Wearily, she carried on. She had been on her feet for hours, without caring where she was going or what street she was on. The strap of her bag cut through the jacket and into her shoulder. It felt so heavy, as if every hour of her aimless journey had added more weight to carry around. A boy came towards her. As he passed by she saw him grinning, pressing his lips together to muffle his giggles. No, she hadn’t imagined this. There were others, many people it seemed; all of them glancing, some even staring openly. The sneering laughter reverberated in her ears, high-pitched and low. Everywhere she turned she saw their hyena-like faces like reflections in a mirrored maze. Her heart was pounding hard.
Hot, why was she feeling so damn hot? Her cheeks felt as if they were burning! Sheepishly, she combed her fingers through her hair, looked down at her clothes to make sure there was no stain or anything else that made her look ridiculous. She checked her shoes, those worn-out boots that squeezed her toes together, which were sore and swollen from running around. Nothing. She couldn’t find anything out of the ordinary. Maybe her face? There must be something wrong with her face. Dizzily, she bent down to look in the mirror of a parked car. She hadn’t been aware of how exhausted she was; she felt drained, dehydrated. There was nothing peculiar about her face; no breadcrumbs, no ketchup sticking to her skin. The eyeliner was a little bit smudged but this was barely noticeable in the twilight.
As she stepped away from the car, continuing her excursion, she looked into the passing faces, searching for clues to understand the cause of the giggles. Their chuckling seemed grotesque. The grinning crowd looked like a parade of fools. Quizzically, she studied the grimaces of passers-by. How ridiculous they look! The funny sounds of their laughter made her think of horses, monkeys; a whole zoo came into her mind. Giggles escaped her, reluctantly at first; then louder, relieving. Her laughter sounded like a shriek, much higher than her usual voice. Listening, she sought out similar laughs. Her! She sounds almost like me! It was like a new game: comparing everyone’s snorts.
Before she was aware of it, she had turned into one of them.
by B.E. Seidl
First published by Flash Fiction Magazine