lost in thought that I didn’t see it coming until I heard the thud and scream.
“Take that you dirty bitch! That’ll teach ya to push me outta the way.”
Ma had just connected her foot to another woman’s shins for attempting to board the bus before her. The woman started screaming at Ma in Greek and Ma started screaming at her in ‘Ma Talk’ cursing a blue streak with abandon. The bus driver had stepped in between them, telling Ma that she’d better move along or he was going to call the cops. Embarrassed I tried to blend into the crowd by backing away silently. Ma caught the movement from the corner of her eye and wrenched me to her. Standing with me in some sort of twisted solidarity she announced that we didn’t need the goddamn bus and that the TTC could go fuck themselves.
We walked three miles home in a blistering July heat wave, Ma puffing away at her eternal cigarette. At one point she looked down at me. “Next time we go to the welfare office I’m saving up so we can take a goddamn cab.” She was silent after that and this scared me more than when she was talking because it was always followed by the grim and drearies when she slept all day and we had no food. We reached the intersection near the project and once more I watched the smoke curl around her head while waiting for the light to change, wishing for all I was worth that I could disappear like the smoke rings the cars banished in their windy wake.