I received a welcome letter for my non-fiction writing class in Iowa. We have homework! I need to read three books in four days, so I went to the library today and jumped on that. Additionally, our first writing assignment. The prompt:
Your first assignment is to write a short (no more than two pages) self-portrait. Reveal something to me. Anything.
The boy at the front table is my age and he types on a white Macintosh laptop and so do I, and he listens to music and so do I, and he wears a zip up sweatshirt with a hood, and jeans, and so do I, and we both look vaguely like we might be doing something interesting, but he has a silver flask face down next to his laptop and I do not.
I drink a mint latte, it is tinged with green, and I wonder what tinges his latte-looking drink. His hoodie is purple and mine is black. His laptop is dirty and mine is not.
I make the two girls at the table to my right uncomfortable because I’m clearly listening to their conversation. They talk of Albert, who is probably British or perhaps just eccentric. I like Albert (from the sound of it or maybe just his name). Oh no. The conversation shifts and Albert is not sounding like a nice fellow. Oh dear. Not at all. That’s too bad. Maybe I had it all wrong. I wonder if he’s even British.
A man walks up the stairs. He wears a red and white-stripped sweater and grey sweatpants that are too short; the elastic bunches up too far above his ankles which stretch down naked to flip flops.
He carries a mud-red tray with an empty teacup and a teapot filled with what I can only assume is hot water but maybe he knows the fellow with the flask because he walks over and looks like he may say hello to him.
He does not know him. He continues his search around the room. In addition to the tea tray, he carries a laptop. His eyes scan the ground and he turns around and around. The scanning eyes alight on what they were looking for and follow a straight line along the wall until they reach my feet, sweep past, and find the wall outlet to the left of my chair. I nod. He looks at me and I know what’s coming.
“Do you think, would you mind, I wonder,” he says with an accent I can’t place. Eastern European? “Can I sit here?” he says and tries to gesture to the chair across my little table but of course, both his hands are occupied. “Of course” he can and so he does and I reach to help him put the tea down but he manages on his own. His presence just across the table makes me uncomfortable but it also feels communal and nice and so I try to adjust. There’s foam stuck to the bottom of my glass. He pours his tea.
I go the bathroom and leave my laptop behind and it crosses my mind while I’m away but I trust that we are all in this together. The bathroom is downstairs. As I descend the stairs, my feet on floor one and my head still on two, I duck to pass under the second floor lip. I forget about the low overhang on the way up and my head knocks against it.
I look out the window at the rain in June. Three pigeons strut in a line along the edge of the roof across the street. Evenly spaced. Their heads bob front and back, back and front. Really fast. Then their necks find a beat and now their heads dance back and front in rapid unison, parallel, wonderful. I laugh but it sounds like a choke because I don’t allow it loose. The boy with the flask and the girls and the man with the red-striped shirt pause and look at me. I smile an awkward smile.