In the bus station lobby, I looked for signs indicating a coloured waiting-room, but saw none. I walked up to the ticket counter. When the lady ticket-seller saw me, her otherwise attractive face turned sour, violently so. This look was so unexpected and so unprovoked I was taken aback.
‘What do you want?’ she snapped.
Taking care to pitch my voice to politeness, I asked about the next bus to Hattiesburg.
She answered rudely and glared at me with such loathing I knew I was receiving what the Negroes call ‘the hate stare’. It was my first experience with it. It is far more than the look of disapproval one occasionally gets. This was so exaggeratedly hateful I would have been amused if I had not been so surprised.
I framed the words in my mind: ‘Pardon me, but have I done something to offend you?’ But I realized I had done nothing – my colour had offended her.
‘I’d like a one-way ticket to Hattiesburg, please,’ I said and placed a ten-dollar bill on the counter.
‘I can’t change that big bill,’ she said abruptly and turned away, as though the matter were closed. I remained at the window, feeling strangely abandoned but not knowing what else to do. In a while she flew back at me, her face flushed, and fairly shouted: ‘I told you – I can’t change that big bill.’
‘Surely,’ I said stiffly, ‘in the entire Greyhound system there must be some means of changing a ten-dollar bill. Perhaps the manager -‘
She jerked the bill furiously from my hand and stepped away from the window. In a moment she reappeared to hurl my change and the ticket on the counter with such force most of it fell on the floor at my feet. I was truly dumbfounded by the deep fury that possessed her whenever she looked at me. Her performance was so venomous, I felt sorry for her. It must have shown in my expression, for her face congested to high pink. She undoubtedly considered it a supreme insolence for a Negro to dare to feel sorry for her.
I stooped to pick up my change and ticket from the floor. I wondered how she would feel if she learned that the Negro before whom she had behaved in such an un-lady-like manner was habitually a white man.
With almost an hour before bus departure, I turned away and looked for a place to sit. The large, handsome room was almost empty. No other Negro was there, and I dared not take a seat unless I saw some other Negro also seated.
Once again a ‘hate stare’ drew my attention like a magnet. It came from a middle-aged, heavy-set, well-dressed white man. He sat a few yards away fixing his eyes on me. Nothing can describe the withering horror of this. You feel lost, sick at heart before such unmasked hatred, not so much because it threatens you as because it shows humans in such an inhuman light. You see a kind of insanity, something so obscene the very obscenity of it (rather than its threat) terrifies you. It was so new I could not take my eyes from the man’s face. I felt like saying: ‘What in God’s name are you doing to yourself?’