About two or three weeks ago, I stood outside the pub, fighting a cold breeze to light a cigarette. I needed to get out of an awkward discussion I was having inside and had found the ice crystals that hung in the air calmed my lip twitch. The crystals tickled my cheeks as they landed against my skin. Recent anxiety had made the corner of my mouth jumpy.
I was about to head back inside when a slight woman appeared to the right of me. I was sure she was not there a second before, but by then I had already had a couple of pints of beer, so I was probably a little less observant.
Hello, she said. Her voice was quiet and light.
Hi. Have we met? I asked.
No. I'm R, she said.
She was looking intently at my face and the space around my head.
Do you have a spirit animal? she asked, staring at a spot in the air about three inches away from and above my right temple.
If I do, I don't know what it is, I said. I am neither here nor there when it comes to things like spirit animals. If someone wants to believe that a red-eyed tree frog is their spirit animal, that is their business, but I have always thought that if I had a spirit animal, I would know it by the fact that it had just eaten me or I had stepped in its poo.
If you do, what do you think it is?
A bandicoot, I said. It was the first thing that came to mind. I like the sound of the word "bandicoot". If I had followed my feelings on the matter, though, I would have had to say seagull, because I have actually been peed on twice within a two-day period by seagulls. From the amount of leg coverage the seagulls managed, I think they must be very large-bladdered birds.
You, she said, are something bigger. Can I give you a spirit animal?
Sure. I don't know if people can give them to you, but I was curious about what she was going to say.
She stepped forward and ran her hands down the arms of my black, fake-fur coat. You, she said, are a black bear. Here we had just met, and she was standing inches from me and stroking my arms. It was very intimate.
A black bear? I had never pegged myself for something from the Ursidae family. I had always thought of myself as more of a Tytonidae (owls) or Procyonidae (raccoons) family member.
Yes, definitely a black bear. You should be proud, she said. She took a step back to look at me again. I felt like I was trying on a gown for someone.
How do I look? I asked while I performed a small curtsy.
Very much like a black bear, she said, especially in those glasses.
She stepped away to indicate that she was leaving and smiled. We waved our goodbyes, and then she headed of down the sidewalk.
It was only a few days later that I re-remembered my run-in with a bear when I was about eleven years old. I had come across it while hiking alone in the forest and was incredibly lucky that it was well-fed and bored by my presence. Fuck, I thought, am I ever glad he didn't eat me.