Muskaan Jadeja

The Gods are odd like that. They just … show up.
Bloody inconvenient, if you ask me.
I’d been walking down the aisle, reaching for a mesh bag of tangerines when it seemed a hand brushed mine. At first, my thoughts went down the road to the most obvious conclusion.
The hand fell in love with me.
I’d glance up and they’d lock eyes with me, and we’d both fall. Irreversibly, irreparably, inevitably, infinitely, and one more adverb to seal the deal.
It was dimly lit in aisle three, considering the flickering tube light, mostly to avoid having customers looking too critically at the fruit. But I’ll be lucky enough to get away with looking mysterious and beautiful enough to haunt this stranger’s dreams.
So, emboldened by my character and possibly the intoxicating scent of tangerines, I turned around.
I don’t think I can explain the ghastly eruption in my chest, so I won’t begin to try.
It was a child.
My dreams were dashed, as were the wedding bells and my heart.
I take a closer look. A child with alarmingly mature arms.
No really, the hand that brushed mine seemed large and strong. But this…well, they were attached to a child. A child that reached my shoulders if it strained on top of the tips of its toes.
I start to glance around for a frazzled parent looking for a misplaced kid when it smiles at me. This gaping grin, a black hole cut into the face, a seemingly standard face.
I should have noticed right then. It’s always confusing, the forms They take, mimicking humanity but just enough to feel off.
But alas, long days and rainy weather give leave to the senses, and all I wanted were tangerines and the mint ice cream in my shopping cart, that, just my luck, had that weird spinning back wheel that made it 2.6 times harder to push.
So I smile back.And I don’t know, maybe it was the right thing to do, besides, oh, run away in fear? Because the smile grew impossibly wider, slicing across its human face.
“Could you spare an orange?”
The voice that just escaped that void of a mouth is one I’m nearly certain children do not hone. Nor do any living creatures that speak any language of man for that matter.
And considering the fact that these were tangerines, I wagered a negative response, but the searing eyes looked right into my head, so I nodded and mumbled an “of course”. Reaching back, I slip out a not-orange from an already ripped mesh bag next to the one I claimed.
And so maybe that was thievery. And lying, as that was not sparing one from my chosen bag. But thievery and lies are both valid when children are in question. Particularly ones with horrendous smiles.
Dentists really advertise mild cases at their clinics.
I hold out the not-orange to the child, my arm taut. I really didn’t want to get too close to it. I fear children in general but ones with adult arms send specific shivers down my spine.
It reaches for the not-orange with said adult arm and starts to pick at the peel.
Wonderful. Creepy Child is sated, not to mention fooled, and my tangerines are free to be wholly mine. Besides, tangerines were in all ways superior to oranges. Sweeter in taste, pleasanter in shade and ethically-er sourced as well.
I reached for that precious mesh bag when that putrid voice nearly made me lose vision.
“My mother once told me of a crow that told stories to weary travelers, if they asked the right leaf for directions.”
I stare at it, as it pulls a slice free of white string.
“So I’d gone off to meet it.”
And I care because?
I turn away from Creepy Child, finally setting my mesh bag into my cart, nestled quite safely next to my dinner, the mint chocolate chip delicacy.
Like a fool, I turn back to peek at it. It stares back up at me, another slice in its adult hands, while the peels lay at its feet.
“But birds are pesky things,”
I really should know better than to encourage children by looking at them.
“And plants and their leaves, while very psychic, only express it by beauty and silence,
“So I asked the sky if she saw the crow, and she said that it flew into the sun sometime ago, because the sun looked an awful lot like an orange.”
How lovely. How wonderful. How absolutely beautiful.
I tell it so, in hopes that it would remember that it has somewhere to be that isn’t here, like near a parent. It was also the only other option besides asking how the sun in its very large masculine hand tasted.
This is why we stick to tangerines. Restraint.
“Very good story, very nice,”
“I asked the-”
OH FOR THE LOVE OF- “oh there’s more?”
Irritatingly enough, it ignored me, “-ocean if-”
Enough, I’m sure, is really enough, and so I wordlessly shove my defective shopping cart forward to the next aisle over. Forget supervising it till its parent shows up. It can fend for its life in aisle three quite well. Orange suns my foot, arm and third finger.
“The bird seems to have left for good, but can only be found on days burning in orange suns.”
I turn for the billionth time today, this time with a glare. Aisle four is meant to be the vegetable aisle, not the children aisle. It really followed me, leaving a trail of tangerine peels and white string.
It tipped its head up at me, and that gaping grin presented itself, gifting me a peek into a void.
Psychic plants, talking skies, burning days and storytelling birds that thought the sun was an orange. This is just another reason why we stick to tangerines. Mental soundness.
“I’ll find the crow today.”
My ice cream was melting, and so was my patience.
“Where are your parents? Why are you wandering the grocery store?”
“I figured the bird would need payment for the story.”
“With what? The half eaten snack in your hand?”
And so I left. I turned a moment after a long stare, taking my cart of likely melted dinner, the mesh bag of tangerines and checked out, not once looking back towards the lone child in aisle four with the gaping grin and adult arms needing an orange but getting a tangerine and left.
Call me selfish. But thievery, lies and selfishness were all valid when there is no patience for odd encounters and imaginative children.
That’s why we go for tangerines. Distance.
Walking out to my car, I glanced upward. Usually the early evening would give to a lavender sky, but today, despite the late hour displayed on my wrist watch, an orange sun glowed, right through the rainy mist from the day.
Right there, did I swear off attempting to fall in love in grocery stores