At over six inches, her high heels would have left her towering enough to grab the attention even in a rarefied cocktail environment.
But of all other places, she had worn them to the zoo. In the process, she ended up giving the animals a serious competition for the attention of other visitors. Such was her spectacle that I overheard a young girl ask someone I presumed to be her mother whether the woman was a member of a circus team.
The mum, apparently struggling to balance her personal disgust and the burden of being a good language model, replied: “Not really dear. She’s just trying to be weird.” To which the minor retorted: “So why is she wearing leather pants and a funny coat?”
The “funny” coat was a riot of colours squeezed into a tiny fur-like garment whose length ended just below her diaphragm to expose her entire midriff. It seemed to have been designed to reveal a busy tattoo that could have been an illustration of a commodore dragon or its cousin species. It sprouted from her back, its tail pointedly disappearing into the low-waist, shiny black leather pants.
Like her heels and her coat, the leather pants were hard to miss. They were the clingy type that sketches the contours of the body so vividly that the clothes look like paint on a nude torso. They seemed to have been worn to celebrate that particular fact. When she walked, they made noise that sounded like a child attempting to learn to whistle. In an environment teeming with school kids and pensioners, the oddity of her clothes stood out.
To protect my eyes from the indecent exposure, I restricted myself to essential sight. But we bumped into each so many times that I speculated that nature was conspiring to make us friends. She would have been reasonably tall even without the manufactured height. With a less eccentric fashion sense and a couple of pounds off her body, she would have actually been beautiful.
Whenever our paths crossed, I wore my best “disinterested” face. Besides, befriending her would have been catastrophic for my promising chances of striking rapport with the shy Muslim girl with a beautiful smile and a Canon professional camera. I had noted that like me, she was unaccompanied. In between my zoological escapades with the lazy bears, the sleepy pandas and the snobbish tigers, I had noticed she allowed our eyes to briefly lock whenever we met. Or so I imagined!
For the avoidance of misunderstanding, prioritising friendship with the Muslim girl was an academic endeavour. It would have been timely and rewarding for my research on the profiling of Muslims in Britain. On the same morning of the Brussels terror attack, the hook-up would have been perfect.
I even imagined how we would have sat down over lunch or coffee on a table-for-two at the zoo’s cafeteria comparing the pictures and the experiences of the day. In the evening, we would have shared a bus ride back home, the two-hour-journey long enough to exchange contacts and to establish the chemistry for a lazy interview over the Easter.
My other reason for giving the weird dresser a wide berth was her presumed boyfriend: a massive mass of a man with a ring on his nose and several others on his ears. He walked with his hands in the side pockets of his unzipped hood effectively succeeding in enhancing his barrel chest. Unlike his female companion, he seemed to have dressed ideally for the day.
But he seemed to be getting thoroughly bored with her company and her theatrics. You could sense it from the way he walked ahead of her, only stopping to wait for her whenever she shouted: “Dee, wait!” He would then look behind to witness her struggled walk, her heels pounding the pavements, her ankles twisting with every thud in a painful experience.
She would then grab his hand and lock his elbow with hers. The man would grudgingly tolerate the chaining, his face puckered with the discomfort of the forced lending of a helping hand. But at the first window of freedom offered by her efforts to pull up her leather pants, he would free himself of her and walk away until the next shout of “Dee” renewed his imprisonment.
I was marvelling at what I imagined must have been a GMO zebra- it was unusually large unlike its African relatives- when someone tapped my back. I turned around to see the Muslim girl. The encounter caught me flat-footed and for a moment, my lips froze.
She asked if I knew where to find meerkats. I had no intention of wasting valuable time on the mongoose-like animals having grown up chasing them away from our chicken. But some opportunities just have to be taken up. I offered to walk her there.
To buy time to activate my intelligent conversation mode, I pointed out her shoelace was loose. When she asked me to hold her camera while she tied it, I smiled at my luck. Surely, the chance now was all mine to take.
Her phone rang and she excused herself to receive the call. Now that I was holding her camera, the least of my bother was how long the call would last. In the meanwhile, a furious internal debate was raging in my head.
Should I mention my research project right away or was it better said at the end? Could I suggest lunch without sounding too forward? Or perhaps could I propose a chat by the benches as we shared the crisps I had brought for snacks?
While still on the phone, she signalled that we begin walking. I obliged and fell slightly behind her to allow her some privacy with her call. We had barely walked for a few meters when we bumped into the weirdly dressed woman.
Without as much as saying hi to me, she said matter-of-factly that she had some “girl talk” for the Muslim girl. She whispered something in the Muslim’s ear. While still on the phone, she signalled me to hand her the camera.
They walked away in the opposite direction, the Muslim girl still on the phone. I could see her guy disappearing into the horizon. I was left in a quandary: should I proceed with my own plans? What if the Muslim girl came back and found me gone? But wouldn’t waiting make me look idle? What if she didn’t come back?
Then I remembered my research. It was only a few minutes past 1pm. I would wait. At 2pm, I was still waiting. At 3pm, I walked to the nearby monkeys’ park but I was careful not to wander too far just in case she came back. Around 4.15pm, I had to walk away to shelter from the rain and plan going back home.
As I lingered at the bus station, I was still expectant for a reunion. When an elderly woman sat next to me on the bus, it finally dawned on me that almost, truly, doesn’t count!
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