There wasn’t much to do for the last half hour of work. It seemed silly to be paying me $40 an hour just to sit on my arse or throw boxes in a compactor. I wouldn’t complain of course; money was the only thing that could entice me to wake up at 4am on a Sunday anyway.
So I sat there with my pastel pink Tupperware container full of delicately washed grapes and scrolled through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram- anything that could distract me from the conversation in the next room.
Because I couldn’t understand it.
I couldn’t understand a single thing they were saying; the four of them, my new colleagues.
I’d experienced similar isolation in Japan, sitting in my little corner of the school office surrounded by a cacophony of vocabulary, grammar, colloquialisms and laughter. At least back then I could understand snippets, sometimes even enough to assume the content of an entire sentence or conversation.
But not now, because I didn’t understand a lick of Spanish. I began to feel like there was a football field of space in that one wall between me and them. It seemed to stretch longer as the conversation continued.
And then my anxiety set in. What if they were talking about me? What if they were making fun of the silly white girl who didn’t have a proper work shirt and couldn’t figure out how to get into the building?
As my anxiety built, I pulled a pack of origami paper out of my stained canvas bag. Somehow I’d known I would need it when I packed this morning; my fidgeting had gotten worse in the past few weeks. Setting my phone on the empty wooden desk, I began folding an origami crane. Unfortunately, all this did was occupy my hands; my mind still felt restless. I couldn’t even eavesdrop on their conversation, for Pete’s sake! So why was I here? What was I wasting my time for?
My supervisor, Michael, walked in from the other room to shove his jacket in the cupboard.
“Oh, should I just leave mine in there too?” I asked, a note of naive trepidation in my voice that I didn’t particularly like.
“Yeah, s’ok,” he replied, his brilliant white teeth flashing a small smile before he ducked back into the other room.
I folded my jacket neatly and placed it inside, awkwardly attempting to close the stiff metal door, to no avail.
I checked my watch again, counting down the minutes until I could leave without upsetting anyone or shirking my duties. I fixed my loose, cropped cardigan and stared at my fluorescent sneakers. I must’ve made at least five cranes in those last ten minutes. I did what I always do: left them in small corners and crevices around the room. I like to think that every now and then someone stumbles across one of my cranes and it gives them a small slice of happiness. Sometimes it’s the only way I can connect to the world. And a crane doesn’t require any words.
(Writing Prompt: Tell the story of what happened this weekend – something that made you think or feel. Then consider the tone, voice, and emotional core of the piece.)
Disclaimer: I only finished up to the first piece of dialogue, so I thought I’d give it a little bit of an ending. We had an avid and confusing conversation about the difference between tone and voice (so bloody complicated!) but I think these are what I came up with:
Voice- confident about my own anxiety, worried.
Emotional core- anