On the Other Side of the Road


It is 6:45 a.m. The metal beast comes to a grinding halt in the middle of the road, door opposite to where I stand. Graphic Joey Bruce

It is 6:45 a.m. The metal beast comes to a grinding halt in the middle of the road, door opposite to where I stand. 

The crisp fall air only lasts for a moment until the bright yellow bus appears. 

I stare at the concrete gaps within the sidewalk, imagining myself crawling up inside them. A tiny boy in a tiny trench; the idea brings me comfort. Maybe it is the cold. Maybe because it is shielded. Maybe it is in reminiscence of the warmth of my bed.

Raising my head as the honking starts, I wait a little too long yet again. I’m faced with crossing the chasm of a foreign world opposite the concrete sidewalks.

The crunch of gravel beneath my heel is static to my ears, as I prepare to cross the distance that separates my two worlds.

I am greeted by a slight nod or a faint smile as I walk towards my spot—a small gap between two seats covered with artificial aquamarine leather. 

I fill in the gap as I do, raising my knees, digging into the seat in front of me. I stare out the frosted window.

“Wake up! Wake up! We're here!” they say, as I peel my eyes from the now foggy window, groggily making my way out and onto the schoolyard. 

I pack away my favorite novel, I was always told that I read a lot, I felt that I read too much. 

Every pale face in the yard is peculiar, many unbothered, some receptive, and always a few staring a little too long before saying something. 

I fill the awkwardness with noise. It is easy to be clever. Their hesitation is cast aside through my agreeability.

In the confidence I project, I make the others too comfortable. I stretch myself thin, clutching on to the curb by the tips of my fingers all the way down to my toes planted on the other side.

I draw smiles because it is all I know how to draw. Maybe that's why I failed art class.

“Why are you angry today? You’re a lot more mature than that.”

My confidence is rocked, my response a jumble of words I am unable to enunciate. 

I continue to stare downwards, thinking about the cracks in the sidewalk. 

I envied the liberty of the others, their lack of inhibition. The freedom with which they navigated their world. 

My world was not dictated through words, it was not read, written, or told. Mine was the smell of incense and fresh guava, the sound of frying pakoras, the sight of worn walls that have been my witness.

They would never understand the luxury of a full lunch, the satisfaction of new clothes, or the joy of scraping the caramelized rice from the bottom of a pan of reheated leftovers.

Maybe it is because they’ve never gone to bed hungry. Maybe because hunger itself is a foreign concept; something to be seen or heard on news channels projecting brown kids less fortunate than I. Maybe my own kohl colored hair reminds them of those kids, maybe that’s why they hesitate when speaking to me.

I continue to read as the years go by, forcing myself to acclimate to this other world. I find in myself a certain awareness of their language. My mind is clearer and my tongue is sharper.

I am no longer an alien figure, a foreign spectacle, a breathing exhibit to ogle. 

My fluency in their ways indicates “wisdom.” The precision of my punctuation commands respect. I am now a child given the position of a diplomat, apparently, an ambassador of nations.

“Is this true? Is that how it’s done? Please correct me if I am wrong.”

Being an adult at this young age is something I am familiar with, being a teacher for my teachers is not.

I balance the representation of my entire culture, faith, and identity on the very top of my skull. The pressure is akin to 1,000 screaming kettles.

I perform this dance pretty well actually, swaying from side to side, avoiding the drops of scalding water that spill from above.

Sometimes, the steam condenses along the side and drips downwards towards my forehead. I can’t tell which kettle, I can’t tell why.


It is now autumn again. The air is thick and my lungs are humid. A slight breath of wind passes by, and it smells faintly of ripe mangoes, rose water and dates.

“Maybe it’s time to go back. I think I am ready.”

I board the bus again, only this time, it is much smaller and hotter than I remember. 

My shirt is soaked in sweat and my knees almost buckle as I get up from my seat to leave.

Every step I take feels as though I am walking on stilts.

I say my goodbyes and wave at the driver as I get off. The bus departs, leaving a cloud of dust and the chasm below.

I look across the road, opposite to where I once stood. 

I barely recognize the other side.

This article originally appeared in The Sidewalk Issue, published April 5, 2022.