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The Green Vest

Illustration by Ana Jaks

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EST. READING TIME

6 minutes
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“Would you like to buy some Girl Scout cookies?”

The girl’s voice pierced through the din of the conversations in the student center. It was the same voice I had heard an hour before when I walked passed her, on my way to a statistics class down the hall. That time I was alone and I told her I didn’t have any money, even though I knew there were two fives and a one in my wallet. She said “Okay” with the same confidence as before, but in a quieter voice that let me know I wasn’t the first person to say this.

But the second time, I was walking away from her and the question was directed not only toward me, but instead to the entire group of us who had just left the class. Although I knew she was speaking to everyone, it felt, just like it had an hour before, that her words are meant only for me. But I convinced myself that any requisite guilt was stretched like saran wrap around all of us, so I didn’t even say no thank you.

I avoided looking at her as I passed, but I could still remember how she looked. She was probably ten or eleven with dirty blond hair, pulled into a loose ponytail that fell all the way down her back. She had thick glasses and a round face. She wasn’t overweight, but her body still had the baby fat of a prepubescent girl. The only thing that made her really stand out was the bright green vest covered with badges awkwardly strung over her shoulders.

There were two other girls with her, sitting behind a table covered with small, multi-colored boxes of cookies, while she stood in front. They were both dressed in blue jeans and name brand tee shirts, one purple and one pink. Neither was wearing their green vests, which I could see thrown on an empty table next to them. Their heads were bent over their smart phones. I guessed they were only there because one of the chaperone mothers standing behind the table had made them. Neither was actively selling any cookies. I didn’t hear their voices when I walked by either time. If they weren’t standing behind those tables, I bet they could have blended in with the mass of us moving through the hall.  

As I walked by, I thought about the eleven dollars in my wallet, about how I would have had more if Keith had paid me back for that twelve pack we split the previous Saturday, about how if I had that money I would definitely buy at least one box of cookies. I knew a box couldn’t be more than five dollars. I would have loved some Carmel Delites or Thin Mints. But I kept walking like I have someplace to be, even though my next class wasn’t for a half-hour.

Outside of the student center, I tripped on the concrete staircase that led to the stone walkway in the campus quad. I heard a guy yell, “There you are!” Thinking he was talking to me, I looked up, regaining my balance and smiling. I saw the guy who shouted in a red sweatshirt sitting and smoking on a bench at the bottom of the staircase. When he didn’t look at me, I realized he was talking to a girl walking a few steps behind me. He was probably closer to thirty and she looked to be twenty-one, like me. She rushed passed me and bent over to hug him while he stayed sitting. He stopped smoking and pulled her down to the bench with him and they started kissing. I could see puffs of smoke escape through their attached lips.

Walking past them, I looked at the window where my last class had been. I took the longer way through the student center to avoid the cold. If I had gone the through the closer set of doors, I wouldn’t have walked past the girl in the green vest and would have only been outside for an extra minute or two. I wanted to laugh at how hard I would try just to avoid a few middle school girls, but I didn’t.

*

In the bathroom across campus, I unzipped my fly and stared straight ahead at the messages written on the grout between the small light blue tiles. I’d seen it all before. Ron Paul 2012!, Fuck Niggers, Call 978-508-3381, Smoke Weed Everyday, and probably at least four Fuck You’s. There must be novels worth of writing on bathroom walls and stall doors, but I’ve never seen anyone doing the writing. One time I heard someone say that writing on the bathroom wall was the purest form of art, because the person that did it didn’t get any money or praise. I just wished that I could have pissed all of the black and blue away, but I knew they would stay there until the walls were painted or the building burnt down.

I could hear two loud voices from across the hall echoing in the bathroom.

“Dude, fuck the Shamrock, we played that place out.”

“It was fun bro,” the other replied even louder.  

“We played that place out,” the first one repeated.

“But the girls there were easy.”

“And fuckin’ dogs, kid.”

“Whatever, where do you want to go?”

“How ‘bout Finns, didn’t you have a girl there?”

“Yeah.”

“And...”

While I listened to them I finished washing my hands and stepped into the hallway.

My back slid down the wall to sit on the floor across from them and I acted like I was reading from my notebook. One of them had his hair gelled into meticulous spikes, the other had a buzz cut. They both were wearing tight black tee shirt with white designs on them. One was a lot taller than the other. The short one’s muscles looked like they could split open his tee shirt. Now that I was closer, the volume of their voices made me think they wanted everyone to hear.

“She wouldn’t fuck, man,” the taller one said.

“What, you—you asked her for sexy time?” his laughter muffled the last few words.

“Yeah.”

“You get anything.” The shorter one pretended to move something back and fourth in his mouth, while pushing his tongue against his cheek and they both laughed.

“So where you want to go then?” He shrugged.

Why the hell did they even let those girls sell cookies in this place?

I looked at my phone. There were still fifteen minutes until my class started. I thought about my wallet with the two fives and a one still there. It would be a seven minute walk to the student center and back. I still spent too much time thinking before I decided to go.

I walked away from the two across the hall from me. I heard drivers honking at students jaywalking as I made my way across the quad. Next to the concrete staircase, the couple from earlier were gone, but inside the student center, the little girl with the green vest and glasses was still standing in front of two unfolded plastic tables and asking the same question: “Would you like to buy some Girl Scout cookies?”

I thought there would be no one else there like earlier, but as I walked closer I saw that there was a line of four people. A grey-bearded man, probably a professor, was buying a few boxes. I felt like I just drove passed pedestrians waiting at a cross-walk only to see the driver behind me let them cross in my rearview mirror.

The line moved quickly. When it was my turn, I took one of the fives from my pocket. I looked into the girl with the green vest’s thick glasses and I couldn’t see her eyes from the glare they reflected. “How much is one box?” I asked too eagerly.

“Four dollars,” she said at the same time as her chaperone.

“I’ll get a box of Camel Delites.” I tried to hand my five to the girl, but, one of the other girls stood and took it.

“You can keep the change.” I was already turning away when the girl and the chaperone thanked me.

I thought about the damn box of cookies all the way back to my class. I thought and I hoped my dollars would keep that girl in the green vest a few years longer, away from the older guy on the bench, away from the writing on the bathroom wall, away from the guys in the hall, away from me. It made me forget about the cold.

By the time I got across campus, I started thinking more about that vest. I saw the tag on it and thought about what country might come after the ‘Made in.’ Some place far away. I thought about the girl that could have sewed it together, probably the same age as the girl who I saw wearing it. In my mind, they looked the same. Maybe my dollars would just pay for her to make another one.

Devan Hawkins is a freelance writer from Massachusetts and has written pieces about travel, books, and politics which have been published in a number of places.

Published on November 28, 2016.