I was almost to the ATM when off to my left I heard, “Excuse me, but you have very nice finger nails.”
I stopped in my tracks. Very nice finger nails? Surely whoever it was that addressed me was demented because I cut my fingernails down to the tops of my fingers at least once a week.
I keep them short because I play guitar, but also because my hands feel dirty if there is any “white” on the tips. (I know that they’re not actually dirty, but it feels dirty to me!) I’m particular about my finger nails, but only particular about them being short and clean. No one ever notices my finger nails, much less compliments them.
I turned to see who was talking to me. It was a girl standing in front of a nail care kiosk in the center of the mall.
Oh boy. This is one kiosk that was selling to someone out of their market. FAR AWAY from their market.
She already saw me stop walking, so I couldn’t pretend as though I hadn’t heard her. We made eye contact and she motioned for me to come closer. Sigh. I trudged closer like a kid being pulled into the nurse’s office for a lice check.
Her product was a sponge-like nail buffer that makes your nails shiny. No chemicals, no nail polish. She held my hand and went to town on my middle finger, making it glimmer under the neon mall lights. She was asking a lot of rhetorical questions like, “Doesn’t that look nice?” or “Have your nails ever looked like this?” How could I weasel out?
My only defense was the truth. “I don’t pay much attention to my nails. I haven’t spent money on them since… NEVER.” And that was the truth.
My mother treated my sisters and I to a manicure before her wedding to my stepfather back in 2001. I remember standing in front of a wall-o-nail polish, at least 50 different colors in nameless bottles. It was too much of something that I didn’t like, like having a plate of cottage cheese placed in front of you at an eating contest. On your mark, get set….go! Adrenaline takes over and you plunge your face into the cottage cheese because it’s an eating contest — not because you like it. I received the manicure that day not because I wanted it, but because it was show of support for my mom.
Back at the nail care kiosk the girl wanted to talk money. Welcome, bartering, to the Colonie Center Mall.
“Usually this kit sells for $50. But because I like you, I will sell it for my cost which is $25.”
This was getting weird. Did she and I have a bond that I didn’t know about? To my knowledge the only thing she’d ever given me was a freakishly reflective middle finger.
I had to end it quick and dirty — with a promise that I would “come back later.” As I was walking away I heard her softly say, “You’re not coming back.”
That time I kept walking, though the tone in her voice did tug at my conscious through dinner with my friends. She was right, I wasn’t going back. And probably many of her reluctant customers didn’t return that day, though there we were, scattered around the greater Albany area with ultra glossy middle fingers.