The hum of conversation greets me as I enter.
They are gathered in twos, threes, seated, standing, leaning against the wall, casually, comfortably, listening, discussing, deliberating about absolutely nothing important.
Some of them look up. I wave to some, nod, say ‘Hi’ to others, and ignore the rest. Bits and pieces of chatter reach me as I pass.
The children squeal as they call out to each other. A couple of girls dart past in their roller skates, almost colliding against an adult and dodging him just in time. Two little boys accuse each other of cheating and run to their mothers, crying. A third one displays a chocolate to his buddy and claims, “I have this new chocolate. You don’t have this chocolate.”
I place myself near a group that looks friendly. A few smiles and words are exchanged.
They’re conversing in a language I understand, a language I speak. I say the right things. I exclaim at the right places, insert a word or a nod at the right gaps, and roll my eyes or laugh at the right time. I sense no awkwardness.
But everything feels alien. I don’t fit in.
I know it; I have always known it.
Sometimes you try; sometimes you don’t.
The uneasiness grows. The chatter continues. I envy the participants. How easily they flow. How effortlessly they blend. How smoothly they connect. How comfortably they interact. I am the outsider, whether they are aware of it or not. Whether I admit it or not.
I detach myself from the group. I would return, but the disconnectedness would never go away. It would always cloud my being, except at very rare, very unexpected moments when the sun bursts forth, for a brief, miraculous interlude.
I am disappointed. I have tried, again, and failed. But I would venture out again, and again, until the mist thins or I surrender. Or a tunnel opens up to swallow me.
I walk back to the place where I know I am welcome, where I am among friends, where I am myself, where I do not have to pretend, where I do not have to meet expectations.
They wait, unmoving, expectant, as they have been for years. They don’t say a word, they don’t greet me, they don’t smile. But I know I am home. I relax.