The film was soon to start when they made the announcement. All today’s films were to be changed. The timings would not be altered. The theme for the new cinema screenings was equality. Furthermore, additional spectators would need to be accommodated by converting the overhead storage space at the back row into seats.
Your seats are in the back row, from where you have a prime view of the colossal digital screen. You take down your coats and bags and wonder, briefly, what the replacement movie would be like. You think about leaving and demanding a refund since what was the point of staying if the film that you chose to see will not be shown? But nobody else seems to be leaving on account of the last-minute switch and, besides, the seats and the view of the screen are so good it would be a pity to let them go. And what would you do instead? You’d have to find some other way to spend the evening.
You and your wife glance at each other and at the other people in the cinema, then it is settled. You’ll stay—the film might be enjoyable. More people are arriving as you sort your belongings. Although it's cramped, you decide it would be less trouble for everybody if you took the upper storage bins, and let the new arrivals have your original seats.
But before climbing up you had better go to the restroom.
On your way, you pass through a busy plaza where drinks and snacks are being offered from
vending stalls. Charming hustlers call out to the customers and aggressively chase their
eyes. One of them catches your attention and then starts speaking to you in a confidential
tone. You stop to listen, not wishing to be seen as impolite.
“Do you have a ten dollar note on you,” he asks.
You discover that you do and produce it for him to see.
“Then I’ve got something that won’t cost you a penny,” he says, taking the note and busying
himself about the drinks, opening cans and pouring some into containers.
“But I don’t need anything,” you say.
“Yeah, just a second.” He speeds up his actions. “You’re gonna like this, I promise you.”
“I’m fine, really,” you say but he is not listening.
“This is especially for you. Here, take this while you’re waiting.” He cracks open a can of 7UP
and puts it in your hand. “It’s free.”
You take a sip, not because you are thirsty but because you don’t want to come across as
ungrateful. He watches with satisfaction.
“There. How was that?” he asks.
“It was good, but I have to get going. Thanks.” He looks deeply disappointed and brings his activity to a dramatic halt.
“Well, all right, if you must. Here, give me back that 7UP then.”
You don’t even think of protesting that he gave it to you for free. You just hand it back. It’s
almost full. As he is receiving it, you notice how he deliberately fumbles as you are releasing
the can. Some of it spills.
“Look what you did!” he complains. “I can’t use that now!”
“I’m sorry,” you say, “but it was already open anyway. Can I have my money back please?”
The ten-dollar note is nowhere to be seen. He carefully counts out some dollar coins. He
hands you nine.
“This is only nine dollars,” you say.
“One dollar for the 7UP.”
“But I didn’t want that. And you said it was free.”
“Look!” he says, bringing his face close to yours. His skin is pale but pimply-red, his hair is
greasy and his head is big and appears hard, like a stone. He is wearing jogging pants and a
dirty T-shirt. “I need this sale, OK!”
You sense danger but maybe you can try to understand him. He clearly has difficulties, and
is under some kind of pressure.
“Where are you from?” you ask.
“What the fuck do you mean ‘Where am I from?’? I’m here, aren’t I?”
“Where are you from originally? Where were you born?”
You know something about Chicago. Some of your favorite authors have described it. He
must come from the Southside, you think.
“I know Chicago,” you proclaim.
Suddenly he gets very angry and comes at you with one hand on his balls.
“Oh, you know it, do you? You want to suck this then?”
“Give me back my dollar,” you say firmly, sympathy gone. He takes a dollar coin from his
box and starts playing with it. Then he flicks it.
The coin flies across the plaza floor and is lost. You walk away in disgust as his eyes burn
You go to the restroom and there is a long queue. When you eventually finish and are
returning to your seat you notice your wife standing at the edge of the plaza. She is in such a
state of shock you hardly recognize her.
“What’s wrong? Why are you standing here?”
She looks over your shoulder and as you turn to see what has caught her eye the vendor
walks past, calmer now, but no less threatening. He returns your gaze without flinching.
“He crushed my toe,” she stammers.
You look down and see, through her sandals, that one of her toes is bloodied and swollen.
She is terrified.
“Did he do it?” you ask, and indicate the man that just passed by.
Your rage begins to boil. You want to kill this man, pursue and confront him now. But something holds you back. It is not a sense of legal restraint but something else, more to do with the mysteriousness of the man’s behavior. Why would he crush your wife’s toe? How did he even find her, assuming his act was one of revenge against you over the drink? And why did he single you out in the first place, when there were so many other customers in the plaza? What was it about you that brought this situation about?
You suspect that anything you do has already been anticipated by him, and is part of a scheme that he has devised involving you. You don’t know what that scheme is or why you have been chosen, but you are pretty sure that any action you take will draw you and your wife into a deeper relationship with him and—worse—his world, from which you may never be able to escape.
You look at your distraught and bewildered wife, and acknowledge that you are responsible
for this situation. You must decide, alone, what you need to do about it. You must put things
back the way they were, make everything all right again.
About the Author: George Saitoh's fiction, essays, poetry and drama have appeared in Clarion, Aeqai, Kyoto Journal, Orbis, Word Riot, Santa Ana River Review, Janus Head, and Literary Orphans. His plays, "Coward's Soup" and "Belle Isle", have been performed in Tokyo and Dublin. He holds a doctorate from the University of York and currently teaches at Waseda University, Tokyo. He was born in Dublin and regularly spends time in Boston. His upcoming novel about marginal lives is titled "Murphy and the Sand People." He recently completed a documentary film about Fukui formative abstract artist Tatsuya Tatsuta, "Re-Monad: Violence in Silence." You can find his work here.