All the twenty four people who had signed up for ‘News-raiding Hobby Convention’ in the middle of September, who I personally think must be either weird people or just really alone people, are sitting around in a circle on chairs, waiting for the instructor. I hadn’t even heard of something called news-raiding, where you go around the town trying to appear in the background of as many news reports as you can. But I hadn’t been able to write anything for the past five months and my writing coach thought it’s because I had fallen prey to the routine and comfort of my life. And when he suggested me to go and have some new experience, I thought he’d sign me up for a vacation in a beautiful, distant country with strange foreigners all around. Who knew he’d call me up in the middle of the night and say that he was trying to book me up for some hobby convention and the only ones available were news-raiding and beetle fighting?
The first and last book I had written, an anthology of short stories, was published three years ago. As soon as it sold a decent number of copies, much against everyone’s advice, I quit my job as a kindergarten teacher and bought a big house in the middle of the city. Honestly, I didn’t like kids much. I don’t like watching news either, but here I am. I guess I like beetles less than I would like raiding news reports. I’m not even sure if twenty four people trying to get in the camera behind a reporter is legal or not.
I however, don’t trust this process. What possible new experience could I get in a place like this? It had been raining incessantly since last night after everyone arrived. The man who greeted us and showed us our rooms was drenched wet because he didn’t have an umbrella or he had lost one. I don’t remember his story. He even walked around in my room with his muddy shoes, leaving mud everywhere on the carpet.
But I am determined to make something out of these three days. So last night, before sleeping I started asking the internet about the ways to get over a writer’s block. One of the ways which I found do-able in a place like this was to start recording the different kinds of scents one smells throughout the day and see if that leads to any ideas. So, here I am with a notepad, trying to figure out what it smells like.
September here smells nothing like home. It’s sunny in the city, even in the morning when I walk to the park. It’s not hot per se, but while returning I can smell the concrete beneath my feet and around me. The breeze doesn’t let anything stay in the air for long, so as I walk around, there’s always some new smell and some new sound. Here there’s only mud, soil and hay stacks everywhere. We were supposed to sit outside but someone said it could rain any minute, so this barn was deemed fit. There’s no wind, so the smell doesn’t drift and swirl around the people sitting here waiting. Instead it lingers around reminding me that this is nothing like home.
I write down ‘not like home’.
I look around and we have a combination of many different ages. Some really old people, who I assume have retired after fulfilling lives, are here. Some really young kids, like the one sitting opposite to me, are here. They all think they are sitting in a perfect circle, but my chair is misplaced. The geeky kid opposite to me could have observed that and gestured me to get the chair in place, had he cared enough and not been busy watching something in his phone.
I bet none of them are here looking for a life-changing experience. I mean, there’s a woman sitting to my right who is busy knitting something. I think she is pregnant. I can’t really tell, but maybe she just had a fight with her husband and was on the next bus to somewhere strange to just be away for a little while. I imagine her husband to be the doting kind, who returns home late everyday and expects her to do everything in the house and wait for him in a pretty dress without having dinner.
The man next to her is dressed rather too sharply for a place like this, and is constantly shaking his legs. A character like that would be someone who was fired recently and didn’t know where to go or what to do. So, he typed on his computer ‘Nearest hobby classes’ and he, too chose this over beetle fighting. He doesn’t seem to be too old. He could find a new job if he wanted, but I guess he is confused. Maybe he had a bad breakup the exact same day he lost his job, so he thinks that’s just it. Maybe he even sold his apartment back in the city before driving down here.
The girl to my left, in the bright pink skirt and blue cardigan, must be a receptionist somewhere. She must have gotten tired of answering phone calls when none of the calls were ever for her. They were mostly for a Mrs. Kavinsky who sat too far away from the reception in the office. So, she had to go get her for the phone call. She had to do this at least five times every day. Finally, when in the weekly meeting, the manger asked for inputs from the employees to improve productivity of the office and she mustered up the courage to ask the manager to move Mrs. Kavinsky to a desk near the reception because she got so many calls throughout the day, she was laughed at because she is just a receptionist and that is not how an office works more efficiently. So, the next day she lied to everyone in the office that she was going on a vacation with her new fiance, when she was actually coming down here.
