I can count on my hands how many times I’ve done something that really required whispering. I used to be a snarky ass of a student, so I’d mutter jokes to my friends, but now that I’m a teacher I know it’s just as obvious when a student is whispering as it is when they stand on top of their desk, roll their essay into a tube, and scream into it “do you think she knows I’m just going to crank this paper out in a night?” Because that’s the exact kind of thing I’d say in English, whether it was high school, college, or even a few instances in grad school.
Whispering doesn’t really stop people nearby from hearing what you’re saying; it just shows them that you don’t want to be overheard.
The guy next to me seems like he doesn’t want to be overhead, but I am intent on ruining that for him. We’re both at the bar in a tea shop–I’m starting to realize how often I go to these–and it’s the middle of the day. Really, his hope for privacy has as much possibility as my childhood hope that I would find a sword in my backyard and begin my heroic quest to save my homeland from evil.
I talk to myself in a lot of different places about a lot of different things, but I try to avoid doing it when I’m sitting one stool away from someone who is clearly listening to me. This guy has no sense of the people around him. He’s just sitting there, staring at his computer, and whispering to it. I haven’t managed to look directly at him for long, but I know he’s wearing black shoes, gray jeans, a black sweater, and a gray beanie, but based only on what I hear from his muttering, I feel like the pattern in his clothing was not deliberate, just a coincidental permutation of his closet.
He keeps whispering “six” to his screen. What does it mean? Does six baffle him? Perhaps he is stuck. Should I tell him about seven? What if he is pondering the nature of six, ruminating on its various connotations, spiritual and otherwise. Could it be that his voice has just been distorted as it traveled to me? Is he actually more carnal in his whispering? I cannot imagine a reason why someone would set themselves up at a tea shop just to sit at the counter secretly mumbling “sex” to themselves. His hair is brown and stringy but somehow also greasy, lending a series of slick dark cracks running down his large, pale forehead. His head is larger than I think necessary, and his hair looks like what you’d expect to find much lower on the body of someone who has not showered recently.
His mantra has changed. For about a minute now, he’s been saying things along the lines of “she’ll have to see this,” or “I should show her this too.” I have so many questions, but I cannot interfere. I don’t want to startle him and sending him scurrying back into the forest. Who is she? Why does he have to show her what he’s working on? Why is he muttering all this while apparently typing up a single-spaced paragraph on some off-brand word processor? There’s so much I want to know and so much I’m afraid to learn the answer to. What if there is no ‘her,’ what if I am watching the rapid deterioration of a man who will end this saga convulsing on the ground, shrieking obscenities at everyone in this pleasant little tea shop.
No. The stormy heart that drove this man to whisper seems to have settled. He looks calm. He’s not typing anymore. He’s just sitting there. I can’t see what he’s drinking, but I see him as an oolong sort. When I finished my thesis, I sat and stared at my computer screen for what felt like months but was probably more like 5 minutes before I curled up on the floor and cried. This guy has the same look I did, or, it seems like it from what I can observe by covertly staring at him while appearing to look at the drink specials on a blackboard above the counter.
There is something wrong. He’s leaning back in his stool, but not in a way that communicates any kind of relaxation. It looks like he’s trying to make room for someone to sit on his lap, only there is nobody, and the whispering has begun again. This time there is no consistency to the dialogue. I’ll try to get down as much of it as I can.
“What do you think of this here,” he said, but neither pointed to anything on the screen nor even turned his head slightly.
“I don’t know what I was doing,” but again, no reference to what the focus of his insecurity is or who this might be directed toward.
Indistinguishable mutterings, but this time he pointed at a paragraph on the screen. Who is he pointing for? What did he say? Is this a plot of some kind? Who are you after, tea shop guy?
“About six.” What about six! Tell me! Use complete fucking sentences because interested parties want to know. Are you talking to me? Is this whole presentation for me? Should I know who you are or what six is? Why are you whispering so loud? Why are you clearly looking for feedback but seemingly talking to nobody? Why are you so comfortable loudly whispering when, clearly, the fact that you’re whispering at all shows you don’t want people to hear you? And what the fuck is six? Who are you talking to that needs this information? Who knows about six? I don’t even remember what tea I’m drinking because your enigmatic ass has loudly into my attention and muttered itself into my head and there is absolutely nothing I can do to break away. Are you a spy? Is that it? Have you been sent by some shadow agency to destabilize the country one small-town tea shop at a time? I don’t care about the country, but you stay away from my tea shops, you pube-capped top-heavy burden. You drink your oolong and rot, you passionless shaved goat.
Nevermind all that.
Yeah, I jumped the gun on this one.
A lady sitting on the other side of him definitely just leaned forward and starting pointing to his screen and talking to him. Whoopsie. She’s a lot better at whispering than he is. I can’t hear a thing she’s saying, but he looks relieved whenever she points at the screen and tells him something.
Well, that was an abrupt change in pace. I was really expecting him to smash the laptop on the floor and start taking people down with his bare hands. I guess I would have been among the first to go, but maybe, just before he does the action-movie neck twist on my frail teacher body, I could ask him, gasping through my crushed windpipe, “what was up with six?” Then, just before I leave the world, he’d whisper…
…And this time I probably wouldn’t be able to hear it.