The question wasn’t the first thing the woman said. The first thing she said was hello, coupled with an inviting smile. Inviting, not yet leering. Initially, the question struck me as odd given that I hadn’t yet shown my otherness, as some are putting it these days. She sounded foreign, as I do. We are both distinguishable by sound, not by sight in an ever-race conscious and unconscious world. Did she know? Did she care, really, where I was from? That was the next thing she said, her first query: an invite in disguise. A flirtation, I gathered, perhaps one as old as time.
I’d glimpsed the moment ahead of time having gotten about ten seconds of notice. I was walking towards her, studiously, even ploddingly in the moment, feeling an inkling of exchange. “Uh, I’m from around here,” I replied, returning a vacuous gaze. Now I was studiously uninteresting, hoping to passively discourage. I smiled thinly, circled a finger in the air, suggesting at best an ambient residency. As I turned away, I caught a last glimpse of the woman’s smile, now lingering until a last moment of possibility. I half expected her to unleash a trailing appeal, or else to hurl rejection-inflected insults at me. I heard nothing, so in the moments that followed I thought of other moments—moments of horror, joy, and something in between, that come and go, fleetingly and not—interspersed with fateful decisions.
Prior to the encounter, I’d been daydreaming of news stories from South Africa, and another from Indonesia, about two women killed by predators: the first by a shark, the second by—get this—a python! The first one felt especially tragic because the person was on vacation. How cruel, I think, and then darkly riposte: that’s a real spoiler. She’d decided to go for a morning swim near a beach house and was wading through waist-high water when a Great White speared its way through a wave and bit her in half. Her remains were later found nearby on the seabed. Certainly not something anyone would expect as they plod along amid seemingly quiet water, minding one’s own business. I wonder if she’d been daydreaming at the point of impact.
The second incident occurred during the course of a person’s workday, so somehow that equates in my mind to a more readied, bracing state, and therefore somewhat less of a victimization. Work is a derivative of the hunt, so…guilt? No, not quite. How about the thing about being on vacation, as in being at rest, off one’s guard–the fear of going to sleep. Yeah, that feels truer. The bizarreness of thought is perhaps belied or rivaled by that of the actual story, in which the victim walks into a jungle from her village—apparently a daily occurrence (can’t recall what her job was)—only to be met by the hungry serpent, which then consumes her entirely. The evidence of this grisly event unfolded following her disappearance, which led to a search of the jungle by villagers and the discovery of the now quite-bloated python, which was then killed and soon dissected, revealing the poor woman’s still-intact body. The stupidity of that snake is rivaled by my own asinine imaginings: did it give itself indigestion? What is the escape plan when you’ve killed an eaten something that is so big you can barely move? Anyway, greed is a deadly, punishable sin, after all.
I know what you’re thinking. The woman in the street with the inviting smile/leering come on is not a predator per se. I did think her a seducer, possibly a prostitute. It wasn’t exactly difficult to walk on from what some might call a “trigger” moment. Instead, it stirred a contemplation of desire and how it is communicated. See, I imagined another kind of unfolding: a scenario wherein I pause, indulge a further inquiry or two, and in so doing I encourage further action. In this reverie I pass a threshold, enter a domicile that is shadowy and unkempt, one-half a house of ill-repute, otherwise a disheveled, multiple-occupant space. From that point onwards, the invitations become blunter. Do I want to have some fun? Yes, I might nod, almost obligatorily. The woman would mention a number, omitting the word “dollars”, plus a body part to signify price and specific action; also, the air of flirtation would quickly subside, perhaps disappear abruptly. She absents herself for another protracted moment, leaving me alone with my thoughts, a premature regret. The lights are dimmed, the stage is semi-prepared, but the pants are still on and the doors are not yet locked, and if I dashed through a wave, I could escape from this escape from something, especially as I eat lightly, for the most part.
Well, none of this is happening, I think to myself amid the fresh breeze and the light, wholesome day. The flirtation: it came and it went like a pest, albeit one with a certain slatternly allure. Where am I from? Where am I going? That’s a better question. I’m choosing…for now. Always now.