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Fiction Happy

It has been a good week for me. At work, I had just received a promotion with new business cards arriving today. I stuck one in my wallet for good luck. A few days prior i had received a phone call asking me to present at this convention, seemingly out of nowhere. I gave an enthusiastic yes to the man on the other end of the line. There's a lovely hotel attached to the local convention center. My brother just dropped me off at the front door, and I was surprised at how many people had turned out for the event. When I walked through the door, ironically enough, it was how I might expect a shopping mall around the holidays to appear.

Normally, when I think of "crowd watchers," I don't exactly think of such a social bunch, let alone so many different looking people.

Everywhere I turned, there were people in costume, or standing in circles telling extravagant, animated stories. Somehow, though nervous, I felt like I belonged. I made my way upstairs and wandered past two large ballrooms set up with booths selling tee shirts with silly sayings on them, "I don't always go out in public, but when I do, I'm judging you." Or "life goal: don't end up on 'People of Wart-Mart' pages." There was a young man wearing an all black shirt with the word "STAFF" printed in white across the front and back handing pamphlets and event schedules to inbound guests. I took a set and thanked the man, opening the glossy paper to see the schedule.

There it was, my name printed in small black font next to the words "Meeting Room A, 3:00." I checked the time, I still had an hour before I needed to set up. What a chance to wander. I settled into a panel where two women stood in the front, showing objects they collected that were left behind by random passersby while they had been people watching. Some of these items were frankly surprising. Apparently, one family left their entire picnic basket and cooler at a park before driving out. It seems they lived in Colorado but had traveled to Georgia for some reason or another, and had left the containers since they each had a crack, or something. If I am completely honest, I was mildly bored by these ladies' stories. I snuck out the back door and headed back toward my meeting room.

In all my 32 years on this earth, not once did I think I would be asked to speak in front of a crowd, let alone over such an obscene topic as people watching. My heartbeat grew louder as each step brought me closer to the heavy wooden door. I opened it to reveal a fairly large meeting room, almost set up as if to serve as a lecture hall. I walk down the few steps, past the rows of seats to the front. The projector was turned on and a laptop was sitting on a pedestal next to a microphone.

My legs felt like jelly and I clumsily stuck my USB stick into one of the ports on the computer. The light flickered as it loaded the folder containing my slideshow. I set my bag behind the podium, open but hidden.

I took another look at the empty room, followed by a deep breath.

Come on, I thought, you've practiced this a million times. All you need is for people to show up.

I sat down in one of the seats up front and closed my eyes. I sat still as I heard people shuffling in, one by one, the quiet quickly replaced by chattering and clattering as people situated themselves. I opened my eyes and looked around. Only one person met my eyes, an older gentleman wearing a tweed jacket and spectacles. I smiled briefly before standing up and announcing to the room that I was happy to see such a great turnout.

The room slowly grew quiet as people realized I was the presenter.

"Hello, hello. I know many people are here because they probably didn't know what this event even was before walking in that door, and I wouldn't doubt if you haven't figured it out yet." A few chuckles escape the crowd, "but I'm here to remind you that this convention is for people who observe, right? Well let's test that theory." A few people looked puzzled at me, and I simply dimmed the lights and clicked start on my presentation. "Let's start with an easy one, there are 5 differences between these two photos, but I'll only show you one at a time, so watch closely, pay attention." I flashed an image of children playing outside, and when I noticed people studying the screen, quickly slipped my black sweat pants off to reveal green cargo pants, completely unnoticed. Then I clicked to the next slide, a very obviously edited photo where the children were now dinosaurs playing in a jungle setting. "When you feel you know the differences, shout them out!" I pulled my grey polo over my head and placed sunglasses on my brow as people started shouting the obvious answers, "Dinosaurs!" "Trees, not grass!" "It's a nest instead of a soccer ball!" But then people quieted down as they couldn't seem to figure out the last two.

"Whats wrong, you can't give up already!" I clicked the lights back on and clicked to the next slide, it took a surprising almost whole minute before someone noticed the wardrobe change.

"Hey, Mr H! Weren't you wearing something else a second ago?"

I paused, and asked what I was supposed to have worn earlier. The young boy frowned at the ground, looked back up, and said "I… can't recall."

Addressing the room at large, I asserted that he was, in fact, correct, but wondered if anyone could remember what it was. People threw out random guesses, obviously wrong, and only after a couple of minutes of wrong answers and people giving up, did the older man stand up and clear his throat. He was maybe in his 60s, rather thin and frail looking. He asked if there was a prize for the right answer.

"Tell you what, if you get it right, then I'll buy you dinner, your restaurant of choice." A few in the crowd threw another couple of guesses before being shut down.

The same old man smiled and raised his hand slightly. "Yes, sir?" I pointed at him.

"Sir, I know for a fact you were wearing black sweatpants and a grey polo shirt. But even more than that, you sat among the audience before the start. For some reason, you stuck out." There was a murmur among a few of the younger people.

"You're right. Why do you suppose that is?"

"Because you were observing us this whole time, weren't you?"

"Even a presentation is only another chance to see how people behave and react." I continued with the presentation, a few well timed jokes and some more wardrobe changes followed by people confidently shouting my previous appearance, probably hoping for a free meal as well.

Eventually I made my closing statements, "don't forget to observe while you observe. You never know how it could benefit you." I smiled at the old man again, who never broke eye contact.

I turned the lights back to their original brighter setting and began to pack up my things, and just as I popped my flash drive out, the old man comes up. At this point people have mostly filed out of the room, and he took my hand. "My son, I hope you enjoy the rest of this convention, and I hope to see you yet again."

Again? "Excuse me, have we met before today?" But before I could finish my sentence, he was halfway out the door and I realized he left something in my hand.

I looked down, my eyes were greeted by a familiar looking business card. I read the name, the profession, the address. It was my own business card. My new one. Instinctively I reached into my pocket to find that my card was still there, untouched. Curious, I moved to follow the old man, but by the time I got to the hall, his tweed jacket had already disappeared into the crowd. I shrugged and carried my things back out to my brothers car. Overall it had been a great day, the presentation was well received, and I put the weird situation out of my mind.

Honestly, I hadn't thought about it until a few months later I saw that same tweed jacket walk into the offices at work. I quickly stood. I strained to see his face. My eyes met those of a frail old man from across the building. He smiled before turning his attention back to the secretary. He left just as he had arrived; abruptly. The secretary gave me a sideways glance as I walked up behind the desk to whisper to her. "What was that about?"

"Whatever you've done, the VP really likes you. He wanted to take you out to lunch today, if you're free." She passed me a small piece of paper. It was his business card. I turned it over and on the back another number was written on alongside a small phrase, "you still owe me food, my choice of restaurant."

I just stared out the front door. Funny how things work out, huh.

January 23, 2021 09:54

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2 comments

17:50 Jan 30, 2021

The way you ended your story is absolutely satisfying and great! Keep on writing! If you don't mind, can you please come and read my story, as I am seeking some constructive criticism. Also, can you please like and follow me? (You don't have to, but I would appreciate it a lot).

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Amanda Fox
16:07 Feb 01, 2021

That was a fun story - I like how the narrator used interactive methods in his presentation. I wish more people would do the same. I agree with Devaki's comment: the ending was satisfying and made me smile.

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