She took her time lighting the cigarette, probably longer than she needed to. She could feel his gaze all the while, following her hand movements with an anxious disbelief. The lighter threatened not to light for a moment, but on the third flick she found success. She stared the boy in the eyes while she took her first drag, long and satisfying.
“You’ve got to be kidding me.”
By now his words only rolled over her harmlessly, like the first raindrops threatening a storm. She had barely been paying attention since he sat down in the first place, but now it was as if he was simply an empty shell before her. Clearly, he was seated across from her, but she couldn’t be sure if he was actually there. Try as she might, no sense was to be made out of the flapping gums on his face, even though he seemed rather intent on communicating something of some importance. It was disheartening, and a little worrisome, but to her it also felt completely natural.
Out of the corner of her eye she saw a flurry of motion and casually turned her head towards it, not ending the conversation, but plainly indicating that her thoughts were elsewhere. The boy continued earnestly, but she only nodded with complete absence. A young couple pushed passed them on skateboards through the street. The pair were laughing, almost crying as they rode by- though she could not tell what was so entertaining. Probably they couldn’t either.
“are you even listening to me?”
Slowly she turned back to the boy. He sat there sadly, like a dog tied up outside of a bar from which his owner was sure to be late if he ever emerged at all. He looked defeated; perhaps he finally understood just how little this whole conversation was really worth.
“I’m sorry,” she chuckled, unconsciously, “I think it’s all just great.”
The boy simply sneered, shaking his head in disgust. She had known it would come to this eventually, long before the boy even noticed her sitting alone nursing her now- cold coffee. It was strange how routine her world had become, even in the midst of what was supposed to be the most dynamic years of her life. She realized now that the stained cardboard cup was still a quarter full, and she began slowly swirling the remaining contents in a circle, trying hard to keep the liquid moving smoothly with no interruptions. At some point the boy had gotten up and left. Probably he was angry, or maybe disbelieving.
She was alone again now, though all around her students passed by in some rush or another. Young men and women moved around the streets like tops, spinning wildly to and fro, threatening always to teeter out of control and crash. Sitting at her table she felt as if she were in the eye of some chaotic storm, where students raced breathlessly back and forth through their manufactured crises like snow, somehow blowing from all directions. The sun was out, yes, but still she felt cold amidst these people. It was frightening to her that each and every individual swirling about in this sea of souls might be convinced that HE or SHE was the center of universe where their wants and needs could be realized. No, this just couldn’t be possible, not really at least. And yet the flow of faces continued to morph and ebb, creating a human kaleidoscope of delusion which only seemed to spin faster and faster and faster around her…
Before she knew what was happening, the girl was out of her seat and onto the sidewalk, floating through the crowd on two legs possessed. Up the street she moved, half-sensing, half-doubting the reality of her locomotion. Just as it was sitting at her cafe table, so it was on her journey to who knows where. Bags of flesh and bone charged madly about in a furious quest of eternal longing, weaving and darting sporadically and sometimes only barely avoiding head on collisions with each other, and the girl. Limbs and spit and perspiration flew through space and time with all the endowed meaning they could muster, though they were ironically unaware that energy had been confounded with authenticity. But where she went, she sensed that this eye of the storm would follow, encapsulating her in a relative quiet introspection which could only be acknowledged in contrast to the outside world of pretensions and ego, the unseeing collage of a self-centered mass.
Onward she moved, block after block, street after street, business after business. As she passed by each facade she became vaguely aware of how eerily unfamiliar her world was becoming. Somehow these places and people with whom she had spent the last few years of her life appeared now utterly unrecognizable. Buildings seemed to blend together, with Mexican restaurants now offering tattoos and t-shirts along with burritos. The sights and smells of her city were overwhelming, more now than they had ever been. She wondered if this was the moment she always feared would come. Was this afternoon the breaking point? Had she finally completely lost it? She giggled, immediately slapping a hand over her mouth to subdue the feeling.
Now she was standing, feet firmly planted at the top of a set of stairs overlooking the rocky beach. Before her the wooden structure descended wildly towards the sea, clinging desperately to the slope of the cliff as incoming waves threatened to wash away its lowest steps. There were no more students around her. For a while she just stood there and appreciated the relative quite of the tide lapping against the shore. A
peaceful calm began to set over her, ballooning delightfully from a place deep in her gut. The water was loud- certainly louder than the human cacophony at her back, but it felt to her as if there had never been a more tranquil silence in all of time.
Overhead a pack of seagulls glided parallel to the beach in an imperfect V-formation. A light breeze tickled the girl’s cheeks delightfully, and for a moment she thought she could hear a soft whispering in her ear. She leaned into the wind and closed her eyes, hoping she might be able to discern some lesson from its ancient speech- but just as it always seemed to do, the secrets of the sky had gone as quickly as they had come, leaving the girl in a state of unrealized anticipation. She opened her eyes. A setting sun, persistently battling against its slow progression below the horizon, radiated warm stillness across her skin. She stood there and watched the orb descend until it had finally disappeared, nobly, into the infinite oblivion which she knew rested beyond the furthest curve of the Pacific. As the chill of evening began to creep in, the girl turned away and started the journey back into town.