The three of us turned to him.
“Stop saying that we have to be fixed. I like who I am. I don’t think I need to fix anything. I’m not broken.” Jamie left the room.
Daniel leaned his elbows on the table and rubbed his face. “You knew what I meant, right, Mara?”
I did. But Jamie had voiced what I hadn’t been able to put into words until then, what the slight sting of shame kept me from saying out loud.
I didn’t think I needed to be fixed either. I liked who I was becoming too.
TO DIFFUSE THE TENSION, DANIEL suggested we take a break before the lecture. We were tired and cranky and confused, and we’d been trapped in the house for too long. Daniel wanted to keep reading, though, so he stayed home, leaving Stella, Jamie, and me to our own devices. Which to Jamie meant buying food.
Without a car, and with our agreement not to order out, we ended up having to take the train to a Whole Foods (Jamie insisted), which meant lugging bags of groceries with us on the way back. The platform was weirdly empty, except for a couple of preppily dressed guys urinating on a heap of what looked like rags. Stella and I were debating the artistic merits of graffiti (my opinion, art; hers, vandalism), but I digressed for a moment to loudly inform the guys of their disgustingness. They didn’t say anything back. Not even when Jamie called out to them. It was only then that I noticed that the heap was actually a person.
Jamie spoke first. “What in the ever-loving fuck do you think you’re doing?” He was already marching toward them.
I was close at his heels, and Stella brought up the rear. We could see the person, the woman, huddled against the wall, her small, pathetic collection of things strewn around her like trash. She was older and her face was dirty, and she was awake. Part of me hoped she’d be unconscious so she wouldn’t ever have to know what was being done to her, but one look at her face told me she did know. And she was ashamed.
I vibrated with rage, just as one of the assholes flashed a shit-eating grin at Jamie and said, “When you gotta go, you gotta—”
He never finished his sentence, because I punched him in his freckled face. The other one, Blondie, raised his arm to swing back at me, but Jamie yelled “Stop!” in that voice of his. Both of them froze, completely, but they could still hear. They could definitely hear.
My hands were balled into fists so tight that my nails dug into my skin. “She’s a person,” I said. “How could you do this to a person?”
“Answer her,” Jamie said flatly. “And tell the fucking truth.”
“The homeless are a plague,” Freckles said, then swallowed hard, as if by doing so he could take the words back. Blondie just smirked. He wasn’t ashamed at all.
Stella had knelt down near the woman, and I heard her ask if she was hungry. I took a step toward the assholes, who were farther from the woman, and closer to the platform.
“She’s more of a person than you are,” I said. I could hear the woman sobbing softly. “Stella, help her?”
I didn’t look to see if she nodded, but I assumed she did, because I heard plastic crunch as the woman stood.
“Give her something to eat?” Jamie said to her.
Stella glanced at our groceries and nodded. She offered the woman her arm. “What’s your name?”
“Maria,” the woman said.
Stella helped her up and said, “Guys, let’s go?”
“No,” I said slowly, looking back at the boys. “I’m going to stay, I think.”
“Mara.” Stella said my name through gritted teeth. “Come on.”
Jamie edged closer to me. “I’m going to stay too, actually.”
Freckles burst out laughing. “You’re not seriously suggesting that you’re going to punish us?”
Little did they know. I flicked a glance at Stella. “Do you need something?”
“No,” she dragged out the word.
I looked at Freckles and Blondie as I said to her, “Then go. Now.”
But she didn’t. Instead, she unlooped her arm from Maria’s.
“What are you going to do to them?”
“I kind of want to see Mara Crucio their asses,” Jamie said.
The boys snickered.
“Avada kedavra, more like,” I said.
Stella looked back and forth between the two of us. “You’re not serious.”
“They deserve it,” I said quietly.
Blondie chuckled. “Two girls and a child?” He looked Jamie up and down. “How old are you?
“Old enough to kick your ass.”
Freckles doubled over.
“I would cut out your eye just to see what it looks like in my hand,” I said to him to absolutely no effect.
Which was fine. He didn’t have to believe me yet.
“You’re not really . . . You’re not going to . . . ,” Stella said, but from the tone of her voice, I knew she wasn’t sure.
I shrugged. “It would be fair.”
Stella turned to Jamie. “Jamie.”
He didn’t answer her.
“Make them sit still and then piss on them,” Stella said. “That would be fair.”
Jamie shook his head. “Look, if you peed on me—”
“I would never piss on you, Jamie.” Stella had relaxed a bit. She thought Jamie was playing with her. Maybe he was.
“I appreciate that, but let’s say you did. Then according to Kant, I could pee on you. That’s retributive justice right there.”
Jamie turned back to the boys, who were frozen in place, presumably because Jamie had told them to stop. They watched us warily. “Peeing on a homeless person, that’s different. It’s worse. There are levels of awful, and that’s near the top.”
It was. I hadn’t felt this angry in so long, and there was so much pleasure in it. My nerves were electrified. New synapses were firing. I felt different, and wondered if I looked it. I craned my neck to see my reflection in a mirrored tile and waited for it to say something, to tell me what to do the way she used to. But she was silent. Hmm.
Meanwhile, Jamie continued to explain to Stella why the assholes deserved more than what she thought they did. “There’s a power differential,” he said. “They’re taking advantage of someone weak, and it’s horrible and disgusting and amoral, and anyone who does something like that needs to be taught a lesson. Peeing on them back isn’t enough.”
No. It wasn’t. A hot breeze made its way through the tunnel, giving me an idea. “There’s a train coming,” I said to Jamie.