We were waiting to be taught how to smile.
The kind that’s genuine, easy, natural. The kind that lights up a room. I look over at the only other person in the room, and he’s scowling. I feel awkward, enough to want to break the silence, but I don't say anything. Instead, I tap my nails, bitten to the core, against the metal hand rest of the metal chair. Come to think of it, this whole room had a metal vibe. Metal tube lights emitting a pale white glow, the type you see in hospitals. A metal door, a contrast to the glass one at the entrance. A metal table in the centre, pamphlets scattered in that way you always see in waiting rooms; haphazard, but in a neat, colour palette manner that tells you it was in fact the brainchild of someone who knew what they were doing.
Maybe I’m metal too. Or is it mental? Isn't that the point of this “club” though? To pinpoint where exactly in your life it went wrong. When is it that you stopped feeling. Rather, when is it that you stopped feeling happy?
He's looking at me, he's probably been looking at me, but it's only now that I notice. This isn’t right, I'm usually the one doing the staring. His eyes narrow at my fingers, still drumming the edge of my seat, a habit of anxiety. I want to stop, but simultaneously win this unspoken game of daggers. A middle ground is eventually reached, my fingers moving at half the speed, his face a mixture of nothing and everything. His emotions are hard to pinpoint, although he’s definitely considering something. I’m sure of it.
It’s been half an hour since I arrived. He was already here before me, which is crazy considering the fact that I had made a fashionably late entrance. I assumed everyone would already be there at one, but it was just him. Maybe their tactics are the same as mine, I figured. You don’t want to seem too eager for this. Not for a club like this.
Forty five minutes now, and there was still no sign of another person. I go back to my original pace of finger strumming, starting to get a bit nervous. Forget everyone else, when was this thing gonna start? The sound of shuffling, and he extends his arm to pick up one of the pristine pamphlets. There was nothing in this waiting room that gave away the nature of what exactly we were waiting for. Nothing, except these pamphlets, and even then, you’d have to actually read them to gain some insight.
The Eccedentesiast Club
It’s painful to see you smile, with all that pain behind it.
No more. Let’s fight this battle together.
Opening dates- Saturday, 29th October. 1pm-3pm.
I follow his eyes, which are scanning the not-so-informative words. He rereads them, five or six times, then lets out a small scoff. It’s the only other sound apart from my nails that’s penetrated the silence so far. It’s so sudden that I wince, not knowing what else to do with his eyes boring into me.
“Can you believe this shit?” raising his eyebrows at the pamphlet before tossing it back onto the table, his voice is deep, annoyed.
“Sure,” I respond stupidly. That doesn’t even make sense. Word vomiting is kind of my thing, involuntarily, of course. So I decide to keep quiet instead of embarrassing myself even more.
Not the answer he expected. It’s obvious from the way he furrows his eyebrows, gives a small lick of the lips. I decide that he’s beautiful, in an unconventional way. The hair atop his head is light brown, hints of a darker shade intertwining with the curls that seemed to bounce even when he wasn’t moving. His eyes matched the colour of his hair, almond shaped, holding a small glint. His lips, full, but not in a feminine way, are a deep red, enhanced by his lick, and a more prominent feature on his face due to the small beauty spot, which could almost be mistaken for a dimple. I’ve been indirectly studying him since I got here, and the dimple seems to get darker with every glance.
“Quite a turn out, huh?” he says sarcastically, and this time I’m inclined to respond before I combust from internal angst.
“I know you’re joking, but I also can’t be sure. Two people are very few, right?” I’m dead serious, and I’m grateful for him humoring me.
“...yes, it really is. One more second of contemplation last week and you’d have probably been on your lonesome right now.” I’m afraid to continue the conversation, but I had no idea how much longer we’d be sitting here. The clock handle teeters towards the 2.
“What’s your name?” he questions, and I realize I took too long to answer.
“Oh. It’s Aspen.” I have the sudden urge to bite my fingernails, but stop myself when I see that they’re a few chews away from disappearing completely.
“Well that is definitely a really cool name,” part of the emotions that I was trying to attribute to him make an appearance. He’s amused.
“What’s yours?” I’m aware of basic social cues, at least.
“I’m Noah,” he says, but gets straight to the point, “so, what’s your deal?”
“How do you mean?” I ask, although I know exactly what he means, covertly substituting ‘story’ for ‘deal’.
“I mean, why’re you here, really? There must be more to you than just waiting-room-Aspen.”
“I could ask you the same thing, not-just-waiting-room-Noah.” I refer back to the pamphlet he had disregarded, raising my eyebrows. He notices this and smiles knowingly.
“Yeah, I know I said it’s shit. It is, really. A club that can help you stop feigning smiles? Rich. People don’t need clubs for that, they need help. Or death.”
Ironically, this is the response that makes me feel the least uncomfortable. Over the past few years, I had become familiar with the concept of death, weighing out it’s varying methods of achievement. Always considering from afar, never implementing.
“Sorry, that was a bit blunt. But seriously, did you even know what eccedentesiast or whatever meant before this?” he asks incredulously.
“Someone who hides their pain behind a smile,” I recite simultaneously with another voice, but it wasn’t his. A small, thin man with knobbly glasses, black matted hair, clad in a plaid shirt and jeans stood at the metal door. I tried to peer at what was in the room behind him, but his demure stature surprisingly covered most of the frame.
“Yes, not a popular word, but a word nonetheless. Sorry for the delay, we noticed that there were only two of you and were hoping some more people would eventually turn up. Not to worry though, this is, afterall, our first day. In the future you can say you were part of pioneering something incredible. Revolutionary.” He flashes us a warm smile and gestures for us to follow him into the room.
Noah and I exchange concerned glances. Not the most reassuring welcome, especially not an hour later, but it was still better than waiting in this room for a second longer. So we stood up in tandem, and made our way to the door.
You see, that’s where my journey started, but you won’t know what it’s about. You only know what I let you into, what I let you see. That’s how it is for most of us. We’re allowed into the most surface levels of people’s life; perpetually scraping the outer layer, perpetually in the waiting room. But to know someone, to really know someone, you need to wait. Wait until they’re ready to trust you, to drop their faux smile and reveal their secrets. Wait and endure the small talk, slowly breaking down the barriers. For waiting isn’t always mundane, or the most boring part of a story; it’s the foundation, the ability to endure and reap the rewards. Wait until they let you in.
And even though it was just us two, something about scraping the surface in that waiting room made us feel safe and excited for what was next. Even Noah couldn't help but grin before we stepped into what was beyond the waiting room.