People walk around me. They stare, or worse, they make themselves not stare, their heads stiffly turned away, eyes focused somewhere above me. I’ve got ten minutes–there are no bells during summer session. The deejay in my ear tells me it’s hit 113. With the humidity figured in, it feels like 125. But with the wind chill, it only feels like 120, 119 in the shade. Ha ha. There’s no wind, and it’s noon so there’s damn little shade.
They walk around me, pass me, faster body rhythms I’ve long since stopped envying. I will be late for Nutrition and Diet. I have to walk from here, Grissom Hall, past the building where they have all the English classes, past the old Chemistry building, all the way across Memorial Mall to Stone for my next class. I just left my Statistics recitation. My head is swimming. My scale this morning read 314, two pounds down. Numbers, numbers.
My sweatpants are soaked. It’s like wearing a steamed towel. So is my tee-shirt. Feels like plastic wrap. Two fools glide by me on skateboards, their shirts tied around the waists of their shorts, baseball caps on backwards. Skinny little twerps will give themselves heat stroke. The student hospital sees a dozen cases a day. Thank god the campus isn’t full now. There are vast areas of my body that haven’t seen direct sunlight since sixth grade. I don’t own a swimming suit. Most of me is as white as an ivory Bhudda.
In front of the old Chemistry building I stop caring. The steps and concrete walls there are bright yellow. There is no shade, not even in the seams of the sidewalk. I set down my backpack and put my radio and headphones inside. I take off my shirt.
Oh my god, a passing student says. Jesus, one behind me hisses. The laughing begins. Look at the size of those tits, a guy says over by the wall, jeez, put on a bra, and he is almost paralyzed with laughter. I can feel the sun touching the layers of skin beneath the surface. A girl in a huge white tee-shirt bites her lip, exchanges looks with her friend in sunglasses. I can feel the shadow of a bird flying overhead. If I ever get that big, shoot me. I look up at the face of the Chem building. The names of the famous chemists are carved there–_Bunsen_, Curie, Faraday, Pasteur. They tell me what to do.
I slip out of my sandals, peel off the sweatpants, put my sandals back on since the sidewalk is frying my heels, and it is done. Underwear wasn’t even a consideration this morning. There is nothing but a continuous gasp around me. I almost believe it is reverent. I put my clothes in my backpack and head again toward Memorial Mall.
People stop. They stare. They laugh. They turn away. They walk away. They scream. They hoot. They whistle. They pretend not to notice. They elbow each other. They look down the front of me, but I know what parts still aren’t seeing the sun.
Another shirtless skateboarder rolls past, grinds to a halt a few feet away. He nods, says, Hey, what a great idea, and he takes off his shorts and underwear in one motion. They are baggy enough to fit over his Chuck Taylors. He balls his clothes in one fist, picks up his board, and begins walking beside me. I say nothing to him. I have to get to class.
We cross Memorial Drive in front of a car, walk down the sidewalk alongside a city bus. Faces gape at us behind its smoky windows. I am now late for class, and I will be counted absent.
As we start to cross Memorial Mall, I notice a girl underneath a tree at the lawn’s edge. She is naked, bent over putting her clothes in her bookbag. She slings the bag over her shoulder and skips over to me and the skater. Her hair is brown and pulled back into a short pony-tail. She is good-looking, I guess. The skater shifts his skateboard around front.
We walk down the asphalt path across Memorial Mall towards Stone Hall, the skater on my left, the girl on my right. Every person out in the lunch-hour heat is watching us, our shining bodies marching across the grass. The path we’re on is called the Hello Walk; you’re supposed to say hello to each person you meet on the path. Hello, I say to my two friends. Hello, they say. Hello, I say to the silly sunbathers. Hello, I say to the people going to lunch. Hello, I say to the other students late for class. At the far end of the walk, in front of Stone Hall, two campus policemen get out of their car, shaking their heads. Hello, I will say to them. Hello.