This is your sixth stop of the day. A store that sells everything to everyone. Everything to everyone and anyone is everyone, but today, you don’t feel like an everyone or an anyone.
You feel like a specific one.
A red bullseye meets your gaze. It’s surrounds you — on the scattered shopping carts, on a plastic bag blowing across the asphalt, and an especially large bullseye on the building in front of you.
You’re still in the car.
You go back to the bullseye. This should be your flagship store, you think.
Your entity has become a bullseye: a walking, talking, breathing target.
You’ve been here a thousand times before, but today you feel a certain affinity to this store.
You’re still in the car.
The wheel feels moist beneath your palms.
You’re still in the car.
You rewind your morning. Perhaps in the bylines of the livestream, you will discover why you’re still in the car.
The line is short. It’s still morning. You came here first to beat the early lunch rush. Your daughters look around at all the metal boxes with key holes — thousands of them.
“Like email but in a real building,” you explain to them.
You remember when your father explained email to you, “like a post-office but in an invisible building.”
You become giddy at the revealed learning opportunity. You want them to see the world beyond its magical façade — the people, the work, the time, the space it takes to keep our status quo.
It’s your turn. Your daughters stand close inching up the desk to see what’s behind. The elderly woman smiles a sweet smile.
“Good morning!” she says.
You smile and reply in kind. You converse. She has a grandson who just graduated college; the party is this weekend. She is excited; he is her first.
She asks you where you’re from — you oblige — you want to say Orange County, but you know that’s not what she means.
She comments on the respectful mannerisms of your daughters. You look at them — they are beaming; how much have they been listening to, you wonder?
You step into the bakery. The smell of melted chocolate delights your sensations. You take it in. You feel warm.
You look up and see a monochromatic sign hung behind the counter — it’s new. On it a face of a young woman covering her head with a scarf — her identity. She looks like you.
Beneath it reads in bold: Muslims Are Welcome Here.
“This is a good thing,” you think.
People in your neighborhood are taking a stand — supporting you. You get a funny feeling inside. “Rejoice in the sign!” You implore yourself.
The feeling doesn’t go away.
Books and films — the only places you have seen or read of similar signs:
“Colored Welcome Here”
“Women Not Allowed”
“Irish Served Here”
“Jews Not Served”
“No Dogs, ******, Indians, or Mexicans”
You add to the list: “Muslims Are Welcome Here.”
Muslims are welcome here; an answer, it seems, to a singular question: Are Muslims welcome here?
The bakery’s answer: Yes! Muslims are welcome here.
You wonder who responded differently.
Did the post office? Never mind, it’s a public institute — ironclad laws against even hints at such questions (for now though, at least).
What about the coffee shop next door? You’re already salivating for that cup of dark brown heaven. Are you welcome there too?
What about the lady standing behind you in line?
“Are Muslims welcome here?” You ask her telepathically.
You read her body for answers: too cryptic.
You order three double chocolate chip macadamia nut cookies. You want to order four. The sweet aroma will suffice — it has zero calories.
This time the smell hypnotizes you. You denied yourself the cookie and this is your reward. You wait in line patiently. You look like a daisy, with three petals constantly swaying.
“Hold still, you’ll get your cookie as soon as we sit and Mama has her coffee,” you tell the petals.
The line moves. You step forward and order the new usual: “half-caff almond milk latte.”
You don’t need as much caffeine these days — there is other stimuli keeping you alert. So-much-so, that you’re unable to sleep at night. You went to the naturopath to figure out what’s wrong with you. She did an allergy test and found you’re allergic to milk. It’s okay — you’re used to childhood staples disappearing from your life. You start drinking almond milk and, after a while, get used to the cardboard taste.
The symphony of whistles and tremors blares from behind the counter as you follow the composition of your cup. You look around at the obscure crowd and feel the stinging sonder. You consciously smile to the masses hoping for connection in the fleeting juncture.
A few stares meet your smile — you’re used to the stares — but it’s that lurking glare, usually one in a crowd, that you notice. It’s increased as-of-late.
You lie to yourself, tell yourself it’s only in your mind, convince yourself that your projecting the rising angst, until the hate passes from the eyes into the mouths of those who glare — another chink on your enameled heart.
The composition finishes and you hear a version of your name called. The hot cup feels warm in your hand. You take the first sip. Sensory washes over and, for a moment, you forget everything.
The tug on your flowing shirt brings you back.
“Oh yes the cookies!”
They’ve been so patient. You take credit for their patience — you must be doing something right.
You sit outside under the shade of an umbrella table. Cookies and giggles: a childhood staple. You count your blessings. It’s a crisp and bright morning; the air feels glorious. You count your blessings. No loud or sudden noises. You count your blessings. Safe to live a routine. You count your blessings. You think of your distant relatives — light years away — you shiver and you count your blessings.
You park in front of the dry-cleaners — only three steps away from the door and another three steps to the register counter. Six steps total. Five, seven, nine: the ages of your generally well-behaved progeny.
“It’ll only be a minute!”
You pause — no, you can’t leave them.
You already draw attention to yourself.
What if someone walks by and sees them? What if this someone calls the police? What if you get investigated? What if they get placed into foster care meanwhile?
Perhaps they look for reasons to have three less humans raised in your hijacked faith.
You’ve heard the stories. It’s too risky. You take them down with you.
The chemical stench burns your nostrils. You see your girls pinch their noses. You tell them it’s rude — they comply.
You smile at the woman behind the counter. She takes your bag, counts the items, and, with a heavy accent, curtly tells you what you owe.
You don’t blame her — perhaps it’s hard to smile while constantly breathing in putrid chemicals. She takes a moment to look at your daughters. She smiles — it’s hard not to. She looks back at you, the smile fades.
She hands you the ticket, you take it, say thank you, and leave.
You stop at the park for a quick ride on the swings. You already promised it. You run after and come in fourth place.
“Watch me Mama, watch me!” They call out from the swings. You stand behind grinning and watching and beaming.
A woman to your right pushes her young daughter. A man to your left stands behind his son. The woman turns in your direction and comments on your five-year-old.
“She’s so cute!” she remarks.
You thank her, but she looks past you — because a thing does not speak. She continues, now clearly addressing the man on your left, “how old is she?”
The man looks confused. “She’s not mine,” he answers.
You make eye contact with the woman. “She’s five,” you reply.
You want her to see your face. The resemblance to your daughter is marked — if she takes a moment to see past her judgment.
You look back at your girls. You’ve wilted.
“Five more minutes!” you tell them. You want to leave.
“A target at Target!” you make up the jingle in your mind.
You’ll cast a woman wearing a red and white bullseye scarf around her head. It’ll be comical. You wonder how much you could sell it for?
Your inner chuckle fades into a sullen sigh.
You’ve gotten used to the nagging in your stomach. It’s become a background noise you almost forget it’s there.
Until you freeze.
At first you don’t know why. You rewind. You review. It becomes clear.
If scientists could measure the speed of mind and memory — perhaps they can, you’re not sure — you wonder what the chronometer would read. You look at the clock — 30 seconds have passed since you’ve parked.
You’re still in the car.
You look at the buttons that open and close the automated sliding doors to the outside world. You look at your daughters who are eagerly waiting to jump out. You push the buttons and close the doors.
You’ve had enough of the world today. Let’s go home.