I can feel your eyes on me.
It’s only out of my peripheral vision that I see you, angling myself for a brief glance out the window – the weather is supposed to cave in, and I’ve been darting nervous glances at the darkening sky all morning. Do you suppose I’m glancing at you?
I’m glancing back at the corner of my desk, pushing a few stray notes to one side and sneaking a new glance over in your general direction. I don’t know why you look, but it’s making me nervous. There’s a little mirror hidden where I can see myself, so when I take a few minutes to study my reflection, I’m trying to see if there’s something amiss. No – my makeup is even, neatly applied and carefully accentuating the best while concealing the worst.
My clothes are straight; I’m not behaving strangely at all. As far as I can tell from my own little self-inventory, there’s no reason for it.
Now I’m darting a glance at you properly. You’re meeting my eyes steadily, unconcerned, but saying nothing.
I leave later and ignore all the confusion over why. It’s not my concern; I’m hardly about to ask.
(One small, slightly petty part of me wants desperately to know, but the rational version is much, much more present. It shoves the question down and I turn up my music, drowning out the thought)
I’m not prepared to know the answer, you see.
There’s a little smile on your lips before I look away – at least I think it’s a smile, I’ve never been much good at identifying that sort of expression on other people. Maybe it’s a smirk, some mocking expression based on something I have no chance of ever knowing.
When I’m looking at myself in the mirror, you appear. Physically, I don’t move to look at you. You’re distorted from the mirror, looking taller and altogether more than you are in reality. Just for a moment I don’t recognize you even after we’ve spent every day in the same zone for years. Our worlds have always overlapped; jumping from school to university to work, we’ve always remained within the same sort of sphere.
Subtlety, then. I’m scrutinizing myself (you) in the mirror. Your greeting is as friendly as ever, but you miss just one beat too many before you pronounce my name.
The pronunciation is off, slightly too lilting where’s usually no accent – just a syllable dropping from the speaker’s mouth.
It’s like you don’t remember me, in some tiny sense; your hesitation over my name is like it doesn’t belong to me right now, or maybe you’re having trouble reconciling the name with the person.
(That’s okay. Really. I have the same trouble sometimes)
One morning I’m brewing tea in a tempest, storm gathered at my window and condensation in the early-fog stage on the inside of the glass. Swiping it away, my own reflection is now distorted, just a few shades off recognizable.
I’m hypnotized (distracted) by my reflection. Tea spills over as I consider if I have become someone new to you, and the cup I’m holding by the thin handle swings from my grasp. I’ve unintentionally lifted it from the bench, and the quiet shatter startles me from my reverie. The crack running down it doesn’t inspire me to be more careful, and I bundle it in newspaper, pile it into the rubbish and buy a new one the next day.
You’re there again, watching me. I’m still tempted to ask why, but don’t want the stress of living up to whatever expectations you might have on me. Instead, it’s time for a performance.
Here is my stage; you, my audience. Only you’re not enraptured, not focusing truly on the performance. Instead you’re engaging with me, making my performance into some kind of performance art. My carefully-calculated and planned gesture get tangled up, twisting around until they’re something that you can relate to beyond the lowest level I’ve created.
Leave me my performance, please. The story is mine to tell; the act, curated and connived for you to focus on. If you must focus on me then you need something interesting. This is the pressure I put upon myself: creating a story and act for someone who has never asked me for either, but simply observed. Midway through my fourth day of performing, it loses its interest. So do you, because by then you’re not observing me. It’s a relief to not be observed any longer, but disappointing in equal measure. I like the act, enjoy having some form of attention on me.
What if you’re just validating my existence?
I carry on with the various acts, switching from one to another with the ease of flipping a switch, alternately delightful and dreary, sweet and sarcastic, bitter and ebullient. Some days there will be someone around, someone whose energy I can thrive on and collect new stories to rewrite as my own. I rewrite my history, rewrite other stories and make them mine.
Every day in the orbit I feel eyes on me, draw forth the character I’m pretending to be now and settle into the role as if it were my favourite easy chair. It becomes routine almost too fast, too natural to slip into other roles – this is all based on giving you some performance to watch, else you’d be watching me. (You may not watch me; you may only watch the characters)
(And on the seventh day of performing for an audience who isn’t paying attention, you return. You have your own stories now, your own little act that you’ve put together for me – if only I were paying attention)