I submitted the following piece (a snap-shot exhumed from my finished memoir!!) to the :30 Friendships writing contest this week.
In conjunction with that, I also had a video sessions with my therapist, during which they asked me how much I felt the need to minimize the visibility of my shortcomings.
So in celebration of a contest submission and in the spirit of being more vulnerable, here is the piece I submitted.
Stories must be about a true, brief encounter with a stranger, no longer than 700 words written in the present tense. (I’m somewhere around 550). It should be titled after the :30 Friend.
If you are interested in submitting, you have until Jan 31, 2021. It’s free to enter and the grand prize is $1,000!
I am in a crowd of bodies, but I dance on my own, my face lifted towards the moon, letting the physical vibrations of the bass as much as the sound guide my movements. I am in Marrakech in front of a DJ at an outdoor music festival after midnight. Everyone I know is at a different stage or at one of the outdoor bars; I escaped them all to escape Abbas. He is a young man from my hostel who towers over me in conversation, his eyes unblinking as he tells me what kind of man he is; something about him makes me wince.
But Abbas finds me dancing; he threads his arms around my torso and thrusts his hips against my back. The act is so abrasive, almost violent, that I jump away from him. He pulls me back towards him and I crash into his chest. I holler, though I don’t even hear myself above the music. He leans down and bites my ear. I pull away from him again, but my ear is still caught in his teeth. The pain doubles. He growls. I jab my elbow into his chest. His jaw slackens and my ear is released.
I twist around. I shove him away with both palms. I scream: “FUCKING ASSHOLE!”
Abbas bounces back towards me, towering over me with that wide-eyed glare. He snarls.
A lean stranger steps between us. Over the shoulder of this stranger, I see Abbas’s mouth and hands move in anger. I can’t hear him, but I understand. The stranger takes a small step towards Abbas; the stranger is a head taller and his height presses down on Abbas until Abbas retreats into the crowd. I watch him leave, the crowd parting to accept him before covering up the path.
The stranger turns towards me, and I get a look at his face for the first time. He has beautiful Moroccan, brown skin; big eyes and a clean-shaven chin. He lays one hand on my shoulder and leans forward to yell into my ear.
“WHAT?” I scream back.
“DO YOU WANT TO BUY ANY COCAINE?” His voice enunciates every syllable above the music, the words dropping into my ears with each beat.
I think of the preteen who once approached me on a dark street in Medellin carrying a wooden box of gum and cigarettes. When he stopped in front of me, he lifted the box to reveal little plastic bags of white powder in his palms; I understood very little of what he said, but I understood cocaína.
I think of the time I found my brother doing snow angels on the pavement of Columbus Drive during Lollapalooza. He was high on Molly, which he stumbled upon because he thought people were talking about his big-city big sister, Molly.
I step away from my Moroccan hero and look into his face again; I touch his shoulder and shake my head with a smile: “NO! THANK YOU!” Then my smile breaks into an unwieldy laugh. My heart hammers in my chest. My body shakes. My ears throb.
The stranger smiles, touches his sternum with a flat palm and bows his head before disappearing into the crowd.
I don’t stop laughing.