Brutal. That was the perfect way to describe this summer. Brutal. The air conditioning in the apartment complex I lived in decided to cough out its last breaths at the peak of July. So me and my fellow neighbors surrounded ourselves with tiny, cheap fans in attempts to beat the heat. One gruesome afternoon, I was trying to distract myself from the vile humidity by listening to Lana Del Rey’s cool voice, which meshed with the fans’ buzzing noise.
Suddenly, I heard a door being thrown open and the sound of someone’s frustration in the hallway. Helping this person was a lot better than slowly melting, so I opened my door to see what the commotion was about. There was a woman, dressed in a t-shirt with stars on the shoulders, blue shorts, and white sneakers. She had blonde hair that just touched her shoulders, and big, black sunglasses shielded her eyes. She seemed unfazed by the awful weather. She held, what I assumed to be, a fruit smoothie, which dripped out of its cup, and down her wrist. In her other hand, she gripped a leash and was slightly tugging it. Her pet was hiding behind her door.
“C’mon! It’s time for your daily walk, Artichoke.”
I tried to greet her with a smile, but the heat made everything painful. “Your dog giving you trouble?”
She turned to me, confused. Then, her pet walked out into the hallway. I felt my eyes bulge out of my head. “Oh, it’s not a dog, it’s, um…”
“An iguana,” she finished. The lizard laid down and curled at her feet, like this has happened a million times before, people being caught off guard by its presence, and was waiting for the shock to be over. We stared at each other for a few moments. The music that I was playing filled the silence. Then, her head perked up. “Oh, you like Lana Del Rey?”
“Yes, I’m a big fan.”
Without hesitation, she asked: “Wanna take a walk with me? You can get to know Artichoke, and me, Ella…My name is Ella by the way.”
Despite just meeting Ella, I said without hesitation: “Yes, that sounds lovely.”
She smiled. “I would like that very much, uh…”
I prepared for the devastating heatwave by grabbing my water bottle, and the three of us went outside. As I felt sweat drip down my back, Ella strolled with Artichoke like she was heading down the catwalk. She sipped her smoothie and ignored any stares from fellow pedestrians.
“Are you new to the complex?” I asked. “I never saw you before.”
“Kind of. Been there for like a month,” Ella answered.
“Really? I never heard you move in or anything. I’m sorry for not meeting you sooner.”
“Don’t worry about it. I didn’t have much stuff to move in, and I don’t usually hang out with anyone. Well, except for Artichoke.” She stopped and rested her arm on my shoulder. “People are hard to be around… Not you, of course. You’re pretty cool.”
I smiled. “Thanks.”
After some chit-chat, a pleasant silence accompanied us. We walked close to each other, our arms almost brushing against each other. Artichoke scurried along joyfully. Ella was still somehow unaffected by the blaring sun; her entire outfit and demeanor screamed “cool.” Maybe it was just me trying to ignore the heat, but I couldn’t help but wonder: Who was she? Where did she come from? Why did she pick me to accompany her on this walk? Out of all the pets to love and take care of, why an iguana? Her presence was weirdly fascinating and conflicting. Ella, this mystery in human form, maybe didn’t want to be completely solved.
She suddenly stopped and turned to me. Glancing at my empty water bottle, she asked: “Hey, do you want to get something to drink? Not to be mean, but you look like a fish out of water.”
“I would be glad to. And no, you have every right to say that. I do feel like a fish out of water. I’m surprised I’m not flopping around like one this very moment,” I answered.
She giggled, and my heart melted.