This submission earned an honorable mention in the Synapse Storytelling Contest creative writing category.
A faint buzzing, accompanied by the annoying sound of wind chimes, tugs me out of sleep. My hand flops around the bed, desperate to quiet the buzzing as I hold on to a quickly fading dream. I finally find the source of the sound, buried underneath the book I had attempted, and failed, to start last night, thanks to a notification that divulged into mindless hours of social media scrolling.
I reluctantly open my eyes to see who is calling and spring awake when I see, instead, the last plea from my phone to wake up in time for a scheduled meeting. I quickly get out of bed, going back to sleep no longer a concern, as I dash to the bathroom. Why did I ever agree to 11am meetings? I should’ve known that my sleep pattern was too unpredictable to allow for pre-noon engagements. I glance at my phone again, 13 minutes and ticking, no time for a shower.
If there was one unexpected luxury quarantine robbed me of, it is believable excuses for being late to meetings. Now every excuse is a formal way of saying I was not prepared for this commitment. 12 minutes.
I run the toothbrush under the sink and squeeze out some toothpaste with a mental note to get a new tube. I look up to the mirror as I move the brush back and forth.
Maybe I can skip this meeting and read the notes. I shake off the thought. No, I already missed the meeting before this and the one before that and I may have missed the one before that too but in my defense, the timing for that one was outside our regular schedule. I have to, at the very least, show my face so that people don’t think I bailed on the organization and fell off the face of the planet.
I spit out the minty foam, rinsing my mouth before I look up again. My free time in the past month has multiplied and looking at me right now you would have thought that it had diminished. My hair is dry, my eyes have traded up for custom bags and where are all these pimples coming from? Am I not less stressed? Why isn’t my face clear? I sigh and pull myself away. I don’t have the time for this. 8 minutes
I pull out a rumpled shirt from my unpacked suitcase that was only meant to be used for a couple of weeks not months. I pull out my scarf and wrapped the brittle mound of hair up, putting some gloss on my lips so I don’t look completely dead. Should I still use that idiom? There are people literally dying right now. I shake off the thought. Focus. Meeting now, existential crisis later. The scarf slips and let out a frustrated sigh.
This meeting will not be broadcasted in Times Square, who cares about my dusty cornrows? Surely not I. I wrap the scarf again, this time more gently, shaking my head slightly to make sure it is secured before pulling out my laptop. I press the power button several times before I realize it is dead. Another frustrated sigh. 2 minutes. Where is the damn charger?
I find the charger on the dining table, my current makeshift working space, and watch as the clock hits 11:05 then 11:06 before the computer finally loads up. Zoom Meeting ID in, password check, join with video? I pause looking at the preview of myself. No thank you. I enter to find a series of faces looking back at me, one person currently talking about, I don’t know what they are talking about.
I’m relieved to find that there’s also somebody else with their camera off. I wonder if they also hated what they saw in the zoom preview. Before the thought can finish rolling around in my head their camera turns on. Did they dress up for this meeting? Why do they look so put together? They apologize for their camera being off, some cute excuse about moving location, then proceed to comment on what the previous person was saying.
So, this is going to be that type of meeting. I sigh, this one infused with anxiety as I cave into the pressure and turn on my camera and fail desperately to not compare my thumbnail to the others. Has my neck always been this fat? Does angling my laptop this way help? Nope. I open the notes from the previous meetings and rapidly try to go through it as they continue to talk so I am not completely lost.
Maybe nobody will notice my fat neck or that you can see my dingy kitchen in the background. I can’t be the only one whose neck looks like this. I look at the other people at the meeting, who knew slim necks could be such a desirable thing.
“Did everybody get a chance to go? Did I miss anyone?” My ears perk up. I haven’t said anything.
“Somebody came in late and I don’t think they’ve gotten a chance to speak,” Joe says. I came in late. I am somebody. I unmute my mic, open my mouth, feel the vibration as my voice-box squeezes to produce sound but another voice has also commanded the screen. I pause, ready to concede the talking stick but they continue without missing a beat. I look at the other faces on the screen, impassive.
None of them are privy to what just happened. I mute myself waiting for Cassandra to finish speaking before I can jump in and make my presence known.
“Thank you, Cassandra, that’s a very interesting idea you bring up. I think we can table it for now and come back to it if that’s okay with you?” I unmute myself, ready for the baton to be passed on.
“Perfect. Let’s move on to the next item on the agenda.” That’s fine. I had nothing of substance to say anyways.
The meeting continues. I force myself to focus on the conversations that emanate from the screen ignoring the siren calls beckoning me. It will be so easy to open another tab, browse, check on emails, scroll through memes on my phone. Instead here I am, watching people that know more than me eloquently discuss issues that I have to concentrate to follow. A silent observer.
“Does anybody know who we followed up with about that and if we’ve gotten any word back?” The call is silent. I know this answer, it was in the previous meeting notes. I pull up the document again to check. Nobody has spoken yet. I unmute myself.
“I think we reached out to Mr. Ferdinand.” My heart is pounding.
“I remember us talking about it during our last meeting if anybody has the notes pulled up.” I look at my screen. It shows I’m unmuted; can nobody hear me? I go to the chat to type it out.
“I just checked, and Daniel was supposed to reach out to Mr. Ferdinand. I can follow up with him to see if he’s gotten any word back since he couldn’t make the meeting today.”
Curse my slow typing. I try not to feel slighted that nobody heard me. Maybe I spoke too softly for the mic to pick up my voice. This explanation does nothing to nurse my wounds and the embarrassment it oozes.
“Ok, while we wait for that does anybody have any ideas on how we can move forward?” Here it is, another opportunity. I unmute myself again.
“We talked about gathering more information last meeting….” I mute myself, waiting and listening as my idea is explained in a fluent manner, much better than anything I had planned to say. This perspective, however, allows me to see some holes in that plan. He finishes. I unmute myself.
“I think that’s a great idea Charles but considering the time frame we have with this project….” I mute myself again. I guess somebody else saw the pitfalls too. I wait patiently as the conversation goes back and forth before another silence takes over. It’s now or never.
“I think a lot of great points have been brought up and I agree with them, but I wonder if this is something we can, um, create a taskforce for since there appears to be a lot of…” what is that word? “Um, since there appears to be, um…” pull yourself together, “stuff that, um, can make this, um, more complicated than we need to, um, think about and focus time on hence the, um, taskforce,” my voice fades by the end.
Did they hear me? What did I just say? Nobody is talking.
“Yea, we can definitely consider that…maybe we can get back to this discussion after we have gotten some updates from Daniel as to not…” I sigh, this time in defeat, and mute myself once more.