“I knew this was bound to happen at some point, so I guess it’s okay!”
I missed the last bus, and I am a long way from home. After all these years, I still refuse to realize that cleaning up after running experiments is actually a consuming and demanding task!
It is a conflict though, it’s as if the absolute priority is discovering something ASAP and if I don’t then I’m not doing well. The reality is, (like life) it is a process. Which also often involves failed experiments followed by spending 2 hours of careful separation of waste, washing glassware several times with different solvents, and trying not to break overly expensive (and fragile) equipment while hastily trying to clean carefully!
After walking in the cold for a while to another bus stop, I see I have more than an hour before the night bus comes. I wouldn’t want to stand in this cold night a full hour, and that nearby hotel (with its warm lights, luxurious exterior, and the distant noise of chatter and laughter) looks like a promising shelter.
Sitting on the high barstool, I realized that I do look out of place here, “what fun!” It has been a while since I’ve experienced this mixture of spontaneity, adventure, and playfulness (especially as a result of poor time management!). The hotel bar was fancy, and I haven’t travelled in a while. The atmosphere and aroma were pleasant, relaxing, hints of honeysuckle and burnt wood. And to consider that less than an hour ago my face was stuffed with hints of solvents of all kinds. And the clanking of lab glassware being cleaned is now replaced with the clanking of wine glasses being cleaned. A couple of seats away from me I see two (business)men discussing some apparently important deal, and after some observing it sounded completely boring to me. The table behind me sounded like a festive reunion, but meant nothing to me.
What eventually fixed my attention among all what has been happening around is the woman sitting on the other side of the hall. She has been silently, calmly and monotonously alternating between sipping beer from her glass, or snacking on mixed nuts from another glass. All while her gaze was fixed on the outside – completely lost in thought. Every once in a while, she would stop thinking and briefly look around, as if taking a break. For about quarter of an hour, it seemed as if she was trying to figure out a solution to some mysterious data point, or an equation she never saw before – or perhaps that was me projecting. What then? Maybe there is some family situation going on, or maybe she’s planning for an eventful tomorrow … (at what point do we stop projecting?) But there is something about her internal dialogue, she was once blankly staring, the next moment smiling, then suddenly looked frightened…
None of the expressions I could observe around me were nearly as interesting. I was consumed by a strange urge to know “what sort of question does all that at this hour?” In the spirit of spontaneity and playfulness, I decide to approach her. If she tells me what she was pondering either I will find my act of projecting justified, or I will be surprised. Of course, considering how immersed she was, I could also be asked to fuck off, but the spirit of adventure was overpowering!
“Hey! How’s it going?”
– Uh, hi. I’m fine (?), you?
– I’m doing great! Sorry if I am disturbing you… but I’ve been sitting across the room and I like to play this game of observing all that is happening around me to pass the time and to take a break from all the running around that life requires from us – but what you have been doing the past twenty minutes blew my mind!
She briefly let out a heartful, awkward, laughter, and signaled to me to sit down, then asked in an inquisitive manner:
– What do you mean? I have only been sitting here and staring through that window for some time now – wait you said twenty minutes?! wow …
– Yeah, “where does the time go” indeed! But, I’ve never seen someone hopping between universes in their head like you have been doing! Of course it is none of my business, but I’m just curious, if I may ask.
She looked into my eyes, as if attempting to see where that came from. I smiled, embarrassed, and before I could try to explain further, she scanned my attire and my heavy backpack then asked me:
– What kind of work do you do?
– Well, I have been working in the lab the whole day, and didn’t plan enough time to wash the glassware so I missed the last bus, and here I am! So, I’m (formally) a chemist.
– Ah! Excellent! I also do science – makes sense considering where we are, so close to campus
– So what sort of discovery are you working on this late? A breakthrough ahead?
With a big smile, as if she was caught, but not really, she said:
– I don’t know, actually! Why are you here?
– (Blushing) I’m sorry! I didn’t mean to bother –
– No! I meant, why are you here right here right now?
– Well, I had an hour to kill and didn’t want to stand in the cold with the sky threatening to spit at me at any moment!
– … And that’s because you worked overtime, because you didn’t anticipate cleaning-up would take that long. Okay, I see why you are in this place, but why are you right here right now?
– (Smiling, with a slight hint of sarcasm) So, were/are you questioning the purpose of life and existence?
– Maybe so, you could definitely say that! But you could also be grievously mistaken at the same time by thinking that! I mean, was my question to you asking about the purpose of existence and life?
– Not exactly, no.
– Then how did you think that?
– Well, just within the context, after all your pondering, I guessed your question was alluding to that.
– Wait, what? I’m confused!
With a big smile, she is now looking through the window again. (Laughing inside, for a millisecond I wondered “is she talking to God?”) Then she swiftly turned her head back to me, as if an idea had just hit her, and asked
– Do you believe in God?
– Oh wow! Okaay.. I see, I should’ve seen that coming… (haha!) Well, I think however I answer your question at this point would be misleading without first defining what is meant by that word.
– Yes! I like how this is going. So let’s leave that for now. Do you believe that we are sitting here discussing this at this very moment by absolute chance? Then, what is chance?
– Oh… Yeah I don’t know! So you were also asking if it’s a complete coincidence that I miss my bus, come to this hotel, see you hopping universes, then actually come to you and ask about it, then we have this amazing discussion? I must admit that I very rarely (almost never ever) approach people out of the blue like I did.. It is weird indeed…
– Yes! It is this absurdity that I was questioning …
– Oh God! (I just noticed the clock hanging on top of the window) I’m gonna miss my bus again if I don’t run now! Holy crap! I need to go.. How/where can we continue this?
She is now breaking out in laughter, loud and amused,
– Well, maybe you will serendipitously find me again somewhere!
– Echt?! well.. I need to go now, nice to meet you, I guess!
She was still laughing as I was running away to catch my bus and thinking “life is absurd” !