Robert, a young African American man, is having trouble sleeping on the bus taking him north, from Memphis, Tennessee, to Ohio, as it moves through the rain. He is tired and worries about his sister, who, he has recently learned, is ill in Cincinnati.
As he dozes, preoccupied with his concern for his sister’s welfare, he recalls their history together. After his parents died when he was fifteen, he had reared his sister himself. Apprenticing at an auto repair shop trained him to become an excellent mechanic. Meanwhile he cared for his sister and supported her when she reached college age and chose to pursue a career in nursing. Robert also has a fiancé, Barbara, who has helped him see the importance of his sister’s career choice and of the pride that will come to the family when Baby Sister enters the caring profession and is in a position to help those like their own parents, who died before their time.
Giving up on finding a comfortable resting position, Robert rises from his seat to move forward on the bus but stops when an elderly woman—the only other black passenger—speaks to him. Taking a maternal interest in him, the woman cautions him that two white men (later identified as Abe and Slim) who are drinking were discussing him as he slept. Following the woman’s advice, Robert returns to the back of the bus rather than risk confrontation.
When the bus stops, Robert must go to the restroom, so he exits the bus, even though the drunken white men also disembark. He is in the “colored” restroom when Abe and Slim burst in and trap him. Accusing him of going north to pursue white women, they threaten him, making lewd references to his genitals. Robert acts quickly. He knees one man in the groin, seizes a bottle, and hits the other over the head with it. After disguising the blood covering the front of his shirt with a coat belonging to one of the men, he leaves the restroom and bumps into the bus driver, who is looking for his missing passengers. As Robert boards the bus, the woman waiting inside expresses her relief to see him again. The bus continues its journey to Cincinnati, leaving the secret of the missing men in the restroom.