My weekly excursions to the Farmer’s Market and ‘Rebooked’ (a used book store) are the most enjoyable of my very limited errands. Though I could easily order produce online and have it delivered to my door within the hour, and every book I could ever want to read can be instantly downloaded to my Kindle, I preferred taking the time to go shop for myself.
It was a beautiful day, the market wasn’t crowded and I chose my three tomatoes, fresh spinach and jar of homemade apricot jam and was on my way to the bookstore in record time.
“Ms. Maden? Ms. Maden? May I have a word with you, please?”
I glanced over my shoulder at the slender hipster calling my name. His stylishly messy, razor cut, turquoise hair, tiny round sunglasses and painfully tight black jeans were signposts of a nonconformist. The iridescent tattoo over his left eyebrow said “Mom” in a swirly font.
“You’re looking for my mother,” I told him as I turned to continue on my way. “You can look her up online, I’m sure she would be happy to help you.” For the right price. Judging by the expensive snakeskin boots and matching rucksack he could afford her.
“No, I want you,” he assured me as he quick-stepped to come alongside me. “I have an idea.” He huffed and switched his bag to the opposite shoulder so it wasn’t brushing against me as we walked.
I sighed. I did not want to be rude, but I had books to buy, tomatoes to slice and other… things to do. Whatever theory he had about me and my ‘special problem’ I was not interested in hearing. I had heard them all before.
“Listen,” I started, intending to shut him down gently, but firmly.
“My name is Richardson, but you can call me Rico,” he interrupted, “and I have an idea.”
“So you said.”
“It’s more than an idea, it’s a project. I have a project for you, for us, I mean,” he sounded flustered. “I just need a few minutes to explain. I promise, you are going to love this.”
“There is no ‘us’, Richardson,” I said, pausing to look both ways before crossing the quiet street.
“It’s Rico, and I didn’t mean it like that, not in a ‘someone call the cops, this guy is a weirdo’ way.” He paused to readjust the rucksack. “Would you sit with me for five minutes? It could change your life.”
“What makes you think I’m interested in changing my life?”
“I didn’t mean…”
“What? Did you think because I’m different…a freak, you could accost me on the street and I would be so desperate for acceptance that I would stand here and listen to a complete stranger tell me how to live my life?” I was almost yelling. I took a breath to compose myself before continuing. “I have heard it all before, Richardson, and I am not interested in whatever you’re selling.”
I turned away, intending to storm off in a self-righteous huff, but a soft sigh and hand on my arm stopped me. I looked at his hand, gently touching the bare skin of my forearm, and turned to fully face him. Most people, even in the ‘enlightened’ times we lived in, did not like to touch me for fear that my defect was somehow contagious.
“I don’t think you’re a freak,” he said softly, “and I’m not selling anything, I’m offering you an opportunity to change your future.” He moved his hand from my arm and looked into my eyes. “Five minutes, Claire.”
Something about the way he looked at me and the earnest, hopeful way he smiled, convinced me to take a chance.
“Five minutes, Rico.”