When I was twelve, I used to wear a cheap flashy ring on the ring finger of my left hand while I waited in a small shopping mall across from the university campus for my sister to finish her classes.
A few times per week, I would take the city bus from my junior high school downtown, weighed down by my bright blue monogrammed backpack with tinkling key chains hanging from the zippers and my oversized lunch bag. I would always sit on the left-hand side of the bus so I could easily watch other riders walk on and off, and because it was where I sat on the first day and continued to sit ever since. I felt like a grown-up, like a college student, and I pretended to be older than I was to fit in with the crowd.
The shopping mall had only a handful of stores: a jeweler’s, a tiny Chinese restaurant, a textbook store, and a candy store. There was also a tanning salon and a few other fast food type restaurants, including a place to buy cheap cookies: fifty cents a piece, until they raised the prices. Every day, I would buy a double chocolate cookie and settle into a black leather couch in the middle of the mall to do my homework. Though set up for success, I wasn’t as productive as I should have been.
I would wear the ring to ward off creepy men, though in hindsight it was probably creepier to see a twelve year old wearing an engagement ring. Most people didn’t notice it. Occasionally someone would sit on the couch across from me while they waited for the bus. I thought I could feel them staring at my hand as I punched numbers in my calculator or wrote notes or turned the pages of a textbook.
On cold winter days, more people congregated by the couches, unzipping their coats to vent the pent-up warmth of their bodies before zipping up again to go out into the cold. A security guard with slicked black hair and a comedic mustache would stalk around, nodding at me every time he passed. I think he was concerned for my safety, especially as there were more than a few homeless people wandering around. They were harmless, more harmless I’m sure than some of the college students, but I’m sure the guard didn’t want to have a child abducted under his watch.
By five o’clock, my sister would pick me up nonchalantly, briefly pausing by my couch to make her presence known before walking towards the parking garage. As I followed her, I would slip the ring back into my coat pocket for another day.