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First Person

Pinches

Audio: Read by Wardah Thanvi.

CW: sexual assault

Metchosin’s pine trees sway side to side with the wind as if shuffling their feet. Daylight saving time, the early evening. Below, I tread home from the bus stop with an older boy from school. The streetlights reflect fireworks as I jump into the puddles. I smile wildly at this. I am eight years old. 

“Stop that! You’re splashing me,” he laughs. 

“Shtop or what?” I ask. 

My lisp decorates my words. Once again, I kick a puddle, practicing my form for soccer. A murky tidal wave lurches at him. I ignore this and watch as an imaginary soccer ball soars, then arcs into the shaded woods. His eyebrows scrunch underneath his soaking mop of curls. 

“Come here,” he says. 

“No. I don’t wanna.” 

I shake my head back and forth in my canary yellow hood. He dives forward grabbing at my wrist. I yelp and attempt to wriggle from his grip. With one rapid motion, he pushes up my sleeve and begins to pinch me. My pale skin frosts with goosebumps. 

I sputter against the rain and stinging, “Hey!” 

“Chill out! I’m just gonna show you something cool,” he says. “Kaden showed me this at school earlier today. If I keep pinching you, you’ll adapt. No lie.” 

I let my shoulders fall, intrigued. He doesn’t flinch. He remains still, unfazed and cemented in place. Water droplets dribble down his lashes and cheeks. Rhythmically, I huff in the chilled scent of earth and oil smeared across the roads. The boy and I observe with a child-like curiosity. Sure enough, although his fingernails clutch deeply into my wrist; the needling ache subsides. 

“See? Cool right?” 

I blaze a scowl, “Yeah, I guess.” 

My next move will have to be bolder than his. Reaching up, I flick him dead centre on the nose, right on target. We both stumble backwards, untangling. 

“Oh, you did not just-” 

“Whatever,” I interrupt. 

I tighten my backpack’s loose straps and twirl around on my heels. I begin to jog. 

“I’m telling my mom you pinched me, weirdo!” I bellow. 

His echoed, inaudible yells soften as I flee further. A diminuendo. An oozing fog swallows me away. I’m forgetting more and more of this memory with each clumsy step. 

***

I’m nineteen years old and I’m on a different street, much further from home. I’m walking somewhere unfamiliar. My suitcase jingles over cobblestone. Buildings crumble from above, and the sun casts jagged lines across a myriad of creatures below. A concrete forest. Athens, Greece. My best friend and I battle upstream against hollering locals, taxis and stray cats. We have an afternoon ferry to catch. 

“Yo, should we dodge the crowd?” I ask her. 

“Yeah, let’s make our way around. The pier should be close.” My best friend nods. 

Another passerby shoulders me, and apologizes swiftly in Greek. “Sygnómi,” I mutter in return then begin to choke on a humid cloud of exhaust and piss. I follow my friend’s golden head in the commotion and trust her navigation. We cut a few corners. Without the animalistic noises of the main road, I let my mind drift. I keep my head down and stare at my grotty, sandaled feet. Three shadows peel off the wall and engulf mine. 

“Do you have the time?” A thick accent blankets the question. We are obvious tourists with our luggage. Their gazes prickle my left cheek. We’re in an alleyway now. A group of beady-eyed boys tap their wrists, indicating for a watch. Their Cheshire grins hold some kind of truth I do not yet understand. They do not want the time; I know this much already. 

“No,” I answer. 

My heart thuds against my ribcage. Their faces gleam, sweating and are smudged in soot. Amongst the barrels of trash, they appear similar to a pack of racoons. Unsettled, I quicken my steps. The second boy hustles in front, blocking my retreat and the third constrains my arms. Then, the ringleader rips up my dress. My friend is ten paces ahead. She turns to check for me. 

“HEY!” She yells, her mouth agape. 

The boys ignore her and continue. They disregard my possessions, my suitcase topples over on the pavement. I slap, scream and kick ferociously. Their hands and claws tear back at me. 

“Sorry,” one of the boys lies. 

Two minutes pass, I’m not sure. My friend is stiffened into shock, uncertain of what to do. Some corners of the memory start to wrinkle as if catching flame. Scorched, blackened and too difficult to remember. Another voice I don’t recognize shrieks. An old woman hobbles onto the scene and shouts in Greek until the circle around me finally breaks. The boys’ figures are disturbed as they scurry away. Crooked silhouettes in diagonal light, snickering. My friend rushes over and holds my side as we walk away. The memory burns, bleeds, but today only pinches. I am twenty now. I’ve adapted. As time goes on, I’ll even let the pinch go.



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About Author

Josie Hjermstad (she/her) is a 21 year old bilingual writing student. She enjoys creating short stories, persuasive essays, and documenting interviews for journalism. She is also passionate about social justice and politics. Josie loves to spend her time with friends and family, creating art, as well as in the great outdoors, (preferably on a surfboard or skateboard).

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