Don’t Talk to Strangers, ’Cause They’re Only There to Do You Harm
’Twas only the insatiable hole in Nasrin’s stomach that compelled her to ask her father:
¿Could I borrow maybe… 1,000₧? I’ll clean the table & dishes & stuff for a week.
Without turning ’way from his laptop, her father said,
¿Since when were you smart ’nough to clean anything? ¿& what do you need this money for, anyway?
Um… If I lie & say something else, he’ll just buy that directly & screw me o’er.
I need new headphones… Mine broke somehow. A’least 1 o’ the buds did.
¿Aren’t you ol’ ’nough to get a job or something to get that kind o’ money?, asked her father.
Uh, I dunno…
I mean, I know you’re not exactly… competent, but neither are most workers. E’en you should be able to get a job holding a sign or being someone’s paper weight.
@ 1st she elected to forget the whole thing, as she tried forgetting every other problem she’d e’er run into, & focus all o’ her free time on sleeping; but she found that after many hours sleeping became brain-piercingly boring, & the longer she endured single-headphone music, the damper her mood became. ’Twas like having all o’ one’s family photos cut in half; just ’nother reminder o’ the way age ’ventually rotted everything to dead dust.
Maybe father’s right: maybe I should try getting a job. Maybe it wouldn’t be that bad. After all, I can tolerate school — e’en if I’m not good @ it; maybe if they pay me low ’nough, they won’t mind if I don’t do it that quickly & take a few naps here & there.
But she was disheartened when she searched for listings on the internet: she doubted she was capable o’ doing any o’ them. They demanded things like “experience” & that she be “eager” & that she “work well with others”. While she could maybe count some chores she did for the former, she was sure they’d find out her lack o’ energy for the last 2 when she inevitably fell asleep from sheer exhaustion.
Well, I have to pick something, & e’en if they fire me, it can’t be worse than ne’er getting 1 in the 1st place.
So she applied to every application she found — or rather, just the 1st, ’cause it turned out they took longer than she expected, being full o’ questionnaires, wherein she knew her honest answers probably wouldn’t impress them. Her crippled music served only to both make the ordeal e’en less enjoyable, & yet urge her to hasten her employment.
The plus was that such ordeals tired her so much that she gladly took her extra rest.
But as it turned out, after only 5 eternities, during which Nasrin had grown a gray beard long ’nough to reach her feet, she finally received an offer for an interview.
Like a light going out, she felt her pessimism suddenly evaporate. Since ’twas so hard, obviously this part must be easier. I mean, what with all o’ the people who have jobs, they can’t make the probability that low, she thought, shivering tepidly in her seat as she closely watched the neon-lit message @ the front o’ the bus & the urban surroundings they rushed through.
¿Did you know?
Nasrin used her older brother, Amin’s, bus card to pay for the ride, which she got through her father, who claimed that he ne’er used it, anyway.
That is, till she saw the bus pass right by her stop without stopping for a second & bolted to her feet.
Shit. ¿Was that what that cord I saw people pull was for? I thought that was for custom stops.
She stared @ the cord by her seat.
¡Hurry & pull it! ¡Stop hesitating! This is why you’re getting fucked o’er so much, man.
So she pulled it & watched & heard the words “STOP REQUEST” in neon red ding on the board in front. She stepped up closer to the front as she’d seen ’nother rider do earlier & waited for the next stop. If the driver passed this 1, she thought she might have to speak up.
However, the driver did stop without turning his glazed eyes from the road in front o’ him. Nasrin quickly scurried off the steps before the door had a chance to close on her. Then she sprinted back toward the past bus stop, constantly watching her 50s-style wrist watch, cringing @ every tick.
That’s OK: ’twas only 1 stop passed, & I came here with minutes to spare just in case.
But she was surprised by how long it took her to return through the space she’d just passed in mere seconds. Worse, she was surprised by how harsh the run was on her whole chest, lungs, & e’en her back.
She tried to ignore it, specially when she saw the minute finger hop closer & closer to the 12. Then it did, & she thought her heart would stop. She almost expected the clock to stop, time losing relevance after her failure like in a minigame; but it continued to run laps like a bragging victorious hare: 9:01, 9:02, 9:03…
’Twas then that she finally reached the front door. ’Twas locked, so she pressed its doorbell & then grasped its handle like the edge o’ a precipice & panted.
