Here is the pavement and here is the street. This is the crowd, benumbed but paid up, going to work, scurrying termites bringing labour to their fattened paycheque queens, the glassy mounds which are their daytime homes chew at the horizon. The flow of the crowd is uniform, one way, dead fish in a corporate current. Everyone, it seems, has decided they are going this way.
But here is a rogue element which pushes against the current, parting the crowd in front of her like a northbound icebreaker. Left-right, left-right, left-right. Eyes forward. Short skirt, high heels, and freshly laundered hair. A light and unpretentious veneer of makeup on her face, the confidence of a thousand splendid suns radiating from her.
Left-right, left-right, left-right. Red traffic light. Pause.
Here she is holding a takeaway latte in her right hand, taking a small, dainty sip, weight transferred onto one leg. She waits for the green man to tell her to resume her stylish metronomic walk. Her left hand clutches her handbag.
The green man winks at her. Once more: left-right, left-right, left-right.
Here she goes, crossing the street. Every vibrating car purrs in appreciation when she passes. One of the drivers, enraptured by the vision strutting in front of his bumper, lets the clutch slip. His car switches off. She barely notices.
Here she is approaching a corner, going around it, still minding her own business.¹
And here, about a hundred metres away, is a certain someone, a man to be precise, leaning against a wall. A cigarette chimneys from his mouth, blowing casual smoke into the morning sunlight. He is tall, a bit on the skinny side, not particularly handsome to look at, but not the kind of person your eyes will harass with polite but ill-disguised attention. On this particular day, he stands smoking his cigarette on this patch of pavement he has annexed with his gaunt frame, throwing long gazes at members of the opposite sex. A passing woman feels his hot stare burning the top half of her breasts and hastily removes them from his razing view by quickening her gait. Another has her behind groped by his obnoxious stare. She turns around to address the trespasser and is met only with his furtive, puffing, grinning face. A crime has been committed but no charges are pressed—the witness will argue her case, the accused need only plead his genuine appreciation of her figure. And the jury, though sensing something is greatly amiss, will have to acquit him since no specific law has been transgressed.
Looking is a sort of compliment, they will tell themselves. Such is the way of the world, eh?
But is it?
Now, dear reader, watch how this smoking man and our rogue element are about to encounter each other. Her approach is heralded by people politely skirting her trajectory—nobody and nothing with a deep-seated will to live to die another day would dare to obstruct her leonine stroll.
Left-right, left-right, left-right.
Watch carefully how by being in a public space, on a very public day,² she has attracted the attention of our smoking man. He watches her approach. Smoke, puff, gaze, smoke, puff, gaze. When she is ten metres away from him he takes a pull on his cigarette and then flicks the dying spark away. He adds his smoky breath to the atmosphere and lifts one leg up and rests a foot against the wall behind him.³
She walks on, he stands. For an instant, the perpendicularity between the walking woman and the smoking man is briefly noted by the universe before it rushes on to more important matters. A star just exploded a million light years away. There are planets to burn, lives to extinguish, futures to rewrite, and cosmic events to set in motion. The universe cannot be concerned with this temporary alignment of victim and harasser.
He whistles. And then he says, “Nice ass.”
He does not say it quietly. His contribution draws the attention of the other pavement traffic. Some throw him disgusted looks. The rest choose to ignore him. To see or hear the commission of a crime would require some kind of action on the part of the seer or hearer. Collectively, they avert their eyes and mute their ears and walk on.
The woman does not say anything. She has not even registered his presence. Her earphones are plugged in, she has a tune in her ear, offence cannot be taken where none has been heard.
But look, dear reader, how our smoking man is not impressed by the nonchalance with which his existence was brushed aside. His is a life built on the elicitation of reactions from the world—good or bad, he cares not. He is the pub brawler with something to say about everyone’s soccer team; he is the shouter of obscenities from passing cars; he is the running commentator of films in quiet cinema houses; he is the noisy restaurant invader who will not be silenced because he is paying for his dinner just like everyone else and he will be allowed to be himself goddammit and anyone who does not like it can come and say so to his face! He enjoys courting controversy for amusement.
On this occasion his stimulus has not achieved its aims. And so he repeats himself, louder. “Hey, you in the white skirt, nice ass!”
The woman stops.
And now the stage is set. The universe, thoroughly engrossed with the aforementioned dying star’s catastrophic magnetic fields, realises its mistake. The earlier crossing of paths was more significant than it thought. It is true that the supernova created by a star collapsing in on itself will yield sights and wonders no mortal eyes have seen, but it is equally true that a Jessicapocalypse, a term used to describe the irregular explosions of our recently discovered adventuress, yields more information about the intimate workings of the cosmos in its brief and destructive majesty than all of the accumulated wisdom gleaned from staring at the heavens and postulating about the stars. It is why, for example, when a Jessicapocalypse is about to occur the universe expeditiously cancels its afternoon plans, leaves probable futures unattended, and rushes back to Earth to observe the sound and the fury of one of creations’s immutable, unstoppable forces.
Jessica takes a deep breath. She reaches into her handbag and presses the pause button on her music player. Her slender hand reaches up and pulls one earphone out of her ear. She carefully turns around to face the obstacle which has upset her playlist.
“Excuse me?” she asks.
“Yeah, I thought that would get your attention,” he says. A self-satisfied smile slinks across his face. He wears the look a wolf would have if it encountered a crippled sheep high on morphine. “Nice ass.”
Jessica looks up at the tall smoker. Then she looks behind her, at the instrument which has been deemed worthy of crude and public praise by this stranger. It is a posterior which is a deity unto itself, sprouting disciples and minor religions in its wake. And since the defining characteristic of all gods is the constancy with which they ignore men’s prayers the Jess-Ass, too, true to form, maintains a detached ambivalence to the praises and pleas directed towards it. Prayers made in its name or sacrifices carried out to invoke its power and benevolence are lost in the internal spiritual bureaucracy which forms the curvaceousness that is the Jess-Ass. Its favours are sporadic but generous to the occasional faithful; its judgment and denial are cruel. It is, in Jessica’s honest opinion, well-shaped and of a stereotype-nullifying size.
“Yes, it’s a nice ass. I know this,” she says.” Our smoker smiles. Not only did he get a reaction, but he seems to be getting a good reaction. The wolf smile comes out again. “Do you know how I know this?”
Jessica says the last part loudly. It pulls the other pedestrians out of their doldrums and focuses their attention on this rather peculiar encounter. A circumference of curious observers draws itself around Jessica and the tall smoker. The universe shoves more popcorn into its mouth.
“Because I live with it,” Jessica continues, her voice picking up volume and power. “I sleep with it. I shower with it. I take it for walks. And runs. I take it to work. It follows me everywhere, actually. My ass and I have been to places. We have seen things. We have done things. We are doing things. It is many things to me. It stops my falls, it makes jeans fit. It is my dance partner. What it is not, though, is an object of fucking harassment, asshole!”
The wolf smile has vanished, replaced by panic. This sheep shoots lasers and detonates without warning. The smoker tries to retreat out of the situation by offering platitudes. “Damn, I was just giving you a compliment, lady. Why you gotta swear so damn much?”
Jessica takes another deep breath and calls upon the hitherto unseen drone circling above her head to drop F-bombs at her coordinates. The area is cluster bombed with the kinds of words which cannot be repeated here. Certain comparisons between heel sizes—she gestures to her shoes—and bits of male genitalia—she points at unseen parts on his gawky body—are made, spat out with such ferocity the assembled audience winces at the focused savagery they are seeing. It is not everyday you see a wolf being choke-slammed by a sheep, and you might be tempted to feel pity for the suffocating, fanged menace. It is, after all, in its nature to eat sheep. But then you remember the sheep also have dreams and destinies, they have crossword puzzles to complete. And then you silently cheer for the sheep.
Jessica calls down the thunder, the lighting, the fire, and the flame. The frogs, the locust, the gnats, the boils, and the pestilence stand at attention, ready to serve. Her exothermic, expletive-riddled monologue is brief, direct, devastating. To ensure no seeds of ignorance take root in the soil she has just burned she throws salt and shame on the ground, concluding with a truth as old as the count of time itself.
“No woman shops for compliments from the side of the road. None. If we want compliments we will get them from places and people who are actually able to do something with what they are complimenting.”
The assembled crowd blinks rapidly from the sheer intensity of the burning truth being rained upon the pavement. The universe chokes on a kernel.
There is a moment of silence for the tall smoker’s rapidly evacuated dignity. He stands tall, but diminished. The shadow of a shadow of a coward—a despicable thing. Jessica walks away without saying another word.
The smoking man is left standing in a widening pool of embarrassment. Everyone skirts around him, scared of catching the contagion of ignominy. A handful of judging stares, a sly chuckle in the crowd, and then flock moves on. The wolf is down and the world spins madly on. The universe, though, is still alert and watching Jessica who has resumed her walk. The end-credits are rolling, and the crowd is shuffling out, eager to beat the traffic home. But there is a tiny morsel for the fan who waits until the very end.
As Jessica rounds another corner, her mind snatches at a piece of half-remembered prose:
All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.
“And sometimes, she says to herself, “it is your own damn catwalk. And regardless of whatever fuckery you encounter you have to keep on walking like Vanity Fair is looking for a new cover model.”
She puts her earphone back in its rightful place, presses play and walks on. Left-right, left-right, left-right.
The universe smiles. It has gotten what it came for. A new Jessverse.
¹A feat which sets the tone for the upcoming drama.
²The day not being commandeered by a religious or national holiday which would save the jaded pavement traffic from the mundaneness of their lives for a while before normal transmission resumed.
³This is a tried and tested way to get a girl’s attention. Tried, of course, means the person executing the pose has affected this stance numerous times before…in their head. They are going for casual cool. Chicks dig casual cool. They have to dig casual cool. Otherwise life is a lie and men have to figure out other ways to engage a woman’s attention. And tested, if you really want to know, means its success rate has been conclusively decided and exhibited by genetically altered men of unnatural grace and swagger in, you guessed it, films.
The Jessverses are the many wisdomous (totally a word) observations of Jessica, a not-so typical white girl living in a black man’s body. (Don’t ask how the biology works—you really don’t want to know.) If you think you enjoy seeing the world through her eyes wait until you hear it through her ears.
You can read the first Jessverse here: Jessica’s Friday Night In.
DURATION: 1 hour 19 minutes (20 tracks)
MOOD: Dance; strut; boss bitch status achieved
NOTABLE ARTISTS: Destiny’s Child (The Writings On The Wall; Survivor); Nelly Furtado (Whoa Nelly!; Loose); Kylie Minogue (Light Years; Fever); BoomKat (Boomkatalog.One; A Million Trillion Stars); and M.I.A. (Kala; Maya).