So, I’ll try to make this brief… There may be a few tangents, and I’m really tired.
I was walking home from work tonight, exhausted after 13 hours shared between two jobs. It was about 11.45 at night and on my side of the street ahead of me was a pack of youths. I don’t know what the collective noun for hooded reprobates is really; a gaggle of chavs, a flock of delinquents? Anyway… I call them youths; it sums it up nicely, derogatory enough to convey my meaning, condescending enough to convey my sarcasm. I don’t know what age I was when I began to refer to ‘punk kids’ as ‘youths’, but I think it was around the time I once saw a 13 year with a cigarette who was so indifferent and unintelligent, that he tried to spit on the floor, as so many smokers do, and couldn’t be bothered to turn his head to the left or right, thus combined with the forward momentum of his walking meant he spat on his own shoe. Anyway, they were youths, and I decided to avoid them for some reason. They were drunk and loud and boisterous, and I couldn’t be bothered to be near them. I figured I’d just cross the street.
This is where shit went wrong.
You know that half jog, half shuffle you do when you’re crossing a street, as if you don’t need to run, because there aren’t any cars coming, but you don’t want to walk, because you want to be respectful in keeping the street clear? I was doing that. I got halfway across the road when I realised that I had actually already overtaken the shouty youths, and that I needed to be back on their side of the road anyway. I was past the point of no-return, and I made a grave error of judgement.
Mid-waddle jog, I turned and hesitated in the street for a second, still jogging on the spot, and then started back for the side of the road I had come from. It was at this instant that two more youths came, this time hooded, bicycle riding youths, and whipped past either side of me as I lolly gagged in the street, literally unsure of whether I was coming or going.
They could have said anything, and I wouldn’t have cared. They could have sworn or insulted me or whatever, and I would have just thought “That’s drunken youths being drunken youths.” but no, they cut me much deeper than that. As they raced past me I heard it, in unison, through their high pitched, nasal voices. It was as if they could sense my insecurity at the street crossing faux pas, and knew just how to tear me down. Softly, almost quietly, almost politely they yelled it; the sound, following their trajectory, flaring in my ears and then dying down as they sped away, almost like a dream. One word:
Anything but that… Usually when someone says something, you make a bad comeback, and then you later think of a great comeback and kick yourself for not having thought of it at the time. L’espirit d’escalier. Not this time. I still haven’t thought of a comeback. It was too visceral, too brutal, and most of all, too true. I think if I had even tried to speak, the pain in my soul would have wound up gurgling out as something reminiscent of the sound of a blue whale singing in the deep, while my arms lurched up like a Tyrannosaurus Rex and my knees collapsed beneath me. In one word, I was defeated. The other kids heard it too. They laughed. I don’t think they’ll ever stop laughing.
Now I fear that there’ll be no relief from the agony, no matter what I achieve or accomplish in life; wherever I go, whatever I do.
I’ll never escape the time when the youths on the bikes saw me doing something weird, and then monosyllabically condemned me to live a life of shame.