My blue vest and I were verbally violated.
This is how it happened:
A co-worker and I were standing at the end of a row. We were minding our own business, adjusting shoes that are slanted, sitting on shingle tablets edging outward towards some sort of center until a customer came out of nowhere, startling us.
This man standing in front of us was a bit taller than what the word tall usually implies, and was with his daughter that was no more than 7-years-old.
He had small irises so the whites of his eyes were sharp, filing the etchings of his facial features to a dominating look. She wore a pink jacket and blue jeans, and white sneakers on her feet that had a purple trim contouring the foot sole.
The man’s head was dreaded and he wore a beanie hat hanging off of the top of his crown, covering and exaggerating a few of his hairs.
“Excuse me, I need some help” he said, asking in a Jamaican dialect I had to listen attentively to to understand.
My co-worker stepped in front of me suggesting that he was going to be the source of help as he felt that this man, and his request, were both duplicitous sounding.
The customer said selectively with aggression, with a hint of power rupturing from his throat: “No, I don’t want you. I want her” pointing to me he said.
Any slight bone of confidence I had in my spine succumbed to the customers want – I was wearing my blue vest after all.
My co-worker – in effort to protect me foreseeing that I may need it – trailed behind following my lead as we had the man and his daughter sandwiched between the blue of our vests.
An Oriental man, who I failed to take note on the appearance of past that, was sitting quietly on a bench in passing until he blurted out at my friend, “Yo mother fucker.”
My friend stopped, I mean quite naturally, unable to follow any longer shocked into this momentary stillness, leaving me with the tall, accented customer.
“What are you looking for exactly?” I asked, trying to get an idea of what wants I may have to meet.
“You know, I’m looking for something sexy. Like sexy boots that you women wear. Something with a heel for sure” the man described, looking me up and down thinking thoughts I couldn’t quite hear.
Feeling the bitterness of his speech, comments of my own built to the tips of my fingers, stopping at my black, coffee coloured painted nails as I held them pressed tight, discretely digging into my palms.
“Do you know what size shoe she wears?” I asked the father.
“I don’t know, man. Could be 13, could be 14, maybe 3.”
“You mean 13, 1, 2 or 3” I thought to myself.
“Right” I said turning to the man’s daughter, “do you know what size shoe you are?”
“Like a 14 maybe” she replied just like her father.
But she was young and perhaps her 13 were tight which made it hard for me to judge her for just knowing which number numerically follows.
I presented to the man, physically looking up to him, a wall of boots for girls as I tried to search for something that could look moderately sexy, as he wished.
“Naw, naw. I don’t want any of these. I want something with a heel, like you women wear.”
I brought them to the women’s section one aisle over against my morally right will, despite hearing it screaming inside of me not to.
“She’s seven!!” it spoke to me, “Seven!” it repeated.
The father, walking up and down the row touching the boots feeling their different textures of synthetic leather’s and suede’s, turned around with a pointy, heeled boot, one with pleats and other ugly things on it, saying to me affirmatively, “These. I like these.”
Reaching my hand out towards the rack, I unhooked a size 5, faced the seven-year-old and helped her put the shoes on, all the while keeping my mouth shut.
She tried to stand up with her legs that seemed to have turned into baby stilts all of a sudden.
She wobbled and reached for her father’s hand that was tucked away into his pocket as he stood back, observing she and I.
The 5 was too tight for her, the heels were too high, and the look of discomfort that grew over the child’s face almost dimmed the store lights (or at least the perspective in which I was viewing the father in).
The 7-year-old still needed something sexy though.
I walked around the corner picking out suede, wedged boots that were shorter cut to the ankle as well as to the floor.
These looked less promiscuous in my opinion, camouflaging the fathers aim for the seven-year-old sexy look.
His daughter tried the shoes on by herself, standing up on her own and walking; this time without terror.
I backed away from them suggesting that I felt finished.
The man, however, greatly disagreed when he stopped me by saying, “I’m buying these because I think you’re pretty, okay. So you should smile.”
Because you cannot talk to me like that, and let’s face it – what he said was not at all flattering. In fact, it was so stupid that he even thought that that could have remotely been the right thing to say, I forced my vision up to him directing my voice steadily to his beard that was closer to me than his ears were with my carefully selected words: “That’s not a reason to buy something.”
“But I’m buying it because I like you. Smile” he instructed me in a tone that was supposed to imply my unsettling feeling into surreal gratitude.
I turned my back to him, walking across the department, off to do something else.
Just when I reached the men’s section, the man hollered at me, combining it with a snap that I heard as instantly as you would feel your foot stepping down on cold shards of glass.
I felt enraged.
I curled my fingers in, squishing them into my palms again as I carried myself back to him.
No really, I could have flung a men’s boot at him, aiming at his head sticking high above anyone else’s.
In front of me, “I need you” he said.
I stared up through my bangs.
Like continue please.
And, like clockwork, with the same disdainful look on his face, “You know those sexy things you ladies wear?”
In between his speech that was building up, coming next, I thought, “No. I don’t know those things.”
“Like those sexy things you wear on your legs. You’re wearing them now.”
Plucking the material framing my legs, “Oh. Nylons you mean!?” I leered at him, speaking in an excited tone, one of course embellished with sarcasm.
“Yea those. She ‘gon need some” he said, telling me the obvious as I didn’t assume a man of his benighted personality would at all need a pair of nylons.
“Nylons for her would be in with the children’s clothes” I point-fully spoke.
In front of a rack of nylons I asked the girl’s father, “Do you know how much she weighs?”
“Yo” he began with, “how am I supposed to know?”
“Is she between 50 and…- ”
Before I could finish saying another word or think of something else sarcastic to reply, the man had physically picked up his daughter by underneath her armpits, and held her in the air for a moment.
“No, please stop. Is this really happening…” pushed itself to the front of my brain.
“You heavy gurl” he told her, forgetting I’m guessing, to report any pound-value back to me.
Perfect I thought.
“Do you know how much you weigh if you don’t mind me asking?” I directed my tone nicely to the 7-year-old, trying my best to respect her and her woman-feet.
“Maybe between 50-70, or like 70-100?”
She shook her head no, frightened by my inquisition.
Making an executive decision I handed her father the medium-sized nylons, “Here, I’m not really sure what to give you but she looks like the average 7-year-old.”
“I love you” he exclaimed as though his coffee filter was just really not working inside of him anymore.
“I mean, I mean I like you” he corrected himself, although you and I both realize that neither of those comments were at all okay.
“Right” I said.
“Smile baby” he told me.
My discomfort overwhelmed me. Like can I please just take off this blue vest now!?
I walked away, cutting off our interactions after I took one last look at this grand thing of a seven year-old and her small father towering over her.