But she jumped back when she felt pressure from the other side & saw the door pushed open by a hand connected to a smiling face. That face smiled @ her for moments.
Finally, Nasrin said,
Um, I’m here for a job interview. Sorry I’m late.
The smile said,
O, that’s OK. Step right in.
As Nasrin followed her inside, she heard the voice say,
Please sign in & take a guest badge.
Nasrin scanned the desk for a second before she found a pad on a lined clipboard o’ paper. She examined the names before hers, trying to use theirs as a guide.
When she finished that as well as she figured she’d e’er do, she took a badge from the plastic tray just ’side the pad, hastily wrote down its # on the pad after figuring out which # it wanted, & then sat @ the emptiest seat she could find on the couch just before the desk.
On the other side was a man in a bright red-orange suit that screamed while the man drummed his knees with his hands like a man in a marching band, Stan. His face was somber & gazing into the coffee-grain carpet.
Man, this’d be a great opportunity to sleep, but I’d probably look lazy if I did that.
So Nasrin sufficed with sitting stiffly & darting her eyes all round the room, ne’er staying in 1 place too long so that none o’ them could catch them.
’Ventually she heard the voice call a name she didn’t recognize. She turned her head round, wondering if she’d misheard, still she heard the somber man softly say,
That’s me. He slowly rose & trudged ’way, down the hall & inside an unseen doorway.
Nasrin resumed her eyes’ wandering; but she soon found that her mind had already memorized her entire environs: the fax machine & potted piranha plant to her left, the hanging CRTs looping through the same bright ocean blue corporate slogans, the flat, perpendicular off-orange walls that bent & folded ’nough to cover her entire sight toward the right…
She glanced round the office & saw the person who let her in sitting @ a computer without his eyes acknowledging her existence, his smile evaporated.
¿Is this my punishment for being late? ¿Will I e’er leave?
No. Nasrin sat there for eternity, becoming frozen & starving.
After starving, Nasrin finally heard her name called. So much eternity had passed that she @ 1st looked round with screwed eyes till she saw the secretary look @ her & say,
That’s you, Madame. Then he pointed toward the hall & added,
The room is the 1st door on the left.
She stood & followed the arm toward the door. She leaned into the doorway to see inside & stopped when she saw a smiling woman in a white suit leaning back in a chair with her hands clasped o’er her stomach.
In here, Madame.
Nasrin walked a few steps only to stop just before the table, surrounded by dozens o’ chairs.
The interviewer held a hand out & said,
Any chair is fine, Madame. None are taken.
Nasrin paused for a second to think, & then slid out & sat in the nearest to be safe.
Then there was silence, ’cept for the clacking o’ the interviewer’s shuffling papers. Nasrin couldn’t prove it, but she swore the white light ’bove from just 1 bulb was brightening till she was blinded. Its heat caused her to twist & sweat in her chair like a squeezed ol’ rag.
After ’nother eternity passed, the interviewer emitted a few “blah”s & then stared @ Nasrin.
Within the time since Nasrin entered the building & was told she was cold to the mold, the baby-blue sky swelling with clouds was smeared into a dark soup o’ purples, grays, & blues. With the light fled the animation in the air & every breathing occupant, as if the whole city had become condemned & abandoned. Nasrin, who had sweltered hours earlier both in the sun & in the air-conditioned doors now shivered.
The city woke ’gain a few blocks later when she reached Peanut Butter Boulevard, but it only made her shiver mo’, like the difference ’tween a corpse, dead or ’live. Flat signs plain in the day glowed skeleton-thin in the darkness.
Every ol’ woman with a cane, every 10-year-ol’ on a bike, & every person in a Power Ranger mask she passed she expected to pull out a gun on her & blast her, which’d cause her to be late to the bus.
Then her steps slowed as dread strummed down her spine. I’m… I’m going the right way, ¿right? The darkness blurred all o’ the recognizable features.
But after a while she did recognize the pair o’ sneakers hanging from the traffic signal bar, a shadow in the night, & finally reached her stop ’gain. This time, she was glad to see it vacant.
As she tightly gripped the sides o’ her knees, she thought, OK, just need to wait here a few minutes & the bus should come ’ventually.
That’s what she thought for the next hour… maybe… She didn’t have a phone — ¿What would she use a phone for? — & she had eaten her 50’s-style wristwatch to stave off the hunger during her wait for the interview, so the only way she could tell the time was by the blinking yellow light from the single window eye o’ the cyclops skyscraper in the distance; but after a billion million trillion times, she lost count.
To help keep the time from becoming glued to the present, Nasrin pulled a book out o’ her hand & read it. But this only brought out a figure, & this figure continued pacing in front o’ the bus bench, back & forth, back & forth, like a back & forth.
¿You taking the bus?, he asked, his voice soft but low.
Nasrin pressed her attention fully into her book, though she couldn’t interpret a single word with her interfered heart & brain. She battled o’er whether she should or shouldn’t answer the stranger. While you were usually told not to talk to strangers… she realized how stupid that was as a way to prevent danger, since a lack o’ talking made one no safer — as if she were worried ’bout this stranger somehow using brilliant trickery to talk her way into walking into his knife mo’ than him simply pulling out a knife & using it himself.
But by the time she came to this conclusion, minutes had passed in silence, & the figure then said,
¿You like reading? I like reading. But they’ll kill for you reading. Yes, they will. They don’t like reading. He continued this line o’ speech for minutes.
¿How long will this bus take to get here?
C’mon, it has to come some time.
No it doesn’t.
I mean, look @ all the people out this late. Surely some o’ them need to use the bus to get round. ¿What’s the use o’ a bus if not to help people who need the bus get round?
But the minutes continued to crawl past, & still they’d yet to bring the bus with them.
The 1 thing she was thankful for was that the stranger had wandered ’way from the bus stop, e’en going so far as to cross the street. But she knew he’d be back.
She gripped the edge o’ her bench e’en mo’ tightly than her knees.
¿What if it ne’er comes? ¿Does that mean I’ll have to just walk home? ¿How could I e’er figure out the way back?
¿What other choice would I have? I can’t just stay here all night. I don’t have the time: I have French Canadians playing rom hacks to watch.
¿But what if that guy gets mad if he sees you try to leave — thinks you’re trying to ’scape?
¿What if he does something if I don’t ’scape?
She leaned out o’ her seat on the bench & turned her head down both sides o’ the street; but ’mong all the cars passing back & forth, she couldn’t see any bus coming.
¿Dare I go now? ¿What if it comes just after I leave? I’ll have to wait a whole ’nother ice age.
I’ll have to wait a whole ’nother ice age if I wait for a bus to come, anyway.
She slowly rose to her feet, looking down each end o’ the street ’gain & ’gain after every budge. Through this she slowly moved ’way from the bus stop, till she found her legs taking her far down the block. Every so oft she’d glance ’hind her shoulder & see the stop shrink in the distance, still busless.
Where she was headed, she had no idea. All she knew was that the general direction she was going led to her home some way.
Taking deep breaths, she thought, OK, ¿where am I now? She stared upward till she reached a connection o’ 2 street signs holding a traffic light & a street-spanning sign saying, “322nd St. N”.
Well, I know I live on 211th Street… ¡& the work area was on 328th! ¡So I just need to count down these streets & I’ll a’least find my street! That’ll narrow it down a’least. Hmm…
She turned her head & saw signs that kept saying, “Orange Avenue”.
Damn it, ¿why can’t the avenues be meaningful #s like the streets?
I guess I’ll just have to move ’long 211th when I get there.
If I make it there…
Nasrin felt her stomach fall as she glanced round herself & saw all o’ the shadowy cars with blinding headlights & dark, opaque windows pass her with motors growling deeply & bass music muffled into incomprehensibility growling e’en mo’ deeply. Every time she saw someone walk by, edging closer & closer to her with the most stoic frowns, she expected them to suddenly pull out a knife & stab her. Then they would walk past, & Nasrin would feel as if she could breathe ’gain.
& that didn’t e’en include the millions o’ crevices filling the city, each o’ which could hold someone waiting for someone as weak as she was to jump.
She swung her head to the side. ¿What was that? ¿Was that a moving Hungry Hungry Hydrant she saw bouncing by, ready to drown her in its water blasts? She swung her head the other way. ¿Was that Belligerent Dumpster wobbling toward her, flapping its pelican mouth salaciously.
She grasped her arm tightly. Stop thinking ’bout things. You can’t do anything ’bout it, anyway; if the city’s possessed machinery decides to devour us in its cage o’ cogs & screws, it’s gonna do it, whether we like it or not. The less I hesitate, the quicker I can get home.
But e’en this modicum o’ willpower was sapped when she saw emerge in front o’ her a dank tunnel lit by long rows o’ pox-shaped lights spreading their liver-disease coloring all ’long its walls & street.
Light just means darkness somewhere else, & darkness means encounters with Uber-Dangerous Knifers.
Inside sound seemed to compact into a thick haze o’ white noise, accompanied by squeaks & sounds o’ invisible fluttering papers.
@ 1st, she held a hand o’er the railing, but snatched it back when she heard a red blur rev past right ’side her. Mo’ followed, all in the opposite direction. 1 nearly caused her lungs to hop out o’ her throat when she heard it honk. She looked back @ it, only to see it fade into the distance.
¿Am I not s’posed to walk through here? ¿Will a cop bust me or something?
¿Is it ’cause it’s dangerous to walk through here? ¿Will a car hit me?
She looked back; ’twas too late to go back, & she knew no way to get round the tunnel, anyway. She was trapped in her process o’ escape.
Her fears weren’t alleviated by the sight o’ the dented rail, bent into her side & curiously shaped like a car’s hood.
But by some magic, the tunnel ended, & she was released back into purple fresh air, which she sucked in in bucketfuls.
But she didn’t have long to relax, for she now found herself not in a wide-’wake metropolis, but a sleeping, wooded street with a few suburban homes scattered far apart. Gone were all the streetlamps, glowing shop signs, & headlights, replaced by a heavy blanket o’ darkness barely penetrated only by the waxing-gibbous moon. As she passed by a chain-link fence in front o’ a long park with a dry, molting lawn & a small, dirty pond, she swore she heard the sharp sounds o’ gunfire.
¿Am I trespassing on someone’s lawn? ¿Was dad right ’bout these people being truly protective o’ their property?
But somehow she made it past & realized that she recognized the street she was on. This was the way dad took me down when he’d take me & Amin to the library.
However, as she counted down the streets, she found she passed hers: 212th street was followed immediately by 210th street.
She stopped, wavering ’tween them. O, ¡shit! That’s right: this is still kinda far from our house, I remember. ¿’Bout 3 minutes ’way through driving? Shit, ¿how far would that be to walk?
Ugh. I don’t e’en know where I should go from here.
Nasrin grabbed the sides o’ her face. Then, realizing she was burning from such a heavy walk, she yanked open her jacket. This still didn’t cure her profuse sweat & cramped legs.
C’mon, I just want to go home, she mouthed quietly, but with heavy breaths. Her pitch rose.
¿Where is that fucking place? ¿Why would they arrange these streets so half-assed like this? ¿How am I s’posed to find anything when it’s so random?
I’ve got no choice but to just try a random direction & hope it leads me closer.
She glanced @ the turns round her, but in contrast to the lemon-bright city, all they showed was identical darkness.
I’ve got no choice but to just try a random direction & hope it leads me closer.
Her right foot moved 1st, so she followed it down the rightward turn, down a street surrounded by firs barely darker than the almost-black sky. Despite her impatience, she walked slowly, with her arms out as a trapeze artist, every second expecting to trip on rocks or twigs she couldn’t see, or to tumble down an invisible cliff.
But the darkness ne’er seemed to end. Steps — the only unit o’ time she had left — followed after steps after steps, & still the darkness outlasted her.
Her eyes stung. She wanted to close her eyes, but didn’t dare for fear that the light might come back any moment now & devour her in a pit.
I’m ne’er going to make it home.
I’m going to collapse.
I’m going to fall in a pit.
Someone’s going to find me & kill me.
All she could do was breathe heavily — that was the only thing she could do when her stupid body stupidly pumped itself full o’ adrenaline e’en though she couldn’t do anything but endure the constant ache o’ her knees.
But then the darkness did end, & she found herself on a street she thought she recognized.
¡O! ¡I remember now! ¡This way leads home!
Her breaths still became heavier the farther she went — but this time with excitement. Every few steps felt like ’nother piece to fit into a puzzle, with fewer & fewer left to push in.
& then she found herself on the avenue she recognized & saw the streets count down to 211.
Before she saw it, her hand was grasping her front door knob, only to not budge ’pon being turned.
She dug through her pocket, but found her key nowhere.
She slid down on her ass with her back to the door, upper body tipping to 1 side.
¿Dare I ring the doorbell?
She twisted to the side with her knees drawn-up & her head resting on the door as she thought ’bout it mo’, only for her slow thoughts to melt into unconsciousness.
- 2015 May 17
- Last Edited
- 2017 March 28