A Park. A Man. A Tube Sock.
From start to finish the whole thing took less than a minute. Tucked away in a park overlooking Podgorze, the air filled with the spring time chirrup of birds and the riotous tones of children in the playground. After days of record rainfall, the sun had finally come out and so had the neighborhood. I sat on the park bench to revel in it. To soak the heat into my bones. To salvage my ever diminishing opinion of Krakow. And that’s when the man appeared.
He stalked into the clearing, single-minded in this endeavor. And to be perfectly honest, I hardly noticed him at first. I had things on my mind, like how was I going to finish researching this book when I had run into every conceivable frustration in this city? Power outages, unexplained closures, and militantly resistant archivists. Whatever this man, or anyone was doing in the park that day, was my last concern. Until he stopped.
He stood in the center of the clearing and stared at me. The kind of stare that you feel before you see, and sitting alone in the middle of a foreign city I was reluctant to confirm this stranger’s gaze. Reluctant to give any ground, to goad, to enable, to involve myself in someone else’s agenda. Especially a man’s. A strange man’s at that. When has that ever ended well for a lone female? And still, his stare was relentless.
Furious at the intrusion, my blood rose, readying for whatever this man thought he would throw in my direction. I went through the usual litany of possibilities that all women recount in these circumstances. How far away is he? Is it too late to run? Where is the crowd? Will I get there in time? What if I don’t? Is there a stick nearby? And because I have trained in dojos for years, I had to ask myself the other set of questions. If I kick this motherfucker’s ass, break his body down into the smallest pieces, what are the laws in Poland regarding that? Will defending myself against his intentions land me in the Krakow gulag? Probably. So how far away is he? Is it too late to run?
I looked up to find that he hadn’t moved at all. He stood in the middle of the clearing and we stared at each other with the same expression. The Fuck You Too look that two kinds of people wear sometimes: the brazen and the crazy. I wasn’t sure who was who. With his eyes locked on mine, and under the sun and the eyes of God and all the children on the playground, he pulled his pants down.
Here it comes, I thought, and I readied my responses. Keep your expression neutral. Don’t give him what he most wants, your look of horror and disgust. Your fear. Don’t give him the power over you that he’s seeking. Maybe it’s best if you start laughing at him and hold up your thumb and forefinger an inch apart, maybe less. How fun to emasculate him during his primate dominance display. Indicate your amusement at this pathetic act he’s about to perform. But perhaps humiliation is his game. Stay neutral. Give him nothing.
With unbroken eye contact, he squatted in the clearing and proceeded to take a shit in front of me. The muscles in his face hardening, the strained tension in his neck as he pushed. Even though he was too far away from me to hear it, I watched the sigh escape his body, the small shudder of release across his shoulders. When sharing such an intimate moment one would imagine our disdain for each other would soften. Instead we wore unrelenting Fuck Yous on our faces. From somewhere he produced what looked like a filthy tube sock, reached back with it, and wiped his ass. His arm working and digging as he stared at me.
Then he stood, pulled up his pants, left his pile and shit sock behind, and marched out of the park with the same determination that he first entered the clearing. I watched his back as he passed the playground, the children oblivious to his transgression against us all. I was glad for it. Glad that the thin thread of their innocence remained intact.
I sat on the bench for a long while, allowing this strange man a head start and plenty of time to involve himself elsewhere before I left. Even then, I took the long way out of the park. I took the long way back into the heart of the city, and from there, the long way home.