She was deafening. That atomic frou frou walk. Those trebuchet hugs that came with chance meetings. That constantly working, constantly moving mouth. This morning, she came, full pelt around a corner, struggling to open her clamshell phone with three fingers. The other seven were occupied with zipping up an enormous handbag, pushing equally sized sunglasses to the top of her head, and holding out her fingers in such a way that they were ready to impart serious meaning to the very next thing she said. She flipped the phone open, quickly closed again, then half open, checking an evident message. All the time she was talking. But to who? To me?
I look around, just in case.
Look at yhou! A series of crate-sized shopping bags fall to her wrists. A sight for soure arrs!
I pull my stomach in. How are you?
Orh! She flings back her bangs with a flick of her head. I cahn't begin to tell you.
She begins to tell me. It's a tale of tanning beds and racing carnivals, champagne and media plans. It goes on for some twenty minutes, and it's the dead-on the most boring story I've ever heard. About twelve minutes in, I realise I'm not going to get to the post office before it closes. Sunlight slowly begins to disappear from the buildings around us. Evening city shadows, those hulking monsters, start to envelop us.
She seems to have no stamina problems, even with what looks like twenty kilos of shopping bearing down on the two points of her painfully high stilettos.
You lirke? She says, noticing me glancing at her shoes. I had sarch a tough tirm farnding them. You have no ahdea.
Or at least I don't have any idea until she begins to tell me. And I quickly realise this story is going to be even longer than the last. Ideas of getting to the post office have long since gone, and I start to wonder if I'll get home tonight. If I'll ever get home.
I'm not an inherently spiritual person, nor would I say I respect any particular religion, but that afternoon (quickly falling into evening), I prayed. I prayed to whatever entity it was that answered people like me. I needed some way out of this encounter. Not a miracle, but just something. And as she kept on with her story, that mouth unflagging, I stood there, praying, hard, for whatever good deeds I had done in my life to start cashing themselves in.
And it's then I feel it. An itching in the crook of my left elbow, underneath the material of my jacket. At first, I dismiss it as simply nervous eczema, but there it is again, deeper, more painful. Great, I think, a tedious conversation and now a tick burrowing its way into my arm. But then, when I plunge my right hand down under the arms of my jacket, I don't feel skin. I feel something harder. I hold my left arm up to my face, like I'm casually checking the time (a ploy I had tried for real some 45 minutes earlier, to no avail), and pull down the cuff of my jacket. My arm is now metal, gunsmoke grey. A series of lights run up the inside of my arm, grading from green to red in tiny inverted triangles. I clench my fist, and the lights begin to switch on in sequence. I feel a pleasant heat passing up my forearm, like I'm putting it into a warm bath.
Still she talks, her body swivelling mindlessly. I turn my fist over, and see a tiny barrel protruding from the knuckle of my middle finger. God, I say to myself, Allah, Yahweh—whoever you are, I promise to obey you, follow you, in every way, every day. Just for this. Thank you. The heat in my arm intensifies. I feel the power narrowing, focusing, to the small point in my knuckle. My fist, compressed to the point of pain, aches to unspring.
And her voice joyously—impossibly—begins to disappear. I'm filled with something else: a pure analog ecstasy. When the bright jump of laser leaves my hand, it's all I can do not to laugh, deeply and gloriously.