Warning: This work has been rated 16+ for language.
Shopkeeper stretches their arms out wide, gesturing towards themself.
“Look at me. I am not a hero. I am not ruthless. I am a survivor, plain and simple. I am a survivor and nothing more," they say. “I’ve had hundreds of guys put their blades to my throat and threaten me with death. I didn’t get out of those situations by beating them to the ground, I got out of them by the force of sheer luck.” Shopkeeper puts their arms down and takes a breath.
“Okay, but I’m willing to beat someone’s ass if they’re trying to hurt me. Not sure why you can’t learn to do that despite how many times people keep on trying to beat you up.” Shopkeeper gives me a look一or at least I think they did. I wouldn’t know, it’s kind of hard to tell since they’re wearing a mask.
“I’m a queer Jew. I’ve been chased out of my home hundreds of times, all over the Middle East and Europe. I want you to know that I’ve tried to be mean and strong and powerful, because everyone wants me dead. However, it never works out in my favour. I’m always pushed to the bottom, no matter the situation.” Shopkeeper tugs a hairband off their wrist and ties their hair back with it, trying to catch every strand. They turn around and start searching through their cupboard.
“I’m a queer Japanese-slash-Eastern European-slash-Sicilian mess. And I’m in high school. I can totally relate—in a different way, of course.” I jump up to sit on Shopkeeper’s counter. “Go tell me something...I don’t know, inspiring?” I suggest. Shopkeeper stops rummaging and turns around, their shoulders rigid.
“Look, Schiaccitano. I’d love to tell you it gets better. I’d love to tell you that everyone will accept you. I’d love to tell you that we live in a world where people would never try to hurt you because you’re different. Understand this: I’d love to tell you it gets better, but it doesn’t. It never will.” Shopkeeper snaps.
“I’ve never seen you act like this before, Kee. You’re always so kind and empathetic. Maybe a dark joke and some chaos here and there, but I never thought you’d say something as horrible as that.”
“My author wrote in a new personality trait for me, I guess.” Shopkeeper says, fixing the cuff of their jacket. “I’m done being nice. This world doesn’t deserve it.” Shopkeeper walks over to their bookcase and pulls off a book. It’s about Europe in the thirties and forties. “This world is a cruel, unforgiving place. The second someone flags you as different, it’s game over. Dogs are the only true, loyal companion one could have in this hell.”
“Well, at least we can agree on the dog thing…” I trail off. “Why, though? Why would you clam up and stop being nice to others? Other people could use your kindness.”
“I’ve done so much for people. I’ve fed the poor, gave spare clothing to people wearing rags. I’ve helped take care of people and dig graves during sicknesses. I’ve been jabbed at and shot at carrying wounded comrades across battlefields. I’ve delivered dissents and spoken out against injustice. I threw bricks at Stonewall, I spied on the Nazis. I’ve done so much, and I’ve gotten nothing back.” I stare at Shopkeeper. I wonder if they have sad eyes. They’ve been through a lot, and now they’re being put into danger again. Then, I realized that they’ve never truly been safe.
“Kee, I wish I had your empathy and your will to keep fighting.” I say.
“No, you don’t,” Shopkeeper murmurs. “Trust me—I’ve had hundreds of years of experience under my belt.”