SEPTA GIRL: Ghosts In The Machine



BY PHILLYGRRL The white boys on the 47 bus are talking about Jews. They are young, most likely Temple students and they are talking about Jews for Jesus. “He asked me if I was Jewish and I said ‘yeah’ but of course I’m not,” said the boy. “I ain’t no Jew.” His companions chortle and look over at me. I adjust my headphones and grasp the box of cupcakes tighter. I’m worried about where this party is located and if this is the right bus to ride. In the spirit of adventure and thriftiness, I impulsively boarded the 47 bus, a route familiar since childhood. Now I’m a little nervous. The invite said the party I am heading too is “in the North Philly part of Northern Liberties,” but it’s been a while since I’ve been in North Philly and now I worry that I’ll stand out in the wrong kind of way. In the “please-mug-me-I’m-stupid” kind of way. It is cold, one of the coldest nights this winter. The bus driver tells me to go to 6th and Master Streets and I realize the party is literally behind the Mennonite church I attended for years as a child. The last block, near the park where the dopers hang out, I exchange looks with a man walking down the street and I slow my pace, in case he thinks I’m afraid. Later, at the party, a woman and her husband tell me “We saw you get off the bus and said, ‘Who is that crazy hipster chick walking this time of night in this neighborhood?


Two hours later, I’m ready to go. Nobody else wants to leave. There is plenty of alcohol, a table covered with food – the party has just started. My friends are tipsy. I walk out. I have no idea where I’m going. septagirl_520.jpgThere are no cabs on Girard Avenue. It’s too cold to wait for the bus. I start walking. A couple blocks later I’m at Broad and Girard Street, which is surprisingly crowded given the time and weather. I can’t really feel my feet. I want a biscuit. Inside the KFC, there are bulletproof windows that separate me from the cashier. It is packed. A blown-up photograph beside the register shows a smiling African-American family in the Huxtable-style. Three children. Preppy clothes. The woman stands and serves her family. Chicken. Corn. Mashed potatoes. They look so happy. Three teenagers are in line behind me. “Man, it’s so cold!” says one. “Why doesn’t KFC serve hot chocolate?” Seriously.


I take my biscuit and head down to the Broad Street Line. The train is pulling away. It’s just me and a black man wearing an army jacket and eating a bag of Lay’s Original Potato Chips. I am too tired to be afraid. I plop onto the bench and eat my biscuit. He comes closer. He speaks. “Mona, put those kids to bed.” Long pause. “Is that a hooker?” I imagine he’s either on drugs or recovering. Or another army vet? I’m not afraid and I don’t know why. He comes closer and speaks again. “She says, “Is daddy home?’” Pause. Louder. “Put him down, I said, put him down!’” Across the platform, a young couple are making out and looking at me with sympathy. I don’t really think. I slowly move across the bench and pat the seat beside me without breaking eye contact.


He breathes and sits heavily. His whole body relaxes. He is talking to me, but the words he thinks he’s saying are not what he’s saying. He takes the bag of chips and hands them to me. He gestures. I nod ‘no.’ He gestures again. I take some chips. He smiles broadly and reaches swiftly inside in his army jacket, to the inside pocket. For a second, I think he’s going to pull out a gun, but I’m still not afraid. Sometimes I spend so much worrying my worst fears will occur, that when they really do, the fear disappears. He pulls out a Casio calculator, the kind that looks like a flip phone. He opens it carefully. His hands are trembling. He passes it to me. “My daughter,” he says. “Lovely,” I say. “How old?” He says more things, words I can’t decipher. He gives me more chips. The trains pulls up. We go in. “Take care,” I say, when I leave. The others in the car stare at us curiously.


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