And it is obvious the man is referring to me. He glances at me as I am walking by. Making sure that I have heard him.
Over a week of not shaving. An almost beard. My dark skin is darker still. Two weeks of the hot sun in Bali. They are excuses that go through my head. They are excuses not worth making.
In my head I reply, “I heard you.” Because I have heard him since I was a boy. And I’ll hear him still when I am an old man. I’ll hear him in whatever form he takes. Because he is a shapeshifter. And it will be never ending.
Because it has happened often enough. Perhaps by now, I should have learned how to react to it. But this is only blocks from my home. And maybe I am surprised. Maybe I will always be surprised. And for a moment I am wondering if I have misunderstood. Though I have not misunderstood.
The man walks passively away. As if he has said nothing. As if his words were my imagination.
And part of my mind is screaming some retarded patriotic lineage. As if it matters. My father worked as an engineer at a naval base for 25 years. I worked for a defense subcontractor. If I hadn’t decided to take another job, I would have a security clearance right now.
And then there are the other parts of my mind. The parts that whisper threateningly. “I can be passive too.” The smarter parts. The more creative parts. The angrier and darker parts. I try to maintain control, but the night is quickly growing cold.
And it’s then that the girl with the compass tattoo decides to intervene. To pull me from the darkness. My muse and my protector. She made me choose once. She’ll make me choose again.
“Which direction?” she asks. But no it is a demand. But know it is a demand. And there is a brief struggle for control before I find myself again walking. This time towards my home. She follows me for a while to make sure that I don’t turn around. Before disappearing into the night. In bird form. A form I didn’t know she had.
And so on the walk home, I am alone for a little while. My hands are at my chest in prayer position. My head is bowed down. I am only distantly aware of my surroundings. Only distantly aware that I am still walking home.
For a moment I am back in Bali. Remembering this beautiful woman that I met there. So different from the girl with the compass tattoo. A woman and not a girl. Though they both shared an affinity for direction. And how with her voice, she asked a question. She asks it again in my head.
“How do you look as a warrior preparing for battle?”
In some worlds, I thought it was a ridiculous question. But sadly not in this one.