I knew I didn’t like her as soon as I saw her.
Oh, it wasn’t just her close-cropped, bright purple hair with the green highlights, or the tattoos that covered her arms, neck and the exposed parts of her legs (and a lot more, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn). It wasn’t the array of ‘decorative’ metal on and around her face, or even her mode of dress; something out of a Judge Dredd comic book; although that alone was enough to put me very much on my guard.
It was more than any of those things; more than the sum of those things. There seemed to be an aura emanating from her, an almost physical air of malevolence.
If a group of tough-looking youths is monopolising the pavement I’m walking on, and behaving in what appears to be a threatening way, I will always cross the road to avoid them. They may be nice enough people, but that’s not information to which I am privy at the moment a decision is needed. I don’t have the luxury of spending time getting to know them to find out what upstanding, kind, gentle people they are. I must evaluate my situation, and then act to manage any potential risk.
I saw the possibility of a situation, and turned to cross the road. As I did, I caught the heel of my left shoe in the grille of a storm drain and went over, right into the road. An approaching car swerved so as not to run over my head, which, by dint of good reflexes, had avoided impact with the tarmac. A small crowd gathered around me. I was dazed. My knees hurt where I fell, as did my shoulder, where it had hit the road surface. I was as embarrassed as hell. I mean, seriously, how can one hold on to any shred of dignity in a situation like that?
I heard a woman’s voice saying, “Stand back please, I’m medically trained and can handle this,” then, more quietly, “Are you okay? Will you let me check you over?”
I took one look at the woman I was so insistent on avoiding, but who had now come to my aid, at which point the nervousness I felt about her added to my pain and embarrassment, and I wept openly. I couldn’t remember the last time I had done that, it was so long ago.
“Don’t fret,” she said. Then, noticing the look of terror on my face, “I’m head nurse at the retirement home up the road. I take the piercings out when I’m working, and once I put on my uniform, I don’t look anything like as scary.”
“I’m so sorry,” I blubbed, “I took fright when I saw you walking toward me. The way you were walking and everything; you looked so, I don’t know, so aggressive.”
“I get that a lot, but I still don’t understand why,” she said, “I know my dress and decoration isn’t conventional, and maybe I strut a bit when I’m listening to some kinds of song on my mp3 player, but why does that scare people?”
I was calmer, and able to give a rational response. “The trouble,” I explained, “is that many young people who are aggressive and pose a danger to others dress and act as you do.”
“But that doesn’t mean that everyone who dresses like this is bad. It’s just who I am.”
“I fully agree,” I said, “but consider this. In the movies, the bad guys wear black hats. That doesn’t mean that all people who wear black hats are bad, but it does mean that someone wearing a black hat is more likely to be bad than someone wearing a white hat.”
“Change hat to skin, and you have racial profiling. And that’s what you are doing to me, only based on dress and decoration, rather than race.”
“What’s the choice? When faced with what looks like a potentially dangerous situation, many people, particularly we older folk, don’t have the confidence or courage to stick around and find out what a thoroughly nice person is facing us. We see a risk; we try to avoid it. Only if it can’t be avoided will we face up to it.”
We both learned from that situation. I learned that appearances can be deceptive, and I hope that my new friend learned that appearances can be off-putting.
This was written in response to this week’s challenge at esthernewtonblog.wordpress.com, to write a story starting with the words 'I knew I didn’t like her as soon as I saw her'