Saturday, 2 October 2010

The dark corners

Sitting in the dark corner of the restaurant, at the hidden tables reserved for the solo diners, the scraps and sounds of other people's conversations come to me, rolling in and out like waves on a beach. Snatched moments of other people's lives lap round me, entwine mewith their ordinariness and threaten to overwhelm me in my solitude.

The family crowded round the table in the centre of the room, Mum and Dad struggling valiantly to keep their children from disturbing the atmosphere. Jubliant shrieks and petulant whines intermingle with hissed instructions and muttered exhortations to 'behave'. It's a losing battle that's painted on the faces of the guests at the neighbouring tables, starched in their stuffiness and intolerant of the exuberances of childhoods long forgotten.

The young mum, escaped with her still single friends for some brief respite from the daily humdrum of work and home. She casts a look of pity and annoyance in equal measure at her fellow traveller, unable to control, letting the side down, no more successful than she herself would be. But this forgotten, protected by the regiment of shopping bags lined up round her feet, overflowing with treats that will end up being the concrete reminders of her day of freedom.

The couple in the corner, still very much in love, entirely absorbed in each other, oblivious to the world around them, engaged completely within their own reality to the exclusion of everything else.

Through it all the waiting staff pass - some rushed and flustered, others serene and calm, all proficient in their efficiency. They share a word with a guest here, whisk away a finished meal there, ever eagle eyed for attention required to ensure a smooth service. Made solicitous by the lure of tips, they share their favours equally around the room.

A gaggle of women erupt into the room, squeezing between tables as they blunder their way to the toilet, giggling as they navigate their somewhat unsteady course through their fellow diners.

All this I observe from my table in the corner, segregated from the rest as if my solitude is a contagion easily spread. The modern taboo that dare not speak its name. I've become adept at donning the armour to protect me from their pity. The book to read, the music to listen to, the notebook to write in, the mobile phone to check. Without these props I can easily feel adrift, unprotected and vulnerable to the storm of companionship and human connection swirling around me.

I try to regain my equilibrium, keep it from touching me, find my still centre that allows me to be content with my silence and separation. I strive to be at ease with my sense of whole and ignore the pricking of need for another to make me feel whole. In a way I pity them their desperate race to fill the silence with chatter and to ward off loneliness with touchs and smiles. Yet, at the same time, even as I think it, I know it for a lie. A deception of myself that I almost manage - almost, but not

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