He felt her eyes trying to dig itself deep into his soul. She asked him whether he’s okay or not. He courteously answered with a ‘I’m fine, thanks’. They were discussing their Discrete Mathematics assignment – she had come to him for help with some algorithms. Simple logic really. What was illogical was her question. What does him being ‘okay’ have anything to do with the problem at hand?
He felt her inquisitive eyes searching his expression. Was she trying to understand him? To read him? To empathize with what he was going through at the moment?
Weird. This wasn’t the first time that they’re doing an assignment together, and it’s not like they were into one another. At least, not him. It was strictly a work-for-work relationship.
‘You’ve been looking a bit off lately. You look…stressed..’, she mumbled, her eyes trailed off to the side, swerved back to his, and darted off to the side again. Both times, it darted to the left. Left, left… left meaning…construction.. He maintained eye contact as he tried to remember the info-graphic on eye directions and what they meant.
‘Go on’, he implored. What conclusions has she come up with?
‘You..I dunno, I mean – well’,
She ducked slightly. Her eyes darted down, and she blinked, once, twice – and lifted her head up again. Shifting left and right in her seat, she looked like a cat trying to settle down in a nervous state- almost uncomfortably, apologetically.
He made sure to follow her non-verbal cues with meticulous detail. Not a single hint was to be missed to construct an accurate analysis of her current thoughts.
‘You’re not you lately, it’s not like you to look so down and all – you’ve been avoiding others for the whole week – John and I haven’t seen you – and – I – I just want to know if you’re okay’, she continued.
As she rambled on, he realized where she was going. Ah, so she is concerned. The appropriate response would be to…reciprocate her expressed concern.
That meant that he has to express concern as well. He put on his own version of a concerned face; listing the steps down as he put his facial muscles to work:
1) frown just slightly, pull your brows together, but not too close,
2) lean forward a bit,
3) contort the lips into an ‘n’ shape, just barely –
4) the voice, lower the volume, add hints of sadness, think of having to wash the dishes and-
5) don’t forget the eyes – make it look worried.
Render concerned expression: complete.
To give her credit, her observations weren’t far off. It’s true that he’s been avoiding people. It’s true that he’s not been feeling well. It’s true that he’s caught up with his list of to-dos and upcoming deadlines.
But he wasn’t stressed, and he certainly wasn’t upset. Even if he was, for what purpose was there to express it?
‘You can talk about it with me if you want, I can listen’, she pressed on. She leaned her body in closer, her eyes brightened, as if they’re saying ‘Hopefully I’ll be able to make you feel better’, her eyebrows arched higher up, arms crossed playfully, angled not outwards, but inwards.
What is that? Uneasiness?
Every. Single. Detail. Must. Be. Recorded. He reminded himself.
He registered her question as he continued to scrutinize her movements. What is she on about? He wasn’t stressed, upset, nor insecure, and the last thing he needed was exactly to talk about anything.
No, thank you. He suppressed a deep sigh of annoyance.
She didn’t seem to notice it. Good. Now, end this conversation. He pulled on a meticulously-crafted smile; a smile that said ‘Don’t worry, I’m fine!’. Carefully, and seemingly casually, he tilted his head to the side, catching the light in his iris; giving off a glint. That should be enough to imply ‘What have you to worry about? It’s me, anyway!’.
He forced a chuckle. She seem bewildered. Just a bit more. He continued to smile his signature smile. The smile that seems to put others at ease, the smile that made others smile with him, the smile that puts people off-track. He noticed her slack a little. She pulled away and nestled back into her chair.
He laughed her worries away. ‘I’m ok – you shouldn’t worry about me – really!’, he said, caking the words with chocolate, sugar, strawberries and all.
She laughed along. ‘Haha, ok, ok – I forgot who I was dealing with – our ace!,’ she mused.
Internally, he was annoyed. So very annoyed. He was annoyed at how attentive she had been. Annoyed at how she observant she had been. Irritated at how quickly she had analysed the situation. Bothered, by her sincere concern.
In essence, she was asking him to open up to her. To tell her how he felt, truth and honesty all the way. To ask him to talk about his fatigue, his worries, his woes, his troubles, that things were slowly going out of hand, – to trust her.
His annoyance rapidly ascended into insecurity. His synapses went haywire for a moment – throwing off his usually calm, well-ordered train of thoughts. The memoirs of many awful experiences suddenly filled his frontal lobe. Recollections of deceit. Memories of a lie. Scars of disloyalty, the shrapnel shards of broken trust. Harrowing encounters have taught him the art of dishonesty and the beauty of falsifications. Deception, a wonderful craft. To lead others to misinterpret, his hobby.
Her unexpected questions threw him off kilter, and, quite frankly, disappointed him.He had hoped she could amuse him to-night. He needed a distraction. After all, it’s not like he had put up with her charades till now for nothing. Smart and witty, sweet and pleasant – she was the type that he would pay attention to in class during a presentation.
However, after their many meetings and discussions together, he concluded that she was just another defect who’s indirectly looking for a shoulder to cry on. A sad book that would open up to whoever would open it. Nothing hidden, no secrets to be discovered. Just another Nicholas Sparks novel waiting patiently on the shelf for another emotionally-shattered teenage girl to read.
Flashing another smile, he bluntly excused himself and left her to her own devise. He needed to get out of there. The insecurity, he needed for it to go away. He didn’t want to be understood. He didn’t understand what it’s like to be understood – to want to be understood – if that made any sense at all.
Typical, typical, boring.
He swiftly walked away from that very unwanted and very uncomfortable situation, re-organizing his cerebrum; packing his temporary discomfort into a neat box, and placing it all the way back in the hippocampus. Hopefully, it’ll get trashed soon enough.
Pleased with his own effective response to his own anomaly, he eagerly set his mind to work on the analysis of the girl’s behaviour:
1) An attempt to pry into his well-being.
2) An inaccurate analysis of his ‘strife’; the assumption
3) A struggle to make him express; the questions
4) Glances to the left: construction – of what? A lie? Or, to hide, to cover? To cover..what?
5) Obvious discomfort during conversation – of what? of him?; the shift
6) Apparent interest in wanting to give a hand in his affairs; the lean
He rested his chin upon his finger as he pondered over this unexpected change in her words and actions. Though unexpected, he was disgruntled at her conventional questions – they were boring. What could be less fascinating than for him to talk about his own? His thoughts took a wistful turn: What else is there to confuse him, to bewitch him, to amuse him, to make him wonder at life again?
His only current form of temporary entertainment was to observe, read, and analyse others. It didn’t matter whether he’s correct or not – it was simply enjoyable. To see how they react when he says a certain something, to see how they behave when he does a certain something – record it, and ponder: why did they do what they did?
Patterns, patterns, he theorized that people, in general are all simply following a set of patented behaviours, one after another. They only slightly differ depending on the individual’s personality, and, even the personality can be classified into certain categories, which renders certain people’s behaviours predictable and calculable. In some rare cases though, he did manage to find those whose reactions and actions are unpredictable and surprising – amusing. However, to-night was a complete failure.
He made his way to his favourite walkabout, hidden deep within the campus. The crickets sang, the trees were still, the clouds were heavy and dark – at ease, he breathed into the silence of the night. The wind welcomed him as it ruffled the bushes and swayed the trees. The cold air bit into his bare arms. He breathed in the chilly breeze, purposefully stinging his nostrils and burning his lungs. A drop of rain splattered on his forehead as he lifted his head towards the brooding, murky sky; the droplet stood still for a moment, and, pulled by the never-ending tug of gravity, it reluctantly made its way down his nasal bridge, crossed his cheeks, climbed his chin, and plummeted to the ground below. He smiled as the drop left a cooling trail upon his face.
Finally, a sensation, a stimulation – a feeling.