This last ‘school bus’ essay, and the one previous, concerns a place called Hope Estates. There are a plethora of ‘Hope Estates’ in America. They rarely make the media headlines, Hollywood has certainly never heard of them. They’re places of squalor and degradation, ramshackle trailer homes where exist those for whom the American Dream never, ever, could come true. Christina Holsapple was one little girl from Hope Estates who rode School Bus 13 each day. The driver took a special interest in her, as he realised she was a deeply troubled child. Then, suddenly, Christina Holsapple stopped riding the bus.
Christina Holsapple doesn’t ride the school bus anymore. Neither do William and Rashon Jordan. A few weeks ago William told the driver they were moving out of Hope Estates Trailer Park. They were going to live with their cousin and his family on the other side of town. The driver was pleased for them. Living anywhere was better than the trailer park.
The last day they rode the bus, the driver brought candy for all the kids, and allowed them to eat it on the journey home from school. It was a rare treat. It broke the rules to eat on the bus – but what did that matter? It was a party to say goodbye to William and Rashon; to wish them well in their new school, in their new life.
The driver noticed Christina had been quiet and withdrawn for some days. He asked her once, “Is anything the matter?” She shook her head before descending the bus steps and walking off up the path to the classrooms, yet he sensed a sadness; grief too deep for a little girl only nine years old.
The driver liked Christina. She could be a difficult child. Though sad and withdrawn much of the time, she could also be full of mischief; cheeky, yet often bright and cheerful, even when he’d written the referrals for misconduct on the bus that fetched her to the School Principal’s office on more than one occasion.
On the morning following William and Rashon’s departure, he noticed Christina was not at the bus stop, but thought nothing of it. Kids often missed a day or two, and he knew that sometimes one of the other parents took them into school by car. He hung around for five minutes. With Rashon and William no longer riding, Christina was the only child from Hope Estates to ride School Bus 13, and kids often overslept on schooldays. He’d learned to keep an eye on the bus’s side mirror when pulling away from a stop. It wasn’t unusual to see a half-dressed kid running along the sidewalk behind the bus, arms flailing, trying to grab his attention.
But Christina failed to appear, and there were lots of other children to collect on the way into school, so the driver left Hope Estates and went on his way. A week went by and still there was no sign of the girl. He asked another student about her, to be told she had been in school as usual. That eased his mind. Obviously, she was getting a lift.
Weeks went by but Christina never returned to the school bus. The driver thought of her from time to time, but was eventually told by his superintendent not to call at Hope Estates anymore as there were no longer any kids to be collected there. He wondered if Christina was okay, but failed to see her in the school playground, or leaving of an afternoon. Until one Wednesday, he’d been running late and had just picked up the kids when, as the bus was pulling slowly out from the schoolyard, he heard one of them say, “Look, there’s Christina!”
She was standing with a small group of children and a teacher, and was about to be picked up by a large black car. She looked up and saw the bus; the kids all waved to her. The driver stopped the bus, opened the doors, and waved. She turned and took a quick step forward towards the vehicle, like she might run and jump on board, but the teacher caught her by the shoulder. The driver saw that same look in Christina’s eyes he’d seen before – unfathomable sadness. The grief of an older woman emanating from a little girl’s face. He closed the bus doors and drove on up the road, then turned to Madelaine Bell, a sixth grader in one of the front seats, and asked, “Why doesn’t Christina ride the bus anymore?”
“Oh,” replied the girl, matter-of-factly, “Her parents do drugs. She was taken away. She’s in a foster home now.”