The four of them stood at the side of the road with thumbs raised for a hitch-hike back to Washington, still dazed by the recent encounter with  the bus conductor.

They were on leave  after having completed their flying training in Canada and had been visiting some parts of America. ‘Paddy’ the Celt from Cardiff where his Irish father had been in transit for the USA when he met and married Cornelius O’Sullivan’s mother, and stayed. Andy Harris from the Home Counties and Ollie and Bill from London. Wearing their Royal Air Force uniforms with the newly sewn on  brevets  with a mixture of pride and  self-consciousness, in wartime America.

Bill had wanted to visit Virginia with visions of seeing some sights conjured up from his reading of ‘Gone with the Wind’ and they had piled on to a bus at the Washington Central Bus Station heading south. Crossing the Potomac River and there was the Arlington National Cemetery  they had recently visited. There were only a few other passengers and the conductor was up front chatting to the driver.

They had been moving for some time and were in the countryside of West Virginia when the conductor broke off his conversation and came down the aisle. ‘Cairn’t you fella’s read?’ He greeted them. They watched him, not understanding. ‘You fella’s need to move up front.’  He waited, and seeing their non-compliance and their foreign uniforms, continued, ‘this is the Nigga’s section.’ Their silence continued as they sought to understand this. ‘White folk up front,’ continued the conductor, unaware of the sensation his words had caused. ‘Now you move right on up front and then I’ll give you yer tickets.’

‘Where does it say that?’ challenged Paddy. ‘Right up front by the driver, if yer’d care to look.’ As they sat immobile, the conductor became impatient. ‘I cairn’t let you have tickets while yer sittin’ in the Nigga’s section. Y’re have to move right now.’

Three of them made as to move. ‘I ain’t moving,’ said Paddy. ‘I’m comfortable here, and I’ve got the money for my fare; so I’m staying right here.’ They resumed their seats in solidarity. ‘Yer cairn’t stay here,’ repeated the driver, as though to children, ‘it’s the Nigga’s section.’ ‘I like it here,’ said Paddy.

The conductor reached up and rang a bell upon which the bus stopped. The conductor beckoned to the driver who came slowly down the aisle. On being acquainted with the situation, he set out three options. ‘Get up front in the White section, get off the bus or stay where you are and I’ll drive to the next police station and turn you in.’ Three of them turned to Paddy. He was adament about option one, they were adament about option three and whilst they didn’t think much of option two, they weren’t adament about it. There were a few people sitting up front with their heads turned, watching with curiosity and no Black people in their section.

‘Whose idea was this?’ Why can’t we sit with the White folk?’ .Well done, Paddy.’ Were some of the remarks as they stood  on the roadside, watching the back of the receding bus. ‘Ah, well,’ said Bill, at least I’ve seen all I want to see of Virginia and, with Paddy’s help, we’ve kept our principles. Let’s hitch back to civilisation.