Shoreditch

Everyone was listening to him. ‘A squirrel dying in your front yard, at that particular moment, may be more important and relevant to your life than people dying in Africa!’ He was a slender man wearing a loose orange jumper that signalled something erotic to B, although she couldn’t quite work out what it was. He was tanned, too, like he spent lots of time outdoors. She imagined him a sculptor working on something important and contemporary in his back yard. She imagined him bronzed and bare-chested, chiselling away at something that mattered. He was quoting Mark Zuckerberg. But as much as B wanted to see the artist naked before her, she couldn’t accept his statement. She disliked the fact he was using an African as the counterpart to a squirrel. Why didn’t he talk about a dying European? Or a dying North American? She wanted to raise her hand and make the point, but she was afraid she’d be hounded out of the gallery. Who wouldn’t care more for an African than a squirrel? She could hear him retaliating already. She felt anxious. She wondered why she’d come and looked at her legs and her hands and then in her bag, as if they might offer her advice. But nothing came to her other than the considered silence of the audience. Then she heard herself laughing, loudly, like a dog barking beside her on the bench. Everybody turned around, and stared. B felt hotter. She felt herself blushing. ‘Africans,’ she whispered. The man sitting beside her looked a bit desperate. He edged up the bench a centimetre or so, towards the younger man beside him. The artist in the orange top stood up, so he could look at her too. He smiled at her and his erotic quality fell away. B stared back. She wanted to stand up too, but she was afraid. She didn’t know how to begin to defend concern for a dying squirrel, even though she knew she was right. She smiled at the artist, terrified, and he continued to smile back. The audience seemed to relax a little. The talk continued.  

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