The first time I saw a “thing”, I thought it was a rubber chicken. It looked so funny, drooping fat and yellow out of the man’s pants on the 6 train. I smiled up at him so we could laugh together but he wouldn’t meet my eyes. That’s when I knew he wasn’t kidding. I was holding my mom’s hand and tugged it to make her look but he had already gone, beware of the closing doors.
Hasith was the ambassador’s bodyguard at the embassy where my mom worked. He was big-big, like a protector should be. Tall and round and bald like a cannon with the ball in it ready to go. He gave all us kids big bear hugs when we came to visit our parents at work. One time, Hasith came with me and mom to the toy store and I begged my mom for this mermaid whose tail changed color in the bath, but she said, no, no, no. When we left the store, Hasith pulled out the mermaid he’d bought behind my mom’s back. She pretended to be mad. We all loved Hasith.
In middle school: subway again. The man sat across from me and my friend Tamika, covering and uncovering his little pink thing with a crumpled paper bag like he was playing peek-a-boo. He kept his eyes on his lap. We pretended to keep our eyes on ours but we looked. Every time he moved the bag away like ta-da, his thing waving in the air like a dumb baby fist, we burst out in giggles, squirming in our plastic seats. Nobody else in the crowded subway car laughed.
Hasith let me hold his gun for the first time. I’d been begging for years and years. We were alone, sitting in the lunch room at the back of the embassy. Both hands, he said. I held my palms open, fingers wiggling, giggling hard. He took the gun off the thick black belt he wore below his big belly and placed it in my dancing hands. Well? he said, smiling. I hated it. It was heavy and slick, like a cast-iron pan coated in old fat. Wish I had one, I lied.
The first year of high school, Min and I were walking down a bad street. Min was tough. She listened to German death metal and wore too-big cargo pants belted tight. The man was sitting in the driver’s seat of a beat-up, parked car, eyes closed and head back, his right arm pumping away. We knew by then what that meant. Min went right up to the open car window and said real loud, need a hand? The man’s eyes jerked open and before he could speak, we sprinted away, howling with laughter. I didn’t see it this time. It was basically non-existent, Min told me.
That was the year I turned pretty. One day when I walked into the embassy lunch room, Hasith pulled me into his usual bear hug but as I smiled up at him, he grabbed my face. On instinct, I pulled back like a collared cat trying to shake him off. But he had one arm gripping me against his cannonball belly, one iron hand cupping my cheeks. It felt slow. Me leaning back and back as he leaned in and in and planted a fat wet kiss on my closed dry lips. My first kiss. He let go then, and I blinked. He winked and laughed as he walked away. Turns out all men have jokes.
Di Jayawickrema is a Sri Lankan New Yorker currently living in Washington, DC. She teaches creative writing to youth and organizes for migrant justice. Her work is forthcoming or has appeared in wildness, matchbook, Pithead Chapel, Entropy, Burning House Press, and elsewhere. She is a reader at The Offing. Find her on Twitter @onpapercuts
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Art (cropped) Heinrich Campendonk / Allie Caulfield CC2.0