Smile and Wave

The tables are inhabited mostly by young men and women. Some sit alone, with laptops and books sprawled out in front of them. They seem to be intently concentrating on the work before them. One girl has pushed her books to the side and is shopping online. Another boy is on Facebook. Most of the tables are occupied by groups of people. They’re laughing and gesturing with their hands. One girl’s arms are flailing to and fro so violently that she almost topples over. Her friends notice; they all suddenly burst into laughter. The girl blushes, but continues her story, albeit in a more subdued manner. There doesn’t seem to be a common purpose for everyone here.

No one individual is being particularly loud. And yet it seems that all of the whispers and lowered voices amplify each other, as I cannot even hear the scratching of my pen or the ruffling of my pages. Without warning the volume in the room drops and I can suddenly hear the sound of my own breathing. I look up from my journal and four pairs of eyes meet mine. Three girls and one boy all smile at me, and then look questioningly at my journal. I simply wink and put a finger to my lips. Did they really find it so strange that I might choose to not sit with them today? Perhaps, I should find more ways to break from my daily pattern on a regular basis. But, I digress; my attention moves to the only table not inhabited by young men and women.

At this particular table, there is much less diversity. While scanning the rest of the room I see red fabrics, yellow and black polka-dot dresses, purple checkered shirts, but at this particular table there is only blue and black. Four of the women are all dressed exactly the same: dark navy polos with black pants and black shoes. The last two women are wearing blue button-downs with a blue tie and a black apron. One of the women, I’ll call her “Sleeked-back Ponytail”, takes her shoes off under the table and reaches under to rub her right foot. She grimaces slightly but sits upright again quickly before the other women notice. She leans forward and comments on the discussion the other women are having. They enjoy her comment and the conversation appears to become more energetic. Meanwhile, she quietly places her hand on her forehead and tilts her head down almost as if this will somehow shield her from everything going around her. Green Headband notices Sleeked-back Ponytail’s silence; she places a gentle hand on her knee without calling the attention of the other women. The conversation continues.

Suddenly the women all gasp at their watches and get up from the table. Sleeked-back Ponytail remains after their quick departure, and slowly rises. Her shoulders seem heavy with sadness. She catches my eye and I smile sweetly and wave. She returns my gesture, but the smile drops from her face as quickly as it appeared

Her hollow smile haunts me. How many times has the suffering of others been invisible to me? Out of guilt, or perhaps in some half-hearted attempt to ease her pain, I get up and push in all the chairs from her now vacated table and wipe the surface free of crumbs. I return to my table, grab my journal, push in my own chair, and walk away.