Watchlist , our anthology of surveillance-themed short stories, is out now. To mark the publication of the book, we asked a few of its contributors to perform their own real-life act of surveillance — and to write about what they saw.
Sounds like a foreign language. I remember saying this once to a friend.
But every language is foreign to those who don’t speak it, my friend said then.
You know what I mean, I said, draining my grande hot chocolate. I have always had juvenile taste buds.
We were in another Starbucks. Antwerp Train Station, I think. We’d ordered in Dutch then, but otherwise it could have been here, in suburban Marietta. Georgia, East Cobb, where sports shorts are a staple and English words float around, bits of conversations sent into the air like ghosts. And Jan’s name is never spelled right. He has had Yan . And Yarn . Once, the barista wrote Juan . Or, if he spells it out, it is never pronounced right, so he doesn’t realize when his own name is called out. Often, he is called Djan ? Djan ? Once, a barista decided that Jan was short for Janet. That made me laugh. Now he has taken to calling himself Tom.
For Tom: One chai latte. Venti. Skinny milk.
For me: One hot chocolate. Tall. No whipped cream. And a feta spinach wrap, please, thanks.
Sometimes I need something healthy to shock my taste buds out of their juvenility.
A table by a wall. Facing the door. (I have watched too many horror movies and have a distrust of chairs that have my back to doors. Which is why I do not like the Antwerp Station Starbucks. It has two entrances so your back is always to a door).
I plug in my computer. Jan plugs in his.
That’s my daughter, a man says, pointing with his chin. He is balding, but only slightly.
Which? The lady he is talking to asks, scanning the room.
That one. Pink top.
She’s been here a while.
Yeah. She’s homeschooled.
I sneak a look. Daughter is a tall teen. Headphones over her head. Long legs peek out of shorts. Computer opened in front of her. She ignores proud father when he returns to her. I imagine her telling him, You are soooo embarrassing, Dad . I was that age once too. In Nigeria, in Enugu, not here. We had no Starbucks then. We have no Starbucks there.
There are two women at the table beside ours. And a baby in a pram. One is wearing jogging pants and a shirt that covers her arms. I whisper to Jan (even though I’m speaking Dutch) that she must be hot wearing those pants. It is a sunny day.
Jan looks up from his computer. “Sorry?”
“Never mind,” I say. The moment has passed.
He continues typing. Furiously. The other woman is in typical East Cobb garb: tennis shorts and a T-shirt.
Jogging Pants says, I remember the first time I went out after having James, I felt so unattractive. David said I looked great but I didn’t believe him. I went into the bathroom . . . looked in the mirror . . . cried . . . still don’t . . .
Tennis Shorts says, I was so big in my ninth month I wanted to reach in and pull the baby out. I told Jeff . . .
I look surreptitiously from one to another as they play ping pong with their words.
Jogging Pants says, When I met David, I thought . . .
Tennis Shorts says, I wondered how you could have got pregnant so quickly . . . Facebook . . .
Jogging Pants says, He’s so good now but at night . . .
Tennis Shorts leans over the pram, says breathlessly, Can I hold him? He’s such a good baby! Aren’t you precious? Aren’t you just a coo . . . coo . . . coo . . .
Jogging Pants says, Can’t wait to get my body back . . . hate . . . sleepless . . .
I think of En, my best friend from college. Her life too revolves around her body. And babies. Trips from Nigeria to India to see fertility specialists. Injections. Ovulation calendar. A marriage tearing at the seams from the stress of it all. A body enlarged. “I am tired of all this,” she said to me once, her arms flapping like a bird about to take off. “But you know, I wouldn’t mind how big I become if only at the end of it I’d be guaranteed a baby.”
I look at Good Baby. Tiny fists clenched. It looks like he is falling asleep. I think how lucky his mother is. I think of En. I need to tell Jogging Pants about her.
Watchlist: 32 Stories by Persons of Interest is available now from Catapult Books.