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I straightened my row of pencils for the umpteenth time.
I picked up my old leather bag and stroked the fraying hem of the handle up and down
and up and down
and up and down
and up and down,
before undoing the rusting popper and placing my laptop closed side up
and phone in the zipper pocket inside of the worn lining of the bag.
I straightened the pencils again and flicked the plug socket switch on and off five times.
Finally, I left my systematically symmetrical office into the haphazard city streets.
The alarm telling me it was time for a break sounded the third time I locked the door.
While walking through London, many had little patience for my quirks. Darting around cracks, dips in the pavement, grates, and any sort of litter or clutter on the ground, there was a danger of uncomfortable yelling if I missed one, and, believe me, it happens a lot. The people around me
Woman spat as she cackled into her mobile.
would not appreciate that. They never appreciated time-wasting or unnecessary attention attracting. The people around me were in a hurry as they were in London, and everyone is in
Bus unloaded teenagers smelling of Lynx and marijuana onto the path.
such a hurry here. After picking my way down the path, I crossed the road after stepping over the fourteenth discarded cigarette stub on the ashy pavement. Luckily, counting always distracted me enough to keep me occupied all the way to the coffee bar.
The automatic doors of the store opened as if I was Moses parting the Red Sea, and I made a sharp right and went to get my Thursday foods and ignored the wailing voice in my head telling me how angry it was that some students were walking too slow in front of me, or that an old man CAUTION: WET FLOOR
had blown cigarette smoke in my general direction outside. The chiller cabinets blew cold air up my exposed arms and all the tiny hairs stood on end, like a miniature army standing to attention, all in straight, microscopic lines.
“Hello, Sir, what can I get you today?” The barista smiled at me, a poppy
seed between her two front teeth.
“Can I get a medium iced coffee,
a medium iced coffee,
a medium iced coffee
with two and a half pumps of vanilla cream please?” Her smile faded in confusion as I repeated myself, but I had to keep going until it was perfect.
She made the coffee quickly except for when she added the syrup, because she knew I was watching and it had to be exactly the way I had asked, and she gave me another smile when handing it to me. I stared at the poppy seed and thanked her three times.
After picking up my fifty seven pence change and wiping the coins in small circles twelve times
each with the right corner of my shirt, I settled down in the same spot in the park that every break was spent in.
I watched all around me. I let the birds’ songs drown out the anxious choir that screamed inside of my brain and attempted to ignore the devil on my shoulder that crawled into my ear and strangled my neurons every time someone walked too close to me. I do not believe you would notice the turmoil inside my body if you passed me in the street. A child was chasing a pigeon, and his mother was too busy talking on her phone to watch him. They also came here every Thursday. An old man slogged behind his wife’s wheelchair, and when he smiled at me his delicate, papery skin folded into a million tiny creases, like an origami master had designed his friendly face upon the very foundation of miniature folds. I wanted nothing more than to iron them out. Down the path, a small cough floated from his dusty lungs and drifted down the breeze toward me. My fingernails carved crescent moons into my palms as I braced for a wave of microorganisms to hit me and sink into my skin. A woman in office wear sat nearby, opening her jaws like an alligator around the green apple she was savaging, as to avoid smudging her coral lipstick in lip-shaped stamps on the leathery fruit skin. It made my skin crawl when she didn’t clean the apple before sinking her teeth into it, even if the water droplets rolling around the chartreuse skin suggested that it had been rinsed this morning.
But, when I looked up from my coffee, I saw her, and,
for the first time,
everything in my head went quiet.