I’m still not sure why the girl behind the counter at that dingy pizza place affected me so much.
It was one o’clock in the morning and the place was a raucous mess. Alcohol had raised the volume of conversation to a cacophonous degree. I ventured to imagine the patrons were debating salient topics like the global economy or healthcare or race relations, things of at least perceived substance. Of course, I knew better, I was surrounded by drunken bluster and emotion being poorly quieted by greasy food, a sober minority amongst the overwhelming mass of the oncoming weekend. I wasn’t even there to get food. I was waiting for my friend, bleary-eyed and freshly off work, to pick up his order. I was tacked on, an accessory. An object with no real necessity in its placement.
Some rock song was blaring from the speaker overhead, but the heavy instrumentation and poor sound quality meshed with the incessant conversations turned it into an indecipherable audio soup. The speaker looked like something you might find next to an old computer desktop from the late 1990s, a cheap off-white plastic shell that had yellowed with age. It likely never sounded all that great to begin with.
I shifted my weight from one foot to the other, my hands dug deep into my pockets. Lint, two cigarettes, a quarter and a pair of keys in the left pocket. A dented and scratched flip lighter in the right. I usually bought men’s jeans just for the actual pocket space. If I hadn’t left my cell phone behind, maybe I could have played solitaire or skimmed through articles, promising myself to give them a proper read later only to never look at them again. I was standing off to the side as my friend had queued up behind three people. His impatience prevalent in his listless stance and tendency to run his fingers through his short, curly hair. I tried to count the number of times he raked his fingers over his head but quickly grew tired of the mental exercise.
With nothing much else to occupy me, I glanced towards the counter. It was a pure clutter of menus, receipts, phones and computers, but I found myself looking past all that. She was beautiful. Her hair was short and brown with the most subtle of curvature, the slightest suggestion of curls as if someone had tried to draw a straight line, but their pen had swayed gently back and forth. Her face was pale, almost ghostly white, with soft features. She reminded me of that song “The Girl from Ipanema” though I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why. She wasn’t tall or tan, though she was young, and she was certainly lovely. There was something almost too gentle about her face, as if through physical presence alone she were enticing a lover to drift into comfortable sleep pressed close to her body, only to consume their soul in the night. Not like I even have a soul left to be eaten, I thought.
I was in Grade 10 when my soul was eaten. I was young and unbearably naïve. My hair was still long, just past my shoulders, and my face was forgettable enough to be drowned in that sea of dirty blonde bedhead. Junior High awkwardness gave way to High School awkwardness, and no amount of teenage vanity could save me from my seemingly eternal position as the loner. There were a few guys who would bum smokes off of me, and a few friends I had in various classes, but for the most part, I trudged along at the periphery of everyone else’s vision. I was comfortable enough with my routine, mundane existence. Well, that is, until he happened.
“Hey, you ready?” My friend’s voice cut through the haze.
I blinked, startled by the sudden interruption. “Oh, yeah. Sorry, must have zoned out a little.”
“A little?” He asked. He lifted his pizza box and nodded towards the door.
I followed him out, stealing one last glance at the girl behind the counter. The Girl from Ipanema. She was busy taking orders and flitting to and fro. It almost looked like a performance, like she was some sort of otherworldly pixie visiting the earth just to dance in the most absurd, unexpected places. Perhaps tomorrow night she would waltz through a McDonalds, the next day belly dance through a laundromat or maybe even salsa through a post office.
“You look like somebody just gave you ‘the talk’ for the first time,” my friend said as we walked down the sidewalk. He popped open the pizza box midstep to inspect his purchase. After a moment of scrutiny, he nodded, satisfied, and closed it back up. If I had done that while walking I probably would have ended up on the ground with my face buried in cheese and sauce. Only wayward drunks and the occasional police officer were out and about at this point. The reflections of streetlights glimmered over small puddles in the pavement, still wet from a brief morning rain.
“Oh god, really? You’re kidding, right? Was it that bad?” I asked each question in rapid succession, maybe a bit too rapidly in retrospect.
“Yep. Blushing the whole time. You looked the colour of The Communist Manifesto.”
“Jesus Christ, was that a Fifty Shades of Grey reference?”
“Maybe,” he grinned.
“I fucking hate you, dude.” I pulled a cigarette from my pocket and lit it. I savoured the hearty click of the lighter snapping shut before taking a long, warm drag. You could still smell the rain in the air, it hung heavy and low over the city.
“So you’re creeping on the pizza girl, huh?” My friend asked. He gave my arm a soft nudge with his elbow.
“She was just cute was all,” I said, trying to shut him down. Though she wasn’t just cute. There was something strangely alluring about her, something otherworldly. I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was supposed to have spoken to her, as absurd as that may sound.
He was handsome. He was cool. He was the opposite of everything I was. Yet somehow he ended up choosing me. Of all the people in that godforsaken high school, it was me.
I suppose looking back at it now it just had to have been me. Lonely and quiet and feigning intellectualism. No dedicated group of friends to watch my back. I was too easy of a target for his affections.
I still remember the feeling of the breath catching in my throat, my body quivering as lust and childish romance overtook logic. I guess can only blame myself really.
He wanted a doll. I gave him a doll.
We waved goodbye. He scurried off into his dorm eagerly as I stomped out my cigarette on the sidewalk. I paused for a moment, taking a deep gulp of the cool, moist air into my lungs. My chest rose. I exhaled and relaxed my shoulders. My chest fell. I turned to head down the street back towards my apartment. By this point, it was almost two o’clock in the morning and the city was dead quiet. It had been eerie the first time I went for a walk this late, early my freshman year, but by this point, it felt entirely commonplace.
I took my time walking back. There was nothing for me in my room except a quiet, boxed in place for me to sit around and think too much as I tried to sleep. At least walking gave me something physical to focus on, something to do besides lazing about sleeplessly in bed. Why had that girl affected me so much? What was it about her that had demanded my attention? And why now of all times was I lamenting my lack of a soul? It hadn’t bothered me much before. In fact, I seemed to carry on decently enough without one.
End Pt. I