Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Sideways Glance

This is a story about a young woman named Emma.

Emma was beautiful person with a gentle and flowing presence. She had a quietness about her, a stillness that some mistook for confidence. But Emma was far from confident: she was a shy person who had learned to love her own company.

One day Emma had an idea that both thrilled and terrified her: she would have lunch in the staff cafeteria. With great hesitation she made her way downstairs and joined the stream of people heading towards their midday meal.

The noise and bustle of the cafeteria was a swirling phantasmagoria. Emma took a slow breath and joined the queue of tray carrying diners. She paid for her meal and found a table where she could watch as the crowd of people flowed around her. She was in the flow, but she was not part of it.

And then Billy walked in. Billy was a scruffy individual. Emma couldn’t decide if his clothes were unfashionable or too fashionable, and his hair was desperately in need of a comb. He seemed unaware of these things; comfortable with himself; okay with his place in the world. Emma smiled; and something moved within her heart.

The next day Emma hurried to the cafeteria. Excitement at the prospect of seeing Billy replaced the trepidation she had felt the day before. He was unique; she knew this; she knew that he was like her in this way at least. But when Billy arrived he looked different: his clothes were neat, his hair was combed, and he had a slightly self-conscious air about him. Emma didn’t know that Billy had seen her the day before: his new look was for her.

Emma went to the cafeteria every day. She harboured the quiet hope that she would once again see the Billy of that first day. Instead she saw a Billy who was slowly becoming more vacuous, more self-obsessed. He had gym muscles and clothes that showed them off. Billy seemed to be making the transition from unselfconscious, to extremely self-conscious. And then, as if he were taking some kind of drug, he became aloof.

Oh, if only Emma had known that these changes were for her benefit, she would have pushed aside her own disquiet and approached Billy without delay. But she didn’t know, couldn’t know. And so Emma watched as the old Billy was annihilated, and a new, more generic Billy emerged.

Emma remembers the day Billy asked her if she would have lunch with him. The request seemed to come out of nowhere, as if it were some sudden whim of Billy’s. Emma was tempted to ask Billy why he had changed so much, but she was too shy to say anything, except that she wouldn’t. Billy made the same request the next day which struck Emma as arrogant, and she was more emphatic this time. She refused him and let him know there was no hope in her direction.

Emma didn’t see Billy for some time after that. He disappeared from the cafeteria and Emma desperately hoped that she hadn’t been too hard on him. She was mortified by the idea that she had hurt him and longed to set things straight.

It was some time before Billy remerged. Emma could see that he’d changed. He was scruffy and dishevelled. But there was a gravity about him: he seemed to have made peace with himself. Emma smiled when she saw him; and something moved within her heart. She waved at him as he entered the room, hoping to make amends, hoping to get to know him as he really was.

But Billy walked right past her.

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