Glorious Downtown. Sunlight and bricks and glass. I wanted to go home. Too many people filled the sidewalks. Too many cars growled in the streets. It was dangerous. I was exposed and open. My guts rumbled, and my hands shook. I walked with my head down. “It’s okay,” Miss Tris said and took my hand. Tayla and Tad smoked cigarettes, cutting a path through the crowd. People stared. People talked. It was too much. “I need to go home,” I said. Tayla looked over her shoulder. I saw the frustration there. I saw the anger. “I’m sorry,” I said. She turned away. Miss Tris squeezed my fingers. “We’re almost done,” she said. She carried clothes in a bag. They talked me into this. They said it would be good for me to get out. They said the only way to deal with fear was to face it. I faced it and it won. “Breathe,” Miss Tris said. I sucked warm air into my lungs. I lit a cigarette. We heard the voice before seeing the man. He carried a bullhorn. The words were just part of the world until we rounded the corner. He stood in the middle of the sidewalk with a friend. The friend carried a sandwich board and pamphlets. “God’s hate is divine,” the man shouted. The man with the booklets came to us. “Repent,” he said. I stepped away. Tayla stepped forward. Tayla always stepped forward. “Go away,” she said. The man preaching turned to us.
“Turn away from sin,” he shouted. “Hate your sin and God will save you.” Tad shook his head. Miss Tris tried to lead me around everyone. “Hating your sin is an act of love,” the man shouted. He moved with us. He refused to let us past. “You’re blind to sin,” he shouted. He put his hand on Tayla’s shoulder. Tad grabbed him. “You need to stop,” Tad said. “I am not afraid,” the man shouted. Tayla looked him in the eye and shoved. He stumbled. “Get away,” she said. The man raised his hands. “This,” he shouted, “this is the devil’s work on earth!” It happened too fast. I couldn’t stop it. I turned and puked. I puked on the man’s shoes. People stopped. People stared. Miss Tris screamed her laughter. A small cheer went up. “Are we done?” Tad asked the man. The man glared at us. “I think we’re done,” Tad said. We moved on. Tad and Tayla draped their arms on my shoulders. “Did you do that on purpose?” Tayla asked. I shook my head. “Still,” she said. “Brilliant.” We walked on. I was empty and full at the same time. I was thrilled and ashamed. Sometimes accidents were divine. Sometimes shame was glorious.