I was trudging along to the library around the corner from my uncle's house where I was staying in Toronto, Canada. I felt right in my well-worn black t-shirt and jeans, my sports shoes keeping my feet comfortable on the hard pavement. It was a bright and breezy late afternoon, the summer was giving way to the fall, and I was having a good-hair-day. My long dark layers were freshly shampooed and bouncing with each carefree step all the way to the middle of my back. My bookbag was heavy with the weight of the books I was going to return to the library.
The suburban lakeside neighbourhood that had been uncharacteristically sleepy all summer was once again scattered with young people - it had been the first day of the new school year. Teenagers were hanging around the neighbourhood video store and meeting up with their friends at the pizza shop around the bend. Life was back in business.
The parking lot in front of the library sprawled alongside a major intersection, and people were strolling beside it on the concrete sidewalk. As I made my way across the parking lot, I heard someone call out to me from somewhere behind me.
"Excuse me? Excuse me!"
I slowed down and looked over my shoulder to see a young Indian-looking man in his 20s waving at me. He was wearing a typical Abercrombie-and-Fitch style green t-shirt and faded blue jeans. He looked like he was coming from the strip mall I had just cut across. Was he following me? What did he want? I stopped so he could catch up. As he shuffled up to me, I eyed his grin suspiciously. "Yes?" I demanded in a slightly hostile tone.
His grin didn't budge. His eyes made me feel slimey.
"So...where are you going?" he asked casually.
I snapped back. I didn't know why I felt like I needed to.
"Did you need something?"
I didn't like his expression.
He started slightly but then regained his composure. He ignored my question and smiled some more.
"So...do you go to school around here?"
He thinks I'm a schoolgirl?
Something made me feel more defensive.
"I'm sorry, did you need something?" I locked a stern gaze on his face.
His sweaty eyes that had been focused on me suddenly broke away. He looked around, his eyes blinking, and he began to stammer. He was trying to look everywhere except at me. The rehearsed confidence in his voice, gone.
"Um, wow, you are really direct. Are you, is that what you're like, I mean, um, is that what you, you know, like? I mean, I could be stopping to ask you for directions and you, um, you just ask me what I want like that."
My gaze remained fixed on the beads of sweat on his face.
"Yes, so what is it that you need?"
His grin waned as he looked around at the ground. I adjusted the weight of the heavy bag on my back.
"See, I've got someplace I need to be so if you don't need help with something, then I'm gonna have to get going." I began to move towards the library in front of me. He suddenly looked up at me and his body tensed up with desperation.
I shot him an impatient look. He began to stammer again but faster.
"No, I mean, do you live around here?"
I lied. "No, I'm visiting from the US."
"Okay, so can I have your number and...and call you to...to...so we can talk? Hang out??"
He didn't give me a chance to respond.
"We can meet up and...and...and..." I turned my head away from him and began to walk towards the library. I turned to look at him over my shoulder, following me.
"...and you can have a good time before you go back to America! Don't you want a good time in Canada??"
I turned my head back towards the library and began to pick up speed. He gave up his pursuit. I waved my hand up in the air as I left him behind. "No thanks," I called out without looking back,"I appreciate the offer though!"
Pondering over what better parting comment I could've come up with, I entered the sanctuary of the library and decided to stay an hour longer than I'd originally intended so as to throw off the initiator of one of the stranger encounters I'd had in a while. I wonder what he would've done if I'd informed him that I wasn't a naive schoolgoing teenager but a 28-year-old firebrand who'd been having a bad decade. I mean, there are other ways of giving a girl a compliment...aren't there?