“One sesame seed bagel with cream cheese, please. Toasted.”
I relish that moment in my daily routine when I place this order. We all have little satisfying moments that get us through the daily grind. For some, it’s the warmth of a freshly brewed cup of coffee pressed against their palm; for others, it’s the sound of their carefully curated playlist as they drive to work. For me, it was simply my sesame bagel.
Each morning I get up and leave the house by 8:15 am. As my hour-long commute comes to an end, I feel the gentle growl of my stomach as if on cue. I step out of the subway and into the conveniently placed bagel shop. As I walk in, the men working grab a sesame bagel and place it in the sandwich press. I pay the $2.45 and by the time, I’m done they hand me my carefully wrapped breakfast. Afterwards, I slowly stroll the two blocks to my office, soaking in the last moments of fresh air. Once I’m inside, I sit at my desk, bagel in hand, catching up on my unread emails. I indulge in this moment of effortless content.
This blissful routine came to a halt last Tuesday morning. I paid at the counter and went to reach for my bagel in one fluid, familiar movement. But I was met with resistance. Two plump, coarse fingers stroked the length of my hand as I grasped the small brown package.
I snapped my head up in the hope of discovering an accidental hand graze. The man peered back at me with his dark eyes unwavering, gauging my reaction. My body shuttered involuntarily as I somehow managed to snatch the bagel and hastily walked away.
The air felt thick and heavy as I walked the next two blocks. Distracting swirls of self-doubt surrounded each thought. Was I too friendly? Did I give him the wrong impression? Maybe I should have said to not touch me again? I sat at my desk, bagel in hand, studying the path of his touch. Tentacles of dread began to slowly entwine through my body, tightening around my chest as I thought about facing the man again.
The next morning, I walked hesitantly into the shop, avoiding eye contact and trying not to be “too friendly”. It was a little busier than usual; the man dropped my bagel on the counter as he moved onto the next order. I breathed a small sigh of relief and contemplated the morning before with a more objective perspective. I came to the conclusion that I was just overreacting, or perhaps my memory was not accurate. I felt a sharp pang of guilt. I didn’t want to misjudge an innocent man just trying to do his job.
The following Thursday, I walked into the shop with a little more confidence than the day before. As I reached for my bagel, I saw the man quickly flip his hand so it would reach mine. It was too late to pull away as I felt the chillingly familiar stroke of my hand. I wanted to tell him to fuck off, but the words dissipated into a lump lodged in my throat. I felt paralysed as my eyes reluctantly met his. Weakly, I grabbed hold of the bagel and slunk out of the store defeated.
The sting of tears brimmed my eyes, threatening to overflow as I began to walk. Once again, my head filled with an overwhelming avalanche of questions. How could I be so stupid to let this happen again? He only touched my hand, why is it affecting me so much? Why couldn’t I just say something to him?
How could someone understand that a person touching my hand made me feel so worthless?
It was the last day of the working week, and I was determined not to surrender my bagel routine on account of this one man. My heart quickened as I stepped closer to the shop. When I spotted him, my whole body became rigid. My eyes were darting around; I actively tried to look distracted. I waited until he set my bagel down before I quickly plucked the very corner, and in one motion, threw the neat package into my bag. As stepped out of the store I exhaled a huge breath that I didn’t even realise I was holding.
I walked towards the office as a bitter realisation washed through me. I may still be able to physically buy my sesame seed bagel, but it is no longer a moment of pleasure. What once was a small fragment of pure, simplistic happiness has now been contaminated with panic and dread. The panic of seeing this one insignificant man, and the dread that I’ll be touched by him again.
For that, I’ll be forever resentful.