Friday night is blues dancing in the South of Market district of San Francisco. A small studio space filled with about thirty people freely moving to the music in a way that can only be described as a one night stand. A combination of jazz, swing dancing, and personal rhythm. The original “freak” dancing. It’s a musty little room, the air is thick with sweat, but no one cares. Partners are switched after each song. There is no opportunity to be shy because someone will always ask you to dance.
In a corner is a small table set up with paper cups and beside it is a sink that produces lukewarm water. This is where you would find us. James was the one who convinced us to come. A while back on a trip to New York, he was introduced to blues dancing. Found in a closed tile factory late at night, they brought him into their society and he never looked back.
He ran a hand through his sweaty blonde hair as he unbuttoned the top button on his white shirt. I looked him over, lingering a bit on his face. Clean shaven, pointed nose, pale skin, and light green eyes. I smiled wishing I had something to say. James pulled out his phone, checked his messages, and smiles.
“Olga?” He nods and texts her back. Alexa, the unexpected addition to our outing, returns from the restroom then. She’s sweating through her denim dress, red curls escaping her ponytail, smilespread wide across her face. Always a warm presence, fun, energetic, she’s beautiful regardless of her weight.
“I love blues dancing.” Alexa says.
James looks up and smiles at Alexa to acknowledge her return. He promptly replaces his phone into his pocket. “Yeah,” he says, “we should do this every week.”
I pick up my jacket from a pile on the floor underneath the table. “We should go before the buses stop.”
The air is cool against my skin. I choose to leave my jacket off. Alexa does the same. She has now pulled out her phone and begins to message someone. We walk up Eighth Street, past the dive bars and the art studios. Groups of women come clacking down the sidewalk in high heels and short, tight-fitting dresses on their way to a night club an hour before last call. They pass small camps of homeless people without as much as a glance.
I’m now walking half a block ahead and slow my pace to allow them to catch up. No longer on her phone, Alexa and James are chatting. I place myself between them to join in on the conversation. The air cuts through me so I throw on my jacket.
“So who is this guy?” James asks.
“I met him on a dating website. He really wants to meet up.”
“All he wants is sex you know.”
Alexa giggles and checks her newest incoming message. “I’m not going to sleep with him. He just wants to meet up.” It’s almost one thirty and we have another fifteen minutes to walk to the bus stop.
“James,” I interrupt, “what bus are you taking?”
“Me too.” James is once again distracted by his phone and we continue together in silence. We pass city hall, in all its splendor it is lit up red and gold for the Niners. Surrounded by court houses, construction, and poverty it’s one of the most breathtaking sights of the city. Showing off its large dome structure and opulent architecture, it draws the eyes, leaving the less fortunate ignored. I turn away just in time to see Alexa stop. We are two blocks away from our destination.
“I think I’m going to meet him.”
James steps forward and grabs her hand. “Come on,” he says, “we can just go home and have some pizza.” Alexa laughs and drops her hand. She looks at a new message, the screen illuminates her face. She is glowing.
I step forward, “do you want to meet him?”
She nods. “It’s late! You have to meet him in the Tenderloin.” James must have asked earlier. Where she was going never crossed my mind. That she would be venturing into one of the more dangerous parts of the city didn’t bother me. After all, every woman for herself.
“Walk like a bitch,” I told her. James moves himself between me and Alexa. “She’ll be fine, let her go.” Stepping around him, I gave Alexa a slight push to send her on her way. Before she was gone from view, I turned my back. James stood and watched her walk away. I watched James. I imagined her image slowly disappearing into the night, illuminated only by the dull street lamps.
I brushed his jacket sleeve wiping off nonexistent dust and smiled. I weaved my arm into the crook of his. “Come on, we need to catch the bus then we can get pizza.” James pulled away. Without another word he rushed off after Alexa, never once looking back. I draw my jacket close to fight the cold. I heard my bus come and go. There I stood, staring expectantly. With each passing second my hope of his return began to crumble. There I stood, alone with city hall.