‘Y’all better make it light on yourselves and let me have those seats.’ The four occupants looked away as the bus driver, James Blake clipped the ‘Colored’ sign into its new location one row closer to the back of the bus. Seeing that no-one had moved, he lowered his voice to an authoritative baritone and ‘let me have these seats’ became threat enough to move three of the occupants further back. The waiting white passengers shuffled forwards, stopping in the aisle before reaching the vacated seats. Rosa Parks slid along the green vinyl and stared out of the window at a dimly lit downtown Montgomery. She caught her reflection in the window, the hulking uniformed figure of Blake stood behind her, translucent in the dark glass. Avoiding even this indirect confrontation, she looked down; a broken thread in a button stood proud of the stitching on her jacket. Clasping the worn white plastic disc between her thumb and forefinger, she gave it a gentle yank to check the stitch was still holding.
‘Why don’t you stand up?’
Rosa twisted the button between her fingers, a chipped edge caught on her skin and she turned to Blake.
‘I don’t think I should have to.’ She let go of the button and rested her hands in her lap.
‘Are you going to stand up?’
“No, I’m not.’ Rosa turned back to the window and watched the reflection of Blake grip the back of the seat and lean towards her.
‘Well if you don’t stand up, I’m going to have to call the police and have you arrested.’ It wasn’t quite a whisper, he wanted the whole bus to hear him threaten her, he wanted the whole bus to see him win. Rosa sighed, long and slow, she watched a car pass the bus then looked up to meet his gaze.
‘You may do that’, she said, her brown eyes meeting his in the shadow of his peaked cap. The seats behind her creaked as their occupants shifted, the vinyl groaned under the twist of the rubbernecking front passengers. Blake righted himself and left the bus to call the police.
‘They’re on the way’. He declared as he climbed back onto the bus. The white standees waited, glaring at Rosa as she lifted her hand to twist the button between her fingers and wait to be arrested.
We Are Rosa Parks was first published as part of The Button Jar in February 2015