The Social Affair – Britney King

The voice comes out of nowhere. I don’t have to turn around to know how unfortunate this situation is. The sound is male, all male, hard and rough. Breathless and edgy. “Give me the purse,” he demands. I exhale slowly. Steady my breathing. Ball my fists. Release them. Flex my fingers. Jesus. I turn in disbelief, hoping I’ve heard wrong. The lot was empty, I know. I checked three times. Only it isn’t, at least not anymore, because all of a sudden, here I am, staring down the barrel of a gun.

A bad sign if there ever was one in regard to how my day might end. The man who holds it is clothed in black. Also not a good sign. He wears a ski mask that doesn’t conceal his eyes, and he should know that’s where the soul lives. His stance is wide, head tilted, shoulders squared. It’s almost comical, save for the gun pointed at my head, like a scene straight out of a movie. He clears his throat. “I said. Give. Me.

The. Purse.” I sigh and then I make a move as though I intend to slide it from my shoulder. Thankfully, the universe isn’t completely against me—a trash truck, somewhere a block or two over, slams a dumpster back to its rightful place, and for a brief second, his attention is diverted. It helps that he isn’t expecting anything other than compliance. I see it in his soul. I twist myself, position my body for maximum effect, and land a blow to his kneecap. It hits just right, and the direct hit, combined with the element of surprise, sends him down. He drops the gun in favor of his knee; that’s where the hands tend to go when you inflict this level of pain from that angle. I know, I learned this where people learn most things these days: on the internet.

I take a few steps toward him, and I pick up the gun. His eyes widen as I take aim. It’s a dumb move—I don’t even know if it’s loaded. I don’t know the gun; I don’t know important things—like whether the safety is on, what caliber of bullet it holds, or more importantly, what he’d have to do to make me pull the trigger. “Don’t move,” I order. My voice comes out calm, steadier than I feel. But then, I’ve had years of practice in that regard. He puts his hands up, and then drops them so he can scoot backward. I dig my heel into the pavement, widen my stance. “Take off the mask.

” He’s slow to move at first, but when I threaten to internet karate chop him again, he gets the message. He removes the mask, and this is how I know the gun is in fact loaded. I smile, thankful I made the right call. “Better,” I say. “Please,” he begs. He holds his palms upward in my direction. He wants to give me the illusion of control, even though he’s bigger and stronger and likely faster. I grip the gun tighter. It’s nice to have an equalizer. I’m grateful he chose a gun and not a knife because if the latter were the case, I’d have to get closer to him, giving him the advantage in the process.

“Please,” he says again. “I have a family.” “Most people do.” “I…I—” He begins to squirm. Nerves, I presume. That or he’s trying to distract me. Neither are a good choice. I deliver another kick, this time to the opposite kneecap, just to ensure he doesn’t move. Then I fish the Altoid I had been digging for from my pocket and slip it onto my tongue. One should always come prepared.

He’s whimpering, writhing on the ground, shuffling back and forth from his right side to his left. His pained expression makes him look younger than he is. With his curly hair and jet-black eyes, he isn’t unattractive. It makes me wonder what would have to happen in a person’s life to make it come to this. Slowly, I take three steps backward. And then one more just to be sure. “It’s almost Christmas,” I say. “What are you thinking, robbing people at a time like this?” He looks at me strangely. Christmas means nothing to him. Also, he thinks I’m an idiot.

Christmas, or any other time, really—thieves aren’t selective— is the perfect time to steal what isn’t yours. People are distracted. They let their guards down, all too willing to believe in what’s good. I realize this now. “Do you know what could have happened if I’d given you my purse?” He furrows his brow and considers my question. He’s expecting a sob story. I don’t look as desperate as I am. Eventually, his face twists as though I’m crazy, and today he isn’t wrong. Finally, he shakes his head. “I might have wound up dead.

That is—if you didn’t kill me first.” “I’m sorry,” he says. But it’s a lie, only as sincere as the predicament in which he’s now found himself. “Give me one reason I shouldn’t pull the trigger…” He doesn’t immediately answer me, and this makes me nervous. Every second counts. I’ve learned this lesson well. “It’s not like it wouldn’t be self-defense.” “My grandma,” he says, finally. Before he starts huffing and hawing about his knees again. “Your grandma.

” I tilt my head. I hadn’t expected that. “Yeah, I look after her. She’s blind and bedridden.” “What does that have to do with me?” “If I don’t go home, no one will find her. Not for days….” I reposition the gun, lower it slightly and then raise it again. I look down the barrel and line up the sight. Then I squeeze one eye shut the way they do in the movies. “I don’t believe you.

” He starts waving his hands. This is his problem in life, I can see. No one taught him how to use words to get what he wants, so he resorts to violence. “She has diabetes. I need the money for insulin.” I study him carefully. He has a sense of desperation about him. And not just because I have a gun pointed at his heart. I read about that on the internet, too. Where to aim.

Makes it hard to miss. Anyway, I know the look, and somehow I think he might be telling the truth, which makes this situation all the more sad. “Fine,” I say. “But prison is going to cost you a lot more than insulin.” I know as the words leave my mouth what I’m saying isn’t altogether true. If he is in fact telling me the truth, not getting the insulin his grandmother needs would have far greater effects than knowing he did what he could and went to jail for it. Either way, he failed. But in his mind, in the latter scenario, at least he would know he’d given it his all. Street credit. That’s his currency.

I watch as he shifts onto his side. He’s slow and careful about it and still I make sure the gun is trained on him. He reaches into his pocket, and I learn quick— there’s no safety. “Make another move and you’re dead.” “Wait,” he calls out, and it’s a piece of paper he’s retrieved, not a weapon. “See—it’s her prescription.” “Keep your hands where I can see them,” I say. It’s cliché. I feel it as the words float off into the breeze. Look how cliché you’ve become, Josie.

But I have to admit, when your life is at stake, sometimes it’s the most logical thing to say. I take two more steps backward. It surprises him when I throw my purse at him. He ducks and covers his head. “In the right pocket, there’s a hundred-dollar bill. Get it out.” His eyes narrow; he’s confused. He reaches for it and pulls it toward him anyway. “Not that one,” I nod. “The small pocket.

” He digs. I look up at the sky and notice the big puffy clouds, the kind the kids and I used to spend hours staring at. We imagined they were dragons and dinosaurs, angels and other things too. I wish I could go back. Back to a time when I wasn’t where I am now, back against the wall, back to when things were idyllic and stable. Even if it was all a facade. You can’t know that you don’t want to know a thing until you already know it. Once it’s there, you can’t erase it. It’s interesting; you don’t realize how you’ll miss stability, predictability even, until the rug is pulled out from under you. “Got it,” he calls out.

I hear relief in his tone, and I know I will regret this later. There will be hell to pay. I also know I shouldn’t reward a kid who just tried to rob me. But when you’re down on your luck, sometimes it’s good to know others have it worse. Plus, it would have been really bad if I’d had to explain where I was when I lost my purse. I should count my blessings. I cock my head. “Slide the purse back.” He does, and I use my foot to inch it closer, keeping the gun on him. “You almost shot someone’s mother.

I hope you think about that tonight when you’re drifting off to sleep.” He doesn’t say anything. I can see he doesn’t know what to say. “Oh—and you’re going to want to ice those kneecaps.” “Thank you…” he says, shoving the money in his pocket. “And by the way, I’m keeping this,” I tell him, holding the gun up. He sighs heavily, and I can see his weapon was hard to come by. This is both bad and good. Good because it shows he won’t easily be able to get a replacement. Bad because it tells me he needs one.

“Turn around.” I use the gun to motion him in the direction I want him to go. He scoots around, going counter-clockwise. “Don’t get up until you no longer hear my engine. Otherwise—I’ll turn right back around and hold you here until the cops show up.” “Okay.” I bite my lip. It hits me then. The answer to my questions might very well be right in front of me. The simplest answer’s usually the right one.

“Let me ask you a question…” He glances over his shoulder. I tilt my head. “Do you think one has a moral obligation to stop something horrible from happening to another person?” His eyes narrow. He thinks I’m referring to this situation. He thinks I’m referring to him. “I don’t know.” “You know what I think?” He juts out his bottom lip and shakes his head. “I think most people would say yes.” He shrugs again. “Sounds very philosophical.

Where I come from they don’t teach much of that.” “Life teaches you,” I say. He watches me carefully. “But what if that person wronged them? Does the rule still apply?” “Rules are rules.” He doesn’t believe his own lie. “What about karma? Survival of the fittest?” “I think karma has a way of working itself out. I don’t really think you have to help it along…” It’s the first intelligent thing he’s said. But he’s wrong. Sometimes you do have to help it along. Alternatively, sometimes, and as luck would have it, in his case, you decide to just let it be.

“Turn around.” He does as I ask. But first, I see the confusion on his face. It’s mixed with a bit of terror. He isn’t completely convinced I won’t put a bullet in the back of his head. It’s better this way. I wait for a second just to make sure he continues to face the opposite direction. When I’m reasonably confident he’s going to comply, I remind him one last time. “Stay.” I start backward, carefully, meticulously, toward the safety of my car.

He scoffs. He’s not used to being told what to do. This is how it all starts. If only parents could press a fast-forward button, if they could see into the future, then this kid might’ve had a chance. Now, karma is going to work itself out, and in his case, it’s just a matter of time. “Eyes straight ahead,” I remind him once I’ve reached my car. I don’t want him getting a look at my license plate. I’ve scared him. But probably not enough. Retribution can be a bitch.

I should know. That’s why I was here in the first place.

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