Mildly Puzzled

The construction area across the street was pretty quiet. Construction workers had set up orange cones to block off the outside lane and now they were standing around waiting for something.

Up ahead of me, a man stopped to talk to a group of teenage girls. They ignored him so he moved on, walking in my direction. He flinched when we passed each other and said, “I thought you were a girl.” I took a short appraisal of him, trying to calculate the intent of his comment. But couldn’t arrive at any conclusions. I walked on, glancing at my clothes and feeling my posture, looking for something feminine.

A U-Haul drove slowly past me. Its body was leaning a little toward the right and bouncing low on its suspension. The front mud flaps made a short scraping sound when they hit the street on each down-bounce. The construction workers watched it head up the street.

I walked past the teenagers that the man had been hassling earlier and overheard a bit of their conversation.

“This is really good.”

“And it totally has twice the caffeine of a regular cup of tea.”

“Wow, I’ve got to get me some of that. It’s called a vanilla chai?”

“Actually, it’s a chai with a shot of vanilla. If you go to a coffee shop, ask for a chai tea latte.”

The U-Haul had stopped in a loading zone. The driver and his passenger were crouched down on the curb looking under the front tire.

I was looking absently at the side of the U-Haul when the teenagers all shouted in surprise: “Holy shit!” “Oh, my god!” “Wow!” I looked back, craning my head out to see around the parked U-Haul. There was a car stopped in the middle of its lane. A second car, perpendicular to the first, had its front bumper resting gently against the side of the first car. Traffic heading in both directions was just then slowing to a stop. I didn’t even hear an impact.

Everyone – the teenagers, the idle construction workers, the U-Haul guys and me – stood and looked at the scene for a few seconds before going on with their business. I think I would have preferred having been startled by the fender bender, I’d had too much mild puzzlement already.

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