Alternatively titled: An Exercise in Futility (get it? heh?)
The cheap birch wood of the sticks were sticky in the palm of my fist as I ran. I clenched them tightly. I was pretty sure I had a popsicle stick splinter in my thumb for my labor. I had five, and I was close to getting a sixth. There was no way I was dropping one now.
I numbly kept going, trying to ignore the sting of sweat trickling into my eyes, the sharp pain in my side, and the heaviness of my feet. My shirt clung to my body like a vine, and my skin itched everywhere. My shorts rode up on the inside of my thighs and most of my hair had long ago given up on staying in the short ponytail. I gasped and panted and tried to get more air and it felt as though I was breathing through water. My face was bright red, and I could feel the heat emanating from my cheeks.
Middle School gym class was the WORST.
“Keep on going! You are doing great!” Mr. Seymour, ever encouraging, yelled from the lap line. He looked at me. He smiled at my round face. “C’mon! You are almost here! Hustle!” I made a pathetic effort to hustle. I reached him and held out my hand. He slapped down a popsicle stick, and I curled my fingers around it as my feet carried me past him. My prize. “Only two more mandatory laps! You are so close to finishing!”
Emotions were running high on the aptly named UN Plaza. Africa was readying for battle with Asia, and it was over… artisanal bread. Africa was represented by a broad bald man with soft cultured accent, wearing an African print shirt and an exasperated frown. Asia was a tiny, bird-like older Chinese lady; her eyes were black and shiny and full of a child’s guile in her wrinkled face. She wore comfortable once-white sneakers, a turquoise visor and a fanny pack. She held her arms close, in front of her body, her fingers at the ready like a Jurassic Park Velociraptor.
It was around 5:00pm. I had just left work and was stopping at the farmer’s market on my way home when I unknowingly entered this international incident in the making.
“The Rosemary and olive bread please,” I asked the man in the African print shirt. He got my bread off of the rack and slid it into a bag for me, all the while staring at the little old Asian lady who had sidled off to the left of his rack. He stopped reaching for my money and instead, slowly and deliberately, placed his hand over his bread in front of Asia.
“Don’t touch the bread!” he said harshly. I must have shown my surprise on my face because he instantly explained: “She’s been poking and touching my breads, my buns, my cakes. No one wants to buy misshapen, poked bread. She won’t buy it, she just wants to touch it and ruin it. She knows what she is doing is wrong and yet if I turn my back for an instant- Hey!”
As he spoke to me, Asia made her move. She darted in from behind me and with a savage little poke of her forefinger, smushed a corner of a cinnamon bun. She glanced around and saw that Africa was watching. She grinned a feral little grin.
“Peh!” she said. She lifted up her forefinger and straightened it.
He moved to intercept.
Her finger flew towards the bun once again. Poke poke poke! She got three strong, bread misshaping pokes before with a snarl, the man managed to move the tray away from her. She moved back slightly, and then whipped around to the other side of his stall and away, her little feet rapidly shuffling on the stone. Once she knew she was safe she stopped and patted her fanny pack. Pretending nothing had just happened she wandered over to a fruit stand, whose owner, having witnessed the exchange, was moving the peaches.
“You have a nice day,” Africa growled at me. He looked sadly at his deformed, fingered cinnamon bun. I looked bemused at his deformed, fingered cinnamon bun. Should I intervene, buy the bun, to smooth over this capitalistic clash in the market?
“You too.” The American, no longer staying true to her role in world politics, was grateful to extricate herself.
It says something about a human being’s ability to place super-ego over instinct that we can throw ourselves out of planes at all. I mean, c’mon, tossing your meatsack out of a plane 10,500 feet in the air into a cloud strewn sky with nothing holding onto you is counter to thousands of years of evolutionary common sense. Grog the primordial caveman knew not to do that.
But there I was willingly about to jettison myself into midair, and I was even paying for the privilege.
“Ready?” my tandem jump instructor asked me, mouth grinning with straight white teeth, his eyes gleaming behind his dive goggles.
I was ready, sort of. I had actively listened when Angelo had told my friend and me how to curl like a banana around him during free fall. We were supposed to rest our heads on his shoulder, kick our legs between his and smack his butt with our shoes. I had watched him intently as he completed the safety checks once in the air. I had asked most of the questions that apparently everyone and their mother asks him (do I have goggles?) I was ready.
I met Aalia when we chased the same cat in a park in Amsterdam. My friend V was rolling a joint on a park bench, but she wasn’t very good at it. She muttered under her breath. A beautiful calico crossed my path, and I decided to try to make friends. It trotted around a bush, and so did I. That’s when I collided with Aalia.
She was a short little thing, wearing an all black dress, and had wispy nut brown hair that looked inexpertly dyed under a floppy black hat. Her eyes were shiny and bright brown, like an inquisitive squirrel’s, and her face was lined with wrinkles. She had a white scar on the right side of her face, just under her cheekbone. She was smiling like a child when I nearly ran her over. The cat darted under a large bush with an angry meow to show us she wasn’t pleased at being hassled.
“Couta awlad goed, bis bis baby, sa’ah? Inti tchoofee?” I stared. It didn’t sound like Dutch, or English, and I thought I understood… but I heard bastardized Arabic in the wind those days, because when you study a language everything reminds you of it. “Bitacki Arabi?” I asked cautiously, not wanting to scare the nice little Dutch lady. She let out a gasp of happiness.
I didn’t understand everything, but in rapid, pleased Arabic she announced she was from Iraq, she lived in Amsterdam now and had for many years with her only son. She was chasing the cat because she wanted to see if it had babies hidden under the bush so she could steal a kitten and take it home and care for it. My friend came over, seeing that I had been accosted. Aalia asked us then if we wanted to come over to her house for tea. And my friend and I, after sharing a barely perceptible shrug of ‘why not?’ agreed to follow her.