Pass This On by Kevin Tosca

 Giselle boarded the normal bus at the normal hour. The 201. It was crowded and she eased her way to the center of the aisle, as far back as she could go. The bus smelled like sweat and cabbage. It was noisy. She pushed the play button of her MP3 player and tried not to step on feet or touch shoulders.

When the bus stopped at the next stop, a man tapped her on the shoulder. She paused her music and he apologetically informed her that a man–he pointed to a huge, well-dressed man–had just stolen her phone. Giselle flipped off her backpack and rifled through the pocket where she kept her phone. She pushed her way to the driver.

Still at the bus stop, the huge, well-dressed man was standing and talking to someone on Giselle’s phone. She gathered her courage and tapped him on his shoulder.

“Just a minute,” the man said.

She stood there and waited and it was completely and utterly preposterous, her standing and waiting for this predator, this criminal, this lowlife—so she stared at his hands. They had slender fingers and well-trimmed, manicured nails. They had rings with colored stones on seven of these delicate fingers. Their caretaker finished his call.

“Now what is it you need from me, young lady?”

“That,” she said. “That’s my phone.”

The huge, well-dressed man held up and regarded the phone. “Yes, it is.”

“May I have it back?”

 “If you’ll allow me to give you a piece of advice,” he said, smiling, “you may. Will you? Will you allow me to do that?”

 “Yes.”

 “Start paying attention,” he said, handing over the phone, his smile becoming knife, becoming blade and blood, “and stop making it all so fucking easy.”

 “Thank you,” Giselle said, though when she thought about it later, she wished she hadn’t.

In the days and weeks and months and years that followed, she often saw the huge, well-dressed man on the street or riding the bus with her. The 201. He would nod his head and smile, and she would nod back but never smile. He really had done her a favour, but she kept their relationship there, wordless and distant and cold, and she didn’t watch him carefully, not even when she wanted to, because she never wanted to feel those feelings of violation and vulnerability and innocence, nor see whose shoulder she might have to tap next.

Kevin Tosca lives in Paris. He and his work can be found here and on Facebook.