I live in a massive hostel block occupied by fellow college students. Often, my own room stifles me with overwhelming familiarity. At such times I flee in search of adventure, to other rooms, albeit a lot like mine. Company has a way of making wasted time seem worthwhile.
One evening I was paying a visit to Bro Coolio. We were talking about inconsequential issues, just the two of us, companionably. However, in the course of it, he failed to mention that a swarm of guests was headed for his room right then. They didn’t even knock, walking in noisily, their heels making clicking noises that almost masked their loud, high pitched voices. All of eight girls walked in, took positions (I can’t say there were seats enough for everyone, ahem, student life, [cough], yeah). For a while they gave me looks which only brides give gatecrashers at expensively organized weddings, and the air was thick with tension. But, pointing at me, Bro Coolio said, “This my boy Duski.” They all shrugged. Some lit their cigarettes.
It felt at first like I would drown in estrogen, for their stories were limited to things in the feminine realms, and their emotions were extravagantly giggled out. I felt out of place: none was familiar, their sentences mentioned people I’d never heard of. I wanted to run away. A look at Bro Coolio gave me a comforting sensation of solidarity, for his eyes were glazed over in a look of dead boredom; it was the look of an atheist who had to sit through grace. Evidently he didn’t care for their concerns.
Gradually, it dawned on me that the cigarettes were not simply stuffed with dried tobacco leaves. First, the flavor of silky threads of smoke wafted into my nostrils, then on into my lungs, and further still into my bloodstream. Before long, my brain was battling the formative stages of a trance to no effect. At length, the smoky haze, which had been wafting into my lungs in silky puffs just beneath my consciousness, began to influence the length and force required to operate my smile. Time would have frozen to make that moment freeze forever and I wouldn’t have minded becoming a statue, a perfect sculpture of an embodied emotion, reveling in an eternal instant.
Suddenly, the girls transformed in my perception from snobbish know-it-alls to exceedingly intelligent and companionable people. They had become a relaxed lot; literally taking laid back positions on any furniture available and liberally gushing verbally at the mouth, having become “loquacious and free in the impartation of information”.
So it was that I sat there and listened to them gossiping about themselves, each other, and others not present. Some of it was purely silly talk, and most of it was scandalously embarrassing and not for public consumption. Nobody took offense. The room got cloudier and cloudier as more of the filterless cigarettes were lit – they seemed to emerge in endless supply from a certain Louis Vuitton handbag – and eyes all round got shinier and shinier. The ring of laughter, energetically performed, made me quite happy, and I felt relatively at home. So I joined in the talking.
The relaxed atmosphere motivated one of Coolio’s guests to take a position next to me. Out of the blue, a certain female, who, prior to all this had been seated in a corner of the bed and smiling with the ceiling in a celebration of celestial zest which only she could elaborate ( further than this self-intrusion of mine allows), rose to her feet. She then made careful strides as she wove her long, tights-bound legs between the legs of others present, tiptoeing in a partly-graceful partly-clumsy way as she meandered towards me. Once parallel to me, she sidled over on the carpet and settled next to where I sat with my back against the wall. I turned my head to look at her face only to find her fixing me an uncompromising, direct stare. Her eyes were striking and unsettling; they seemed to be ablaze, and her sharply defined, recently trimmed eyebrows contributed to the general sensation that I was looking full-on at an all-knowing classic oracle of sorts.
One wonders how to react when someone decides to psychoanalyze you based on five minutes of conversation in a crowd. As the massed collection of crowded bodies on Bro Coolio’s bed continued to chatter and laugh recklessly, The Oracle continued to face me, and she said, “You’re a strange guy.” And Bro Coolio, who was seated smugly in a seat with a red-eyed beauty relaxing comfortably on his laps, burst out laughing at me. “It’s true!” he cackled, “That boy is totally from way out!” I ignored Coolio’s exclamations - his accent had somehow suddenly become American, which pointed to his state of mind.
“Explain yourself,” I told The Oracle simply. She shrugged, averted her stare for the slightest instant, such that I had the barest snatch of relief. Then she turned her fiery eyes back to me and said, “You’re mysterious, in a funny sort of way.” I nodded, shrugged and dismissed it as a smoke-fuelled bit of madness on the part of a stranger. How dare she presume to know me after less than an hour of not talking directly to one another? It amused me genuinely.
The moment seemed to have passed, and I sat there amongst them,everyone generally enjoying the mirth. It was truly fun, until a time the topics returned to gossip about persons not present. I can’t say I minded hearing slander, seeing how saucy a lot of it was, even if my conscience gave the customary nudge of unease. Soon, however, the topic turned towards my friend Angela, who wasn’t present. It’s a small world; they all seemed to dislike her. A particularly talkative lady began to supply us with updated accounts from Angela’s long and populous romantic history. The narrator’s own jealousy was well masked in an affected attitude of condescending spitefulness towards Angela. Her damaging revelations were well received by those present.
Something in me snapped, and I rose to my feet, and spoke up, “Stop it. She’s my friend.”
Silence fell upon the gathering. They were all staring at me.
In that instant of smoke and silence, it only then occurred to me to wonder whether or not Angela and I were friends, for we hadn’t talked in ages, and the last we’d talked, we were not being friendly. I scratched my head and wavered for a while on whether or not to take that statement back, and then I noticed that they were all looking at me expectantly, as though I had set out to make a speech and they were patiently waiting for its rousing and elaborate conclusion. Having already lost control over some of my faculties, stage fright further seized me. I fled the scene.
The downward-spiraling staircase threatened to dizzy me permanently, for I was turning constantly to my right and ever stampeding hellward between turns – or so it seemed, until I got to the ground floor and made my way towards my room. I stood outside and fiddled with the key in unsteady fingers for many minutes, my brain feeling fried. Someone tapped their finger on my back, and as I turned to face whoever it was, I dropped the keys. Once again, I found myself looking into the freakishly big eyes of The Oracle.
“Yes?” I demanded, feeling a degree of apprehension not-so-distantly.
“My name is Ailis,” she declared with a flourish - a flick of her wrist and a sideways movement of her head on her neck. That said, she waltzed back towards the staircase in a perfectly executed brisk catwalk. I stared after her until she vanished from sight.
As I went back to fingering my key in hands that felt alien, I toyed with the idea of looking for her when she wasn’t smashed on weed.