We’ve all been there – standing in line, waiting for your turn; or sitting, unsure of whether or not to cross your legs lest you fumble while untangling them to get up.
I know I have. And it almost always goes this way.
There’s another person here with me at the same time. It doesn’t matter who it is, it doesn’t matter what they do for a living or even if they wish to do said living. In that moment, an invisible force presents itself between the two of us. An unspoken solidarity, a brief reminder that no matter where we are, we’re always waiting for something, or someone, or simply biding our time. In that moment, the person isn’t the stranger anymore – the situation is. A prolongation of this waiting lending itself to an unimaginably horrific outcome – Small Talk.
The awkward part about small talk isn’t the actual conversation, no. We are wired as humans to talk about things that add little to no value in our lives. It’s the silence that washes over the dry commentary of the humid weather and the unpleasantness of having to spend time doing nothing productive.
The unpleasantness of having to make this remark, however, is glossed over in layers of subtle body language inching away from said person and patronizing smiles that pinch your nose and stay there as if caused by an ungodly stench.
Another remark follows, and produces a forced exhale substituting for laughter, but only conveying an acknowledgement. An acknowledgement, not of the words they’ve spoken, but that they have, indeed, spoken – words that you would have understood, had you actually paid attention.
The duration persists. So does this imperceptible itch at the back of your wrist. Almost as if the mental discomfort wasn’t enough that it had to manifest physically. The gods of communication sprinkle the distance between you with their laughter, they’re enjoying this. You ponder the existence of this conundrum you’re in.
Is the only motivation behind small talk that since language was invented, it must be used?
Is it our intrinsic need for approval eating away at our conscience that breaks out in a confused dance, adding comic relief not sharp enough to cut the tension it births itself?
Is it a way to provide narration to those inevitable awkward glances – enough to let the other know you’re not too self-absorbed, but not too much that it turns into a creepy sideshow that a willful romcom storyteller could turn into a song-and-dance?
Either way, you are there. And I am here. It’s been three and a half minutes since you last nodded to my mumblings about the time. The itch spreads, and zooms to my throat. There seems to be no way out. I taptaptap my fingers as a way to get your attention, subtly but purposefully. I prepare my closing statements. I steady my breathing so I don’t come on too strong. I let the itch propel a sound to you, and thus
of comfortable quietness that come in waves
and fall silent, again.