First Time Fear

I walked into a trap. I believe God exists because I came out perfectly intact.

It felt like a movie, during the part which the audience is screaming at the main character who is ignorantly and deliberately in harm. You know, like in horror flicks when a naive, egotistical teenager hears a freaky death scream in the kitchen and walks over to her/his death, unarmed.

After a sleepless night, this morning I rode my bike to a doctor’s appointment, then to an Armenian cafe. I walked into a fancy Gelato shoppe, which is never not pouring out with people to the end of the street, and almost ordered a $3.50 scoop of orange vanilla bean sorbet (why so much fancy?) until I saw the size of the container it came in. I apologized, and headed next door to an Armenian/ Middle Eastern eatery, which also served as a grocery store, gift store, and a hookah lounge and shop. I bought some Fig Jam and tea crackers. What a win.

I continued my journey on-foot to small markets, nut shoppes, wig stores, and more ridiculous stores, greeting the employees in Armenian and actually feeling (and being accepted as an) Armenian for the first time.

I was several houses away from mine when I remembered that I wanted incense for some months now. At the corner of my block, there are some shoppes- fish and chicken, Africana clothing, barber shoppes, incense shoppes, and other hidden boutiques. I approached the incense store- or so I thought.

Bars were all around it even more so than a pawn shop, and the outside was pitch black. “Open,” a sign read. Kind of weird, but sure why not. “Ring doorbell.” I assumed these were a very instructive suggestions. Ring. Ring. Ring Ring. Ring. Nothing. I walked away, and out came a man. “Hey!”

“Damn, I haven’t seen you in a long time! How you been? Last I seen you, you were working up the street, goin’ to school.” He sparked an embarrassing memory I had completely forgotten about. I worked for a costume shop, and during Halloween or parades I’d ride a toddler’s Barbie scooter wearing a skimpy or dorky outfit and a sign bigger than I was. But I did not remember this man.

“What happened to the incense shoppe?” I asked.

“Aw, that place? It was next-door. They aint here no more, they went out of business.”

“Well, no shit, who would buy incense on this street?”

“Ha. Seriously. Well, I got some incense in here too, if you wanna come in.”

“Yeah, sure!”

I lugged my oversized, broken bike into his barber shoppe. No one was there. It seemed cozy and he seemed hospitable- until the sunshine vanished as he suddenly shut the big, black, gated and glassed door and a black curtain behind it.

“Oh shit.” I thought to myself. My heart started beating. No, I was just being paranoid. This is what people d0- they hang out and sometimes trade money for other things. I forced myself to think positively because thoughts travel faster than the speed of light. I tried to externally emulate that friendly (just friendly), confident, humorous, I’ll get out of here in five seconds I gotta bounce, attitude. “You got Egyptian Musk?” I asked, hoping my nerves wouldn’t alarm my vocal chords. And I was thinking, I didn’t even like the incense he sold to begin with- typical sticks in scented oils, and the typical scents. They all smell heavy, like thick charcoal, in unison. But I did not want to provoke anything and played it off to get the fuck out of there.

“You know, our incense is different, special. It’s still wet, not dry, like the other ones.” He suggestively creeped, getting a bit closer to my body. I hate that word, no matter what male says it in whatever context. It feels like a verbal rape. It feels threatening. It feels like something unpleasant is about to happen or is already happening in some dickwad’s dick of a brain. But if you’re unarmed and five times smaller than the (ignorant) person verbally violating you- and all women across the globe- it hurts to play dumb and act indifferent. Play dumb or get killed.

And in the midst of this man’s mesmerizing dialogue, the television screen was the brightest light in the dark room and the only other noise. Every other second, i couldn’t help but glance at it to see if the “universe” was sending me a signal of what was going to happen. I saw dead brown boys in body bags- glimpses of their legs, and their bodies being consumed by a blue wrap of expiration.

“Hold up baby, I’ll be right back wichyo sticks.” He vanished into a room in the back divided by a black curtain.

I remembered listening to a podcast this morning. The woman who was gang raped on a bus in India had died. It was further reported that each twenty minutes in India, a woman is raped. I listened to a full hour on the issue of rape that morning. And all throughout the week, I heard the most horrific stories from family.

Then I remembered something. A dead body was found on this turf not too long ago. It was right next to my house, and havoc consumed our neighborhood for those two weeks. That could’ve been my dead body. That might actually be me, another dead, cold, raped, impure, useless, disposed body. Just up the street from my home, and my mother would have no idea how close I was. How close this, and its prevention, was. He pulled out a ladder, from what I could seldom spot through the crack of the curtain. Noises, shit falling down, it sounded like he was cooking something or finding something really important back there.

“It’s a gun” I thought. “He’s gonna kill me…… now.” My heart sank. What a dumb, naive, egotistical mistake. What could I do? I had my bike and I remembered hearing of a feminist/ self-defense workshop that taught women how to use their bikes as weapons- one workshop I did not attend. I looked to the wall above the back room; he was a marine, according to a photograph that proudly hung before the room he was still rummaging through. My pride sank. Thanks a lot, inspirational female boxing movies, as I was physically rendered useless if not for my body parts. I was no match for him. Should I have called my sister or texted her? What would I say, how would I think of it in time?

“No, no, it’s okay, don’t worry about it.” I awkwardly declared. “It’s all good, I don’t need it. Seriously. Thank you, though.” My hands were clenched tightly to my handle bars and my body close to the door. He saw me trying to open the door.

“Seriously? You fuckin’ come in here and waste my god damn time? I asked you if you wanted some incense! Why you gotta play me like that? Shit. Get the fuck out of here. Get your fuckin’ bitch ass out of here, wasting my time, don’t ever come back again, bitch.”

I walked home, hid my bike, pounced in my bed, silently stared at my anarcha-vegan-feminist door, took a deep breath of disbelief, and felt as if I tricked the devil into escaping the underworld.

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