I thought he was a nutter. But it was either him or the girl spooning rice from a white paper bag with wagamama embossed in black. The smell of fried rice caused the contents of my stomach to heave. I turned away from her and walked towards him.
He was leaning back, one shoulder edging the window. Two fingers formed a V beside his head, while his other hand went to work in rapid movements. He set his face this way and that.
“May I?” I looked at the rucksack on the seat.
His eyes met mine and blood rushed to his face. He mumbled something and gathered his rucksack.
I sat down and resisted the urge to judge. People take selfies all the time. Outside the window, the fields and rivers rushed by. I stretched my legs and closed my eyes.
“Cou . . . could you do me a favour?” he rubbed my arm.
I swallowed my irritation and produced a sitting-next-to-another-homo sapiens-in-the-train smile.
“Please can you take a selfie . . . with me?”
“A selfie together . . . I . . . I just want to make me girlfriend jealous . . .”
Behind his glasses, his eyelashes were long and straight, reminding me of the fake lashes Sharon wore. Dark curly hair and full lips, a geek like the one I had once loved.
“Will you, please?”
“Eh . . . How old is your girlfriend?”
“I’m twenty-four and she’s your age, twenty-one.” He held out his phone and leaned towards me.
I leaned away. He looked twenty and I had guessed his girlfriend was eighteen. I am twenty-seven. Numbers mean nothing. I remembered twenty-one and pleasure stroked something inside me. That geek from long ago. I leaned in.
“But, why do you want to make her jealous?”
He put his head on my shoulder. Before I could blink, click.
“Ssssh!” A silver-haired woman sitting across us put one finger to her lips and gestured to the silence icon on the window. Her frown finished her sentence.
We muffled our laughter like teenagers reveling in our youthful secret. His right hand snaked along my shoulders, drawing me closer. I started to protest, but the woman looked up from her book and glowered at me. So I stuck out my tongue at her and mouthed, “Twenty-one forever.” His left hand worked faster—click, click, click.
As we disembarked, he said, “Thank you so much.”
“For the optics, right? Good luck!”
He smiled. I waved.
Two days later when I saw his friend request, I hesitated. Then confirmed. He messaged me immediately.
how do u know?
ur photo? duh? 🙂
how did you find me?
ur name on ur train card
oh hmmm. K. was she jealous?
change ur rship status
so she’ll believe
I tapped my foot, perused my news feed, liking this and that, willing the message icon to turn red. After forty minutes, I sighed and liked one more cat photo before going to bed. The next morning, I had 107 notifications; likes and comments on a photo I was tagged in. My heart raced as I clicked on the post. The caption: my girlfriend likes it hot. I screamed. Just then, one new message.
WTF is wrong with you? Take down d photo now!!!!
y? u don’t like coffee?
that’s beside the point!
everyone likes starbucks.
I called in sick and seethed through a day of brb-conversations; dead ends that made me curse. I fielded unhelpful comments in response to the disclaimer I put up on my Timeline. The Support Team recommended untagging myself, since the photos did not violate their community rules. Meanwhile, they would investigate. Every spare minute, I lived on his page. Five hundred and twenty-seven comments. Who the hell was this geek!
Sharon believed in shaping destinies. “Good things don’t come to people who wait. Sh*t does,” she said.
She asked around and found this guy from Serbia. People whispered that his large hands, which now tended roses, had done things during the war. We met him in the alley where the back doors of restaurant kitchens opened and rubbish bins stood in rows of twos, three figures bathed in darkness. When I handed him the cash, he didn’t count it.
“Just teach him a lesson . . . no more.” I looked up, but not at his eyes.
He didn’t reply.
That night, I slept sitting up in bed with my laptop on my thighs. By the next morning, the post had disappeared. I returned to work.
Two days later, my boss called me to her office. Two men in black suits sat at the small conference table. They introduced themselves before escorting me to the police station.
The man from Serbia was already there. He crossed his arms and wore a scowl. My tormentor stood a few feet away, a gash on his forehead and one eye swollen shut. I glanced away. The detectives offered me a seat.
“Wait here,” the taller one said.
I wondered if I would wake up to my life and tell Sharon about my dream, but someone tapped my shoulder. I shrieked and jumped. She was five feet two with slanted eyes under a black fringe bob. Twenty-two maybe, but numbers mean nothing.
“I, Anita,” she stretched her hand.
I paused and then took it. Could it get any worse?
She pointed with her chin to the man from Serbia. “You not his type. Why you do it?”
Who was she? Leather jacket, skinnys, knee-high boots—
“I writing a book. My life f**ked up now. Photo on internet and Instagram. Tell your story. We make book; sell to publisher. America publisher? Quick money. Or Kindle.” She shrugged. “Which you like?”
Wait; hang on, internet, Instagram? “Your photo is where?”
“Yours hot. More likes. Men like blonds.”
Images of my head photoshopped on a body with huge breasts and captioned, Date Girls from Russia, floated in my mind. No way!
She stretched her phone towards me and I grabbed it. Compared to this, the photo of me drinking coffee on geek’s lap was timid. I was lying in a bathtub. Red rose petals tried to make me decent, barely. I shook my head. The account belonged to one Don Serbia. Hang on, the profile picture. His f**king profile picture! I looked at the man from Serbia, rage seizing my heart.
“This one pretty. You see more?” She retrieved her phone and began scanning.
I backed her and called Sharon. Sharon listened and then said, “Don’t panic. I know of a guy from Armenia—”
“Very funny! Is he on Pinterest?”
I closed my eyes so my tears didn’t fall. My promotion was due in two weeks—the first person under thirty to make senior manager.
Slanted eyes tugged my sleeve. “Why you do it? Evly publisher want know . . . what’s your story?”
The detective returned and motioned to me. I stood and swept my hair to the side. She looked at my wool-blend coat and fingered the Armani label as though she had found gold.
“I wait for you. You smart; speak English like native. We make good team—coffee and cream. America publisher, yes?”
©Timi Yeseibo 2015