I pulled into the parking space and started decanting my three small children. They were babbling and I reminded them not to fling the doors too wide, not wanting them to dent the blameless cars parked alongside. I became aware there was an adult yelling nearby, and it took a few more moments to realize the shouting was directed at me.
I looked up and saw that striding toward us was a man in his mid-forties in a tight white t-shirt, blue jeans rolled up at the ankles, and black lace-up boots. His head was shaved, and a packet of cigarettes was tucked under the sleeve of his t-shirt. I took all of this in very quickly, trying to assess what flavor of danger was descending on my family. I corralled my children behind my legs like a threatened animal would her cubs in the wild.
The man was spewing forth obscenities but didn’t look deranged, just angry and mean. He reminded me of a tragically aged, enraged “Kenickie” from the film Grease. He was irate, it became clear, because I’d taken the parking space he’d wanted and felt he’d seen first.
The ugliness and sheer amount of noise he was making turned my belly to stone and made my skin crawl. I held the shoulder of my eldest daughter Polly, and when I glanced at her I saw that her eyes were huge saucepans. I raised one hand toward the man in part to placate, and in part to establish a barrier.
“I’m sorry, I will move the car,” I offered. If I hadn’t had my kids with me, I might have flared to defense or aggression but I seldom risk feeding flames when they’re close by. “Please, just stop screaming at us and I will move the car.”
“Bitch,” he muttered, his face full of contempt.
I could feel my middle daughter, Alice, digging her nails into my thigh. My voice rose. “You’re frightening my children, you need to calm down.”
My son, Jack, was not yet three when this happened. He stepped out from behind my proverbial skirts and planted his sandaled feet wide. In his tiny fist he clutched a toy train, and now he raised it toward the man. His golden baby curls, long on his neck, his amber beaded necklace, his blue eyes raised and intransigent. Jack hadn’t been quick to language, because his two big sisters do all the talking for him, but at that moment he yelled, part gibberish and all-heart, “No no no, you! My mama! Dis my mama! My mama!”
The man was incredulous. His mouth opened and closed, opened again. The steam from his ears began to thin. I’m almost positive I saw a flicker of respect in his eyes before he dismissed us and walked away.
And with that Goliath was felled by our diminutive David in Thomas the Tank Engine dungarees. Angry man was felled, and I met bravery in my son.
We four stood still for a moment, shaken. The hurricane had moved on. And as the dust settled further, we folded into each other’s arms, laughing in awe and delight at our Warrior Toddler.