“I’m very military and martial arts trained.”
“What I’m saying is that I’m very intelligent in martial arts. I could answer questions about martial arts.”
Her big, light brown eyes pushed into the space between us, daring me to question her.
“I’m just here to protect you young girls from men who want to kidnap you. That man over there, he kidnaps girls like you. You’re all very pretty young girls. This coffeeshop is not a safe place for you to be working.”
The tattoos on both her cheeks were colorful and feminine, cutting a contrast to her jagged, close-cropped hair.
“I’m here to protect you. I have military training. I was kidnapped here for two years.”
We sat, barely a foot of space between us, hardly enough space for the Holy Spirit. Her clothes were neat, her accent Southern, her mannerisms jerky.
“This isn’t Arkansas, you know. You think it’s Arkansas, but it’s really Arizona. They reprogrammed it to trick you. I need to contact Westcare Detox Facility, in Phoenix, Arizona. They can pick me up and provide a military escort to make sure you girls get home safely.”
She leaned over, took my hand. “My name is Ashley. I’m from Houston. Where are you from? You can tell me the truth. It’s okay.”
“I’m Leila. I’m from Uganda,” I said.
“That’s near New Jersey.” Her assertion rang confident.
“It’s a beautiful place.” That seemed the safest reply.
“I could call the military to keep you safe,” she said with a conspiratorial air. “My father owns the military. My husband’s family runs it.”
She picked up her phone. It hadn’t rung. “Yes, hello, he is here. Wearing all brown. Grey hair. Short. Glasses. Very dirty. He’s going to kidnap the girls.” She put it down, picked it up again. “Yes, I’m at the coffeeshop. It’s a nice place. The girls are all pretty.” And again, talking into the silent phone, “I’m going to help the girls. The men around here are going to kidnap them. I was kidnapped for two years.”
She straightened up into a professional pose. “You know,” she told me, “You should never go home with any of these men. If they are dirty and you don’t know them, they just want to kidnap you. They get you on their right arm and then they do whatever they want to you.”
She paused, looking carefully at me. “I’m a psychic reader, you know.”
And then she retreated into her mind for a moment, leaving me alone with my thoughts. I never would have expected that my work shift would end in such an odd place. Her grandiose claims and unlikely tales were hauntingly familiar. I’ll never forget sitting just as close to my little brother as he told me that he would fly if he jumped off a building and heal immediately if he cut himself. He told me that he was secretly an assassin, that he could see through flesh to the bones underneath, that he could read minds.
I haven’t felt what I felt tonight since my conversations with him.
Soul-bruising heaviness. Uncertainty like I’ve never known elsewhere. Caution, fear, compassion, sadness.
Maybe it would have been easier to deal with her if she had seemed like she meant us any harm, but I think she was genuinely trying to help us. She wanted to make sure that we were not kidnapped or attacked, and she was willing to put herself between us and potential attackers.
She was crazy. Irrational. Textbook schizophrenic.
After I had sat with her for about half an hour, sifting through word salad for bits of sense and trying to help her contact Phoenix, someone called the police. They came and led her away, telling her not to come back. As she left, she yelled back at us with an air of benediction –
“You’re all such beautiful people.”
I may not sleep tonight.