West Portal Station
I was fourteen at the West Portal Station, chewing watermelon bubblegum I bought from the bodega on my walk there. I had gone into the bodega to pet the orange tabby cat that was perched atop the crates and to see if the guy working would sell me a 40 ounce I could take home in my backpack. Behind the counter was the older manager instead, so I felt young and shrinking. I petted the cat, bought the bubblegum, and left.
It was one of those days where the fog never really lifted off the city and it clung to the tallest buildings like moss. The gray had lingered, and it was sort of misty; the early evening still felt like the morning. This put me in a strange mood. I was standing there chewing the gum and thinking about how I should have brought my headphones when a man came up to me.
He was probably homeless. Every man in the city was either homeless or a businessman. Aside from the young boys, there was no in-between.
He asked me for a lighter, so I reached into my green army jacket and pulled out my mini pink BIC and handed it to him. There was a moment when he smiled at me, lacking some teeth, and then he fished into his pocket and pulled out a white lump of rock substance. It kind of looked like the coral my father had pointed out to me when I was younger, when we swam in the ocean. The man set it on a crinkled piece of silver foil and then held my pink lighter under it. It went pop-pop-pop and smelled strangely familiar, like burnt plastic but a little sweet. He inhaled through a McDonald’s straw. I knew it was from McDonald’s because it had the yellow and red stripes running up the sides, and it was one of the thick ones I used to drink milkshakes after school. I could almost feel that straw on my lips, and I still can, even now. I did not say anything to the man, just looked down at my phone and slightly over at him and minded my own business. That was just how it went. You minded your own business.
The MUNI came, and I did not ask for my lighter back. I felt that it was his now. I stepped through the folding doors and walked down the aisle and did not look at anybody and nobody looked at me. The fog hung around the bus and the city like a blanket.
When I got home that night, my mother was baking a pie and the smell flooded the house. I suddenly feared that I smelled like crack. But she hugged me, and asked: Have you been smoking cigarettes again? And I said No, Mom – and that was the honest truth, because I hadn’t that day. She said, Oh, well, come help me with this pie. And I did.
Kaylie Saidin is an English student living in New Orleans. She is an editor at the Maroon. Her writing recently won the Dawson Gaillard Award for Fiction. In her spare time, she likes playing water polo and eating gummy worms. You can read more of her at kayliesaidin.weebly.com.
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