Almost as soon as we round the corner, a giant of a man appears in front of us on the otherwise deserted street. He wears a sheet-sized, bright orange Sponge Bob t-shirt with matching orange sunglasses and walks with slow shuffling steps. His feet lack the confidence of his bold outfit, he is like a massive, newly feathered baby bird learning to fly.
In spite of his slow shuffling steps, my anxious mind screams that he is stalking us, albeit in a very conspicuous way. Obviously, he has been waiting for us to appear, I think with my anxious mind. My heart starts to pound as my anxious mind races with possibilities while the man continues to approach, one shuffling step at a time. We can’t turn around without making it obvious that he scares us. Plus, we don’t want to lead him back to the house. To be clear, I am the only one who is scared; the little boy is quite content cruising with his feet up on the cup holders, playing with Sophie, the giraffe, and singing a tuneless song.
Meanwhile, I wonder how many days Big Orange has watched us stroll past his window before he decided to come out of the darkness that I imagine to be his living room. We travel the same streets almost every day at close to the same time, as true creatures of habit, making it all too easy for Big Orange to time his outing. We will not run or show fear, we will stand our ground, I reason with my anxious mind.
“Good morning,” I say in a gruff voice that my anxious mind believes will make us more intimidating.
Big Orange stops in his tracks, surprised by either the greeting or the strange tone of voice, “What?”
“Ahem,” I clear my throat, “I said, good morning. It’s what people say in the morning.”
“Ok,” he replies. “Bye-bye now,” he peeks into the stroller, waves with his fingertips to the baby and shuffles on past us.
I have a terrible moment of clarity when I consider the shuffle, the delayed comprehension and the Sponge Bob shirt; Big Orange has a disability and I am definitely a jerk for assuming that he was instead a calculated stalker. Anxiety quickly melts into guilt, my default emotion. However, then I notice the baby is whimpering in his seat with his arms and legs pulled in like a distressed turtle and Sophie is completely missing, tucked someplace safe.
“What’s wrong, baby? It’s ok, mama is here,” I murmur to pair of wide eyes that stare up at me from the stroller.
Does he sense my anxiety or is there something else about Big Orange that I am missing? In either case, its hot out and we need to head home, so we continue our walk with a little more pep in our step. Sophie reappears from whichever roll she was hiding under and the baby is happily babbling again. Order is seemingly restored, but a nagging feeling makes me look over my shoulder. Big Orange has doubled back and is walking towards us with quick, determined steps, completely shuffle-free.
“Time to roll, little man.”