Today. Oakland, CA
It was 6pm and still in the eighties, a Bay Area snippet of summer. As I got out of my car, two preteen girls on scooters were wandering leisurely up the street. One had a razor-style scooter, the other was on an orange scooter with big “offroad” wheels. Both of them wore jeans and had deep brown skin. One was in a black velour hoodie and had pigtails, the other wore a tshirt and a ponytail.
“Is that your house?” one called out. I assumed she was talking to the other girl, as I was already partway up the street and my back was to them. But when the other one didn’t answer, I turned. The girl with the ponytails was looking at me. She repeated, “Is that your house?”
“How many bedrooms you think it’s got?”
“I don’t know. Sorry.”
“It’s a big house.” She seemed to be talking to her friend again, but I maybe still to me. “I think that’s a four bedroom. Maybe five.” She turned to me. “How many bedrooms you think it has?”
“I don’t know. I don’t live around here. Sorry.”
It struck me as an odd conversation for preteens. But, maybe it fit in with a certain sort of preteen future-dreaming; the same kind that makes the fortune-telling game MASH (Mansion, Apartment, Shack, House) a perennial playground hit. Maybe this was a version of dreaming up their futures – picking a dream house within the neighborhood, filling it with a dream husband and dream children.
Her friend made some comment in response, which I didn’t hear, as I was now a quarter block up from them. They were headed the same way I was, a bit more slowly. The street kept getting steeper, turning their scooters from useful transport into awkward items to straddle-walk along with.
They followed me for the length of another house, and then the ponytailed girl pulled up alongside me. “What’s your name?”
“Rae,” I said, louder.
I was almost to my friend’s house when she called out again.
“[mumble mumble] like a boy.”
I turned. “Hm?”
“You look like a boy.”
“Yep!” I almost had to yell, given how far they were behind me, but I tried to keep the tone chipper.
“Are you a boy?”
“Nope! I’m a girl.”
“You look like a boy.”
“Nope, I’m just a girl with a beard.”
“What’d you say?”
I was now on my friend’s porch, again a few houses away from the girls. Plus, my friend’s dog had heard me coming and was now barking loudly through the door. I turned back and tried to pick a volume that would let the girls hear me but not disturb the neighbors. Or alarm my friends with the sound of shouting on their doorstep. “I said ‘Nope, I’m just a girl with a beard.'”
She made some small noise of assent and nodded. “Nothin’ wrong with that!”
“Mm hm!” I smiled and nodded back.
When they didn’t seem to have anything else to say, I called out, “Have a nice evening!”
I rang the bell as the girls moved up the street past me.