It could be a doctor’s office or a therapist’s office or masseuse’s office or dentist’s office. Everyone rushing in, stops suddenly. This place is only meant for halting. It’s a purgatory of sorts. No one makes eye contact. You could be here for a tooth extraction, a horrid cold, a spasming back muscle, a debilitating anxiety that usually keeps you holed up at home. You don’t want to assume why others are here, so you ignore each other.
Looking around, there’s a water cooler, an assortment of tea bags set out on the table: peppermint, earl grey, African red bush. The best flavors are depleted, the black tea bags overflow. It’s silent, save for the buzzing of the fluorescent lights overhead, plastic rectangular panels alternating with popcorn ceiling.
A waning lamp sits on a corner table, the time on the small clock is wrong and it’s aggravating. Shouldn’t a waiting room of all places keep correct time? A laminated wood coffee table is centrally located with magazines stacked too neatly. Who keeps them all so organized, so appealingly kept? Choosing a magazine is like a Rorschach test, wondering if others will judge the decision, if you can live with it yourself. The intellectual rigor of The Economist or the gossipy superficiality of People? The organizational practicality of Real Simple or the envy-inducing travelogues of Condé Nast? Maybe you’ll just scroll, head down on your phone, where you can maintain anonymity.
You sit too straight backed on the worn leather couch, waiting. You should slouch back, relax. It’s increasingly challenging to sit in silence, in stillness, in this incessantly rushing world. You distractedly peek out of the corner of your eye. The wide leaves of the adjacent plant are drooping, yearning for a drink of water, clearly neglected. It makes you wonder at the reliability of this place; shouldn’t plants be tended to just as people are? You guiltily realize, your own office plants are just as wanting.
Someone opens the door, a stocky middle-aged man. You don’t look at him directly but glance up through your lashes just a moment, long enough to take him in. He’s calculating, surveying the room, deciding if he should grab tea, a magazine, where he should sit. He falters, then grabs a Time magazine. You try not to judge, but you do. He must be serious. But when he sits down, he takes out his phone, scrolling through intently, waiting for his turn.