A December Evening
It’s only 5 pm, but it’s December, so it’s already dark out. You are leaning against an electrical box, waiting for the bus while sucking on a lollipop. It's one of those big lollipops you get at pharmacies, ones so big they hurt your jaw a little when you first start sucking on them, but you’ve had this one in your mouth for a while so it fits comfortably now. The flavor is so sweet it feels sharp on your tongue. You picture a knife made of sugar crystals, then wish you were an artist so you could draw it. You’re listening to music, a singer whose songs make you feel the way you do after a good cry. It’s nice to feel that way without actually having to cry beforehand.
A man passes by you. He stops and says something. You pull one earbud out, expecting him to ask you the time, or when the bus is coming. Instead he says,
It is the second time someone has ever called you beautiful in your life. The first time it was a boy you were seeing, and it embarrassed you, but secretly you were quite pleased. This time however it is a stranger, and he is twice your age and twice your size.
You put your earbud back in and avert your eyes. He says something else to you but you don’t react. He walks away, muttering to himself, probably along the lines of “bitch” or “whore.” He walks into a nearby convenience store. You watch him warily as he goes.
You should have just walked home. It’s not that far, you could have. You walked there, after all. But it had gotten much colder since you left your dorm, and you foolishly chose to wear cotton socks. All the same, you should have walked. You think about your mother, and how scared she would be for you if she could see you right now. You think about the self-defense lesson she gave you when you were… how old were you? Nine, ten? As she tucked you in, your bedtime story that night was,
“If a man on the street tries to talk to you, don’t talk back. Walk away. If he grabs you, bend back his pinkie. Yell ‘This is not my daddy’ as loud as you can.”
Back then you did not know what an adult man would want with you. Your only idea was monetary gain, that he might be kidnapping you to hold you for ransom.
The man is still in the store, you can see him through the glass. He’s talking to the cashier. His body language looks animated. What’s the word for when… your heart skips a beat, but it’s bad? Misses. Misses a beat. Yeah, it does that.
People pass you on the sidewalk, people your age, people who probably go to the same school you do. It’s a big school. You debate asking one of them to wait with you. A nice-looking woman passes by, you could ask her. But—no, she’s only a little taller than you are. If he came back, if god forbid he got violent, You’d just be putting her in danger too. That’s the trouble, you don’t know how much danger you’re in. And if you overestimate, then you waste everyone’s time, then you’re overreacting.
Which isn’t worse than getting attacked on the street, but still.
The man leaves the store. Your pulse quickens. A pair walk by you, a girl and a boy. They don’t look like they’re in any hurry. Perfect.
“Excuse me,” You say, and you’re surprised by how small, by how meek your voice sounds. The boy and the girl stop and turn towards you.
“There’s a man,” You point to him, subtly. “And he kind of said some stuff to me and I’m a little worried he could come back so would you mind waiting with me, just ‘til the bus comes?
“Of course!” Says the girl. “We’re waiting for the bus too anyway.”
“What did he say?” Asks the boy.
“Oh, he just said, like—hello, beautiful—” At this moment you are acutely aware of how minor this is, on the spectrum of street harassment.
“Oh, I’m about to throw hands,” says the girl. Her face wrinkles in a display of fury that tells you she’s been in this situation before.
“It looks like he’s leaving.” Says the boy, and it’s true, he is. You watch him closely still, until he rounds a corner and disappears.
The boy and the girl wait for the bus with you. The boy plays a trivia game on his phone, and you help out. You are surprised that he doesn't know the name of the melting clocks painting. It’s The Persistence of Memory, you tell him. When the bus comes, your lollipop is completely dissolved. You tuck the stick into your pocket, which is what you do with all trash when there’s no trash can in sight. You sit, and stare out the fogged, grimy window as the bus brings you home.