The gentleman next to her, with a tie and a hat, had matched with some woman on an online dating site. They had flirted for about two weeks and then he had asked to meet her. Only there was no woman on the other side, but a bunch of bored security personnel of a factory who opened the site during their night shift and led this gentleman believe that they were actually a waitress and a struggling artist. They told him she’d met him at the ‘News-raiding hobby camp’ happening in a nearby town, and he found this to be quite an odd arrangement, but he agreed nevertheless. They told him he had to get a funny hat and a red tie for her to recognize him. So, he went on to book a seat, buy a new tie and a hat, and came down here. Right now, as he sits in his chair, he notices all the women around in this circle wondering who she might be. He even secretly wishes she could be the instructor.
The kid right in front of me is still busy watching something on his phone. My best guess is either something pornographic (would he dare?) or a documentary about how bottle caps are made. He is the only one here who is actually interested in news-raiding. In fact, he tried raiding news reports in his hometown and he was getting good at it too. But then suddenly, due to unforeseen reasons, his informant started giving him the wrong information. When all the news channels would be at the church covering the wedding ceremony of the mayor’s second daughter, his informant would tell him that a UFO was sighted near the park, so that’s where the reporters and cameras are going to be. He would ride his bicycle to the park, only to find some kids from his class there who had played a prank on him. So, when he found this hobby camp being organized not too far away, he pestered his parents to allow him to attend this.
When the instructor walks in, the kid in front of me puts his phone down and starts looking at me. Has he noticed that I was staring at him? Is it my chair that was out of the circle? He doesn’t say anything though. That is rude, I think.
There’s a new scent here now- the instructor’s perfume. It smells like orchids, and it smells expensive. Her salary as a news-raiding instructor couldn’t buy her this perfume. She must have a pretty-paying main job. But she wouldn’t be here in mid-September then. I imagine it must be a rich boyfriend. I imagine she is late because her boyfriend is in town. He took her to a lake-side picnic in the morning and she still didn’t allow him to go beyond kissing. She is conservative like that; she wants him to wait till they marry. She thinks news-raiding should be a popular hobby and should be advertised more. It’d make news interesting at least.
I write down in my note-‘orchids’ when the instructor starts addressing us. She tells her name and informs that she owns the barn. She says she thinks news-raiding is the most boring of all hobbies and still she is doing this because this is her grandmother’s business, she has to pay her back a hefty amount of money. She then asks us to stand up one by one and introduce ourselves.
The kid right in front of me says he was sent here by his parents as a punishment because he broke some things down at school and was suspended for a week. He isn’t an ardent news-raiding fan. The gentleman with the tie and the hat, who I thought was stood up by his date (who was actually a few security-men from a factory), is the husband of the lady kitting sweaters. I was right that she was pregnant. They ware here because they were just trying out new, fun hobbies. The girl in bright pink skirt and red cardigan, who was a bored, dejected receptionist in my head, is actually just the sister of the instructor and is here to fill seats and help her. There is no Mrs. Kavinsky who sat at the far end of an office and got more than five calls a day. The man, who lost his job and his girlfriend the same day and was constantly shaking his legs, was a friend of the instructor too. He didn’t sell his apartment before driving down here. The old people here are also here just trying out new hobbies because they didn’t get much time throughout their lives. They don’t want to die with regrets, they say.
I mean, what a bunch of regular people I am stuck with!
When my turn came, I stood up and told everything that I wanted to say. I said that I was a professional news-raider. It was my childhood dream to hold a national record of having news-raised the maximum number of news reports within a year. I had appeared in almost five thousand such reports till September. I was determined to make it till ten thousand by the end of the year. The instructor and everyone else are really impressed and they want me to share my experience in details with them in the first class.
After they all disperse to their rooms, its starts to rain again. I call my writing coach and say that this is not helpful at all. He asks if I have had any interesting story ideas, any plots or character ideas till now. I look down at my note pad, and its just two things written there-‘Not like home’ and ‘orchids’. “No. Nothing much to work on yet. SO I don’t think this method is working. I want to go back.”
Even before she replies, I disconnect and go to the reception to ask for bus timings.