It was one of those beautiful days in Manchester. The sun rays were visible through the gloomy clouds, the temperature comfortably warm and the breeze, cool and gentle. It was the kind of weather that happened so rarely in spring that it drew me outdoors, even when with a design project due within the week and my individual report consisted of only the cover page.
So, I put on a blue skater dress with three-quarter sleeves and walked outdoors. I did not even need a coat – the weather was just perfect. I walked slowly, enjoying the weather and the view; I smiled at strangers, dropped coins into street artists’ bowl, paused and listened to the people singing or playing instruments by the road. Everyone seemed a little more lively than usual, probably as pleasantly surprised at the weather as I was.
Although I walked aimlessly and used different routes from the usual ones, I ended up in Manchester Arndale, a shopping mall I frequented for groceries and other necessities. I loved shopping alone. I enjoyed taking my time to leisurely walk across every aisle, going into every other store without the guilt of making people wait.
The first shop I walked into was Boots as I browsed the different brands of cosmetic, looking at nothing in particular. I then stopped at one of the brands, a brand that I never noticed, so I paused and looked at the different products they had. I must have been so deep in thought when I was startled by a deep voice on my left.
“You’re so beautiful.”
I did not react well to unwanted surprises; I did not know how to give an honest response and in usually gave the bad ones. Case of point, I once laughed when a boy confessed his crush on me, not because I was intentionally mean, but because I thought he was kidding. Oops, when I said bad reactions, I meant utmost terrible ones.
I looked up and into the eyes of the guy who appeared out of nowhere, expecting him to laugh and say “just kidding” but he didn’t. I froze. I stared at him as though he had grown another head on the spot. Beautiful? I wrapped the word in my head around like a foreign language. I didn’t remember the last time I was called beautiful. It was a romantic term compared to the word ‘pretty’ which meant the same but didn’t sound as poetic. Is he pulling a prank? Is he hitting on me? Should I be doing a hapy dance? Should I smile politely and say thank you? And towards the end of the thought… Oh gosh, is he going to kill me?
A long uncomfortable silence followed as random thoughts were firing like bullets in my brain. He broke the silence, paused and waited for a response. I didn’t hear what he said. It was awkward, and I felt cornered, unsure of how to react. So I did what came to mind – my immediate acute stress response was to flee.
So I did. I rushed out of the store and never look back.
I felt so bad the whole day that I promised myself I would stay rooted and talk the next time round. If there was a next round. Much to my surprise, there was. Few months later, at the same store but a different aisle, the same guy came up to me. At least it felt like the same person, because I couldn’t remember how he looked like in the first place. If he was, he certainly learnt from his mistakes. He started of with pleasantries, asked about what I was looking for, and that he saw me from across the store and had to come and say hello, and then said something about my looks.
We made small talk; I smiled and nodded at the right places, but all I could think of was running away from this conversation. It would be rude, I reprimanded myself, especially when I was aware of what I was going to do. This was one of the moments where small talks required big efforts. My eyes darted around the store as he went on babbling on and on about something. I could not maintain eye contact when all I could think of when I looked at him was how much I wanted to leave. Help, please give us a distraction. I thought. And I heard a voice behind me.
“Hi, can I help you with something?”
A promoter came up to me. Probably I sent a Help Me vibe and she received it. I choked a laugh when I read her name tag. Jill. What were the odds right? Omg thank you I thought as I welcomed the distraction. I asked her about products on the shelf in front of me and looked at her intently as she happily explained the differences. At the corner of my eyes, the guy got the hint and left.
This time, he was the one who walked away.