The costume looked like it was a mix of store-bought and homemade pieces. Her whole body was covered in a tight unitard with the underside of the shell printed on her chest. She had a tiny, at least in proportion with the rest of her, plastic shell on her back. She also had a pair of retro red running shorts with white piping covering her turtle bathing suit area. The mask on her face was painted on with red theatrical makeup.
Other than the costume, she wasn't doing anything to draw attention to herself. She had a friend with her and they were chatting in a disinterested way about the shoes. I tugged on Nancy's sleeve and pointed with my shoulder to let her know that she should look at the other section. She looked.
"Oh my, I wonder what's up with that."
"I don't know," I said, "but I'm going over there to take a closer look. I'll report back."
I walked over. No one else seemed to be paying any attention to her. I thought to myself, it must be that she lost a bet of some kind or is going through hazing. A salesman approached them and asked if she would like to try on any other shoes. She checked herself out in the mirror, "No, I don't think I'll be taking these either. Thanks for your help." If she hadn't been looking at shoes, I'd have thought it was a promotion for something, but if she was working there she wouldn't be trying on shoes. Plus, she had a friend with her. A person doing a promotion probably wouldn't have a woman with a purse and disposable camera with her.
I hovered for just a second to see if her friend would say anything helpful, but she didn't. They just talked about the shoes. The turtle lady sat down and put her sneaker on. Nothing strange. No one else was looking but me, so I felt really self-conscious and went back over to Nancy.
"Did you figure it out?"
"No, it's probably just a bet... or something..."
I figured that was the end of it. Nancy wanted to check out a couple of things on the second floor, so we got on the escalator. The turtle was just a couple of people ahead of us.
I said, "She probably thinks we're following her."
Nancy is used to me obsessing over things, and in her infinite patience, she just said, "I wouldn't worry about it. She's got enough stuff to worry about. That unitard is really unflattering on her."
"That's probably why she wore her running shorts. To cover up some of the unflattering."
"Those running shorts are terrible too. Stuff is hanging out."
Of course, they ended up right next to the spot where Nancy wanted to look. So, I made an effort to not be right there. Until I heard someone start talking to them. A woman said, "Jennie! How are you?"
I raced over to a place where I could hear. For a long time, over two minutes, they just chatted about how long it had been since they had seen one another. I thought, maybe this woman wears the costume everywhere and her friends are just used to it. They probably had a nickname for her like "Turtlie" or "Teenage Mutant Ninja Jennie."
But, eventually, the edge of politeness wore off and her old friend said, "Why are you wearing a turtle costume?"
Geez, I thought, I would have asked that first. Of course, I thought this while hiding behind a rack of clothes listening in on the conversation, so you be the judge of my braveness.
"It's a school assignment. I'm in the education program and they want us to know how kids feel on the first day of school. So, we have to wear a costume in public for two hours."
Her friend was quiet for a beat or two and then said, "Couldn't you just lie about it? I bet most people lie."
"Well," she said as she pointed to the woman who was with her, "you have to take pictures and write a paper on it."
"If I had to do it, I would just lie. I already know how it feels."
They said goodbye to one another and promised to keep in touch.
As soon as her old friend left, the turtle woman said to her current friend, "She thought I would cheat, why would someone cheat at this? Look around, no one cares..."
I immediately went back to Nancy, being careful not to indicate that I had been listening.
I explained the whole thing to Nancy and she made a disapproving noise. I asked if she thought it was a bad assignment.
"No, but I don't think you have to look not-cute for the assignment. She went out of her way to wear something unflattering."
I asked Nancy what she would wear.
"Something that covered my whole head. Like a bear costume."
We got on the escalator to the third floor and again, they were right in front of us. Now that I knew what was up, I just wanted to stay away from them. As soon as we stepped off the escalator, we walked quickly in the opposite direction.
On the first day of school, I always felt like I was invisible and I wanted to maintain that cloak as long as possible. I didn't feel like I was dressed in a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle outfit and that people were judging me. Kids are only really mean after they know all your weaknesses.
If they want to know what it feels like in school, education students should each be assigned a nickname on a body part or family situation that they are sensitive about. Then, every time they say something smart in class, someone will call them that name in a derisive way.
That's school. The other stuff is like trick or treat, people staring at you for something that you can change.