|I glared up at the TV screen hanging between the entrance and the over-priced student shop. The room was buzzing with students talking, laughing and shouting and I couldn’t hear a thing from the TV’s small speakers. Though the situation on the screen was clear enough. A green hill in front of a dense tree-line glared back at me. A church tower peeked out from behind the trees. The scene on the hill wasn’t as pleasant as the weather outside, and I could hear the torrential rain pour down on the University. A written sentence on the news channel advised against watching for the next few minutes if the watcher were “susceptible to upsetting scenes”, and they were right; even I found it slightly disturbing. Yet I couldn’t pull my eyes away.
It was the one lonely sheep that grabbed my attention. He was standing on the hill, surrounded by vomit, wool, blood and decaying meat. The small sheep, young enough to be considered a lamb, was immune to the disease that had killed his whole flock. The disease was threatening to affect more livestock around the country, and the wildest theories even claimed that it could eventually affect humans as well. The sheep stood there, more nerved by the camera crew than by his dead society. He wasn’t just immune to the disease. He was immune to the whole scene around him.
My attention, and that of the whole room, was forced towards a loud shriek of laughter coming from the girl in pink tracksuit trousers. She danced on the spot in front of her group of friends, obviously craving for attention. And unfortunately those who didn’t find this so obvious gave her the attention she wanted. It’s hard to claim that those people watching her were her “group of friends” when you could easily tell they are the kind of people to gossip and bitch about her and each other at every opportunity.
The girl danced along to the latest popular song that blasted from her iPod, and would surely ditch that song as soon as it grows out of fashion. The same could be said about her clothes, her friends and about anything else she claimed she liked. Her predictable taste was a clear sign of how little personality she had. Or maybe it was a show of her insecurity. Maybe she actually enjoyed some really good music and films as soon as she though she was alone. Maybe she was another great person gone to waste by her insecurity; an insecurity that was clearly pointed out to me by her apparent over-confidence and her desire to be the center of attention.
Close to her and her group a team of Asian students were laughing, smiling and having a good time. I’ll admit that our culture tends to be a cold one; we don't stand completely open-armed to foreigners. It can be hard at times, I would know. But they are just as bad, hiding away from their surroundings, scared to learn, too scared to live.
A young lad, obviously a first year student, nervously made his way past the Asian group and towards the girl in pink. He wasn’t the most extroverted person around, yet he still made an effort to communicate to a group that probably intimidated him. He muttered out an “excuse me”, and asked where the reception was. There was a brief silence as the students looked up at him expressionlessly followed by a mix of shrugs and lazy fingers pointing towards the general direction of the reception. He then muttered a “thanks” and quickly walked off, knocking over a chair on his way out. The group didn’t even wait for him to be out of ear’s distance before laughing out loud.
The poor lad has spent his life psychologically bullied into a state of ill-confidence, which does nothing more than encourage more laughter, shrugs and condescending stares. A vicious circle. In an attempt to fuel their own ego, other people around him constantly make him feel bad about himself. Yet somehow I could tell that he’d do exactly the same if he were in their position.
My gaze floated over towards the left. A strong guy sat at a metal table with what I presumed to be his girlfriend. He was talking about himself. A lot. He was talking about what he thought were achievements in life so far; vomiting on nights out, winning rugby matches and spending money on holidays in Spain.
When someone lacks charisma, character and a sense of humor, they have a need to list all the interesting things about themselves at every chance. Occasionally you can see a guy make a girl laugh or engage her in an interesting conversation without having to talk about himself... but you don’t see it often.
This guy clearly felt he was above his girlfriend. Similar to the geek that left the room moments before: this guy had managed to bully the personality out of his girl by convincing her that she wasn’t good enough for him. She glanced over towards me, and I stared straight back. She was cute. Very cute. Yet she wasn’t what society or the TV - normally the same thing - would consider to be cool, fun or extremely attractive. But they can get hit by a bus: she was perfect. She seemed quiet and modest yet intelligent. There was a certain spark about her; something I hadn’t seen in someone for months. Unfortunately our eye contact was broken by the boyfriend who was jealously looking over to see what she was staring at. I looked away and continued to scan the room.
Two young men were leaning next to the door. Their tattoos and clothes were as loud as their conversation. They were eager for the room to hear about their success at getting girls to bed and their ability to get into fights at night. It felt like their desperate attempt to intimidate and impress those around them only proved how intimidated they were by the world. Yet everyone seemed to buy it.
My ears led my attention back to the first group of students. I could hear one lad talk about how he was a skater, and how he belonged to the skater culture.
Religion, political ideals, social classes and social groups, including skaters, aren’t real: they’re an invention. People who aren’t confident enough to have their own beliefs and personality have to pick one and stick to it. They follow other people’s styles instead of their own one. Why, if you enjoy skateboarding, do you have to suddenly buy the same clothes, speak in the same manner and eventually think the same was as other skaters?
I sat back and closed my eyes. I needed to shield myself from this disease that surrounded me. They were mad. They were all wrong. But worst of all: they were all blind. Even the people I liked were blind, like the cute girl to my left.
This isn’t what life is about! These people had created a bubble to live in, a bubble made out of social rules, lies and stupid conversations. None of these people knew what it was like to walk all day without a car to carry their equipment. They had no idea what it was like to see a child lose a limb because some fucker had put down a land-mine years ago. They didn’t even try to guess what true hunger, exhaustion or sleep deprivation felt like.
I was about to leave. Not just the room. I was about to escape it all, and go to somewhere in the world that hadn’t lost touch with reality, if it still existed. Maybe back to the Army. But before all this, there was something I had to do in this very room.
As I calmly walked over to them, the boyfriend was telling his girlfriend off for taking her shoes off in public. Somehow this was in breach of another social rule that both she and I weren’t aware of. He stopped talking and looked up to me in the most aggressive manner he could. I used his chair to lean on.
“Hi” I said to the girl, turning my back on the boyfriend. Her eyes sparked up, but she didn't dare smile.
“Hi” she said back. I couldn't have expected a better reply.
“I was just wondering if you felt like coming to the cinema with me.” A moment passed as my sentence sank in. The girl still looked please, but slightly divided; she didn’t know what to say or even how to feel.
The guy got up and pushed his metal chair across the room. The girl in pink and her table, the group of Asians, the two tattooed guys at the door and everyone else in the room stopped and stared at us. I looked over to him, feeling just as confident as ever in spite of his effort to intimidate me. I slowly turned to smile at the cute girl.
I knew what was coming. I could have easily stopped it and returned one to him; I had been taught over and over how to defend myself. Yet I knew this wouldn’t have achieved anything, so I took the punch with a smile.
His fist hit my left cheek and caused my lip to rip slightly. I could taste blood. My head briefly hurt as my brain bashed the inside of my skull. I had felt this before. I was reminded of the explosion in Syria. The big lad took his fist back and watched me calmly turn towards him. My smile hadn’t changed a bit, and I think this scared him.
“You can’t let me be that weird guy that goes to the cinema alone” I joked to the girl, ignoring what had just happened seconds ago. She quickly laughed in return.
“Sure, why not?” she said, smiling, and reached down to put her shoes back on. The boyfriend’s face was hilarious.
We walked out, leaving a silent room behind us. I felt her hand reach for mine.