Barbie Toes and Blow-Up Dolls

Mannequin legs
Photo by ide alien on Unsplash

I see you sitting at the bus stop, thirty-something, slouched, looking a bit hungover, clutching a pair of legs. Mannequin legs. The top half of the woman is sliced clean, like that magic show act. Smooth and level enough to rest a cup of tea on.

I slide onto the orange plastic seat next to you. “That your thing?”

You look at me warily, like you’ve heard it all before. Still, no bus in sight, might as well pass the time. You’re too scrawny to do me any harm.

“You a legs man, then?”

You pull the legs a little closer, like you’re trying to protect them from my curiosity. Your head tilts fractionally, could be to answer me, could be the wind. It’s only September but overnight there’s a nip in the wind. We’ve all been caught out, no jackets.

Maybe you’re a designer. Filmmaker. Or a sculptor, like Rodin and his miniature hands. I loved that display case at the Tate, row after row of hands gesturing, pointing, imploring. None bigger than two inches. Different hands with tiny nails, wrist creases, fingers.

But it’s not like these legs were just lying around. “Where’d ya get her?”

You edge further down the seat but there’s a heavy-set woman with shopping bags who’s not budging. Your eyes glaze over in that way Londoners have, tuning me out.

I stare at her Barbie toes, that high-heel arch, incongruous on the chewing-gum-splattered pavement. Think of all the ways women are painted and posed; the way it used to be blow-up dolls but now it’s female robots fashioned for sex toys. Think of Robert and all those charges on his credit card.

Now it’s me who feels protective. “No seriously, what’s she for?”

Someone next to me mutters, “Leave it, will you?”

The 46 comes into view and you stand suddenly and flash your teeth at me; I suppose it’s a smile. Your gums are far longer than your stubby teeth.

There’s a shuffle toward the flung-open door. You’re right in front of me, legs under one arm while you put one foot onto the bus and reach to tap your Oyster card.

There’s a soft “Oof” as I shove you in the back. You’re just as flimsy as I’d hoped. I snatch the legs and run.

Behind me I can hear you shouting, but I’ve liberated the legs. We’re off.

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