A couple, man and woman, begin to sit at a table I occupy alone, but first they stop to ask if I mind. I don’t. And I immediately wanted them to like me. To say something witty and to make them laugh. I responded with “not at alllll”, drawing out the “all” a bit too long. Great. I think it sounded sarcastic. I feel subconscious about how it came across and now I feel an obligation to redeem myself in the eyes of these complete strangers.
Now I observe their body language with my peripheral vision, scouting for any sign that they feel uncomfortable. Any movement in a direction opposite of my position. A shift in their shoulders. A turn of the head. A curl of a lip. The retreat of a once comfortable hand. Any movement indicating they are making themselves smaller. Shrinking away from my attention.
They chat among themselves casually as they share a cinnamon bagel. The rest of the world is lost on me and I begin to write this. My chest swells, every muscle in my body twitches, ready to remove myself from the energy space I created all on my own. I need to divert my attention. I don’t hear a sound, I only see this screen. My thumbs drum along the glass surface, well trained.
I’m forced back into our reality by the vibration of a voice. “Hey man, can I bother you for a second?”
A chance to redeem myself. “Of course”, I say with a smile, putting my phone down.
“Do you know of a local bookstore, that’s like…not Barnes & Noble?” He laughs. She smiles. Both of them fixated on me. My eyes connect with his, then hers. I smile.
“Sure, I do.” I explain how to find the bookstore that is not Barnes & Noble and they reply with a smiling “Thank you”. They grab their belongings and begin moving away from me.
I look back down at my phone. In my peripheral vision I see the man stop and turn a shoulder toward me. I brace myself.
“Hey man, have a great day.”