A last-minute business trip is on the horizon for tomorrow, so I took advantage of some same-day dry cleaning to be able to look presentable.
When I swung into the strip mall tonight to pick up my clothing, I immediately noticed two things: a shady-looking character loitering by the dry cleaners’ doors, and a young boy with a large, lean dog he had tied to a sign pole. The way my heart and brain are wired, I immediately cared more about the animal.
As I pulled into my parking spot, right in front of the cleaners, the tanned, shifty, leathery character eyed me. He didn’t look OK; I assumed he would ask for money, so I was grateful I’d pre-paid earlier this morning. I got out of my car with only my keys, and glanced at the boy and the dog a few feet away as I moved past the loiterer.
My clothes were at the ready, and I left seconds later. The man was still staring at me as I made a beeline to the boy. I had to investigate the dog situation further.
“Hi, is this your doggie?” I asked the child.
“It’s a friend’s dog. We’re taking care of him.”
“Oh, may I pet him?” I asked. The boy nodded, and it was clear the dog was the largest puppy I’d ever seen versus a malnourished dog. I was relieved.
I gathered the puppy’s name was Bruno (fitting) and headed back to my car. This time, the loiterer wasted no time in approaching.
He mumbled something that I couldn’t make out.
“What?” I asked.
Mumble, mumble. He inched closer.
“Huh?” I said.
More mumbling. Closer still.
“Am I what?” I asked. I almost had it.
“Are you dating anyone?” he said quietly. His eyes freaked me out. They were dead, but intent — if that makes any sense.
“Yes. I am,” I replied.
“Oh, OK. I’m sorry,” he said. He stared at me as I got in my car and drove off.
It’s not like the guy knew who I was, so I found myself wondering how many women he has approached in that manner. I wondered what he’d have done had I said no. I wondered if something different would’ve happened if I had ignored him entirely.
Would he have been there after hours? Would he have behaved more aggressively if the little boy and employees weren’t close by? Thinking about these things gave me chills. Not good ones, naturally.
It felt a little like my brain wanted to explode. My radar went haywire when I pulled into the strip mall and finally short-circuited when I left. I knew I was thankful the dog was fine, but with the weirdness in my rear view mirror, I was thankful that I was, too.