There is a tiny man in her hair and he is screaming at me. “Hello there!” He is screaming. “Please remove me from this strand of hair!” He is screaming. “This is a terribly inconvenient place for me to be right now!” He is screaming.
The girl keeps walking, her curls swinging the tiny man in an upsettingly cavalier kind of way. She either doesn’t notice him or is very cruel. I am walking behind the girl. She is on her phone. I look around. I look back at the tiny man, who is still screaming. I want to communicate to him that I do not know this girl, that she is a complete stranger who happens to have purchased groceries at the same time I did, that I have not talked to a woman in years and would frankly end up embarrassing myself as well as him. And because I cannot say this, I just do my best “what-are-you-gonna-do” shrug, except I take great pains to shrug in the subtlest way possible, so other people in the Walmart parking lot on that Sunday afternoon do not see me shrugging at this girl’s hair, so the girl does not see me shrugging at her hair. And so in the end I am just raising my hands slightly into the air, palms up, and grimacing with as much good will as I can muster.
“My name is Gary!” he continues screaming, “I work for the US Food and Drug Safety Administration!” Nice to meet you Gary, I almost say, but stop myself because I do not want to be heard saying “Nice to meet you, Gary,” to some girl’s hair at the parking lot of a Walmart. I really would hate going to court again over a misunderstanding.
And now I notice I am three feet behind the girl, I have been three feet behind her for maybe thirty seconds now and this is getting strange. If she turns around right now and asks me why I am following her, what do I say? Miss, there is a tiny bureaucrat in your hair? I can see the car she is walking towards, a red Ford Focus, and we are getting within twenty feet of it and I must do something soon or that girl will take Gary back home, maybe he will fall into a bowl of tortilla chips and a member her family, sitting by the TV on a Sunday evening, will inadvertently put him into her mouth and chew him up.
While I am thinking about this question, the tiny man gives a tiny yelp, like a mouse, before falling from the strand of hair he has been clinging so desperately onto. And I dive towards him, reaching out with my hands, but it is too late, he falls and I can hear one last squeaky scream before his half-inch body hits the ground, the sound of a fortune cracker being broken. And there are little trickles of blood, and people turn towards me now, old women with round-rimmed glasses and pink knit sweaters, Walmart employees, the girl with the red Ford Focus, all of them are looking at me while I lie facedown on a parking lot, dark concrete against my chin, I am screaming now, No! I scream, Please no! And in that moment I am more heartbroken than I’ve ever been, I know when I return to my apartment with no furniture, when I eat the hot pockets in my plastic bag, I know for the rest of my life- a life like this- I will not forget the tiny man, the way he screamed to me, the need in his voice, and I will eat these hot pockets alone for God knows how many more years and wonder if he was the only person who ever could’ve loved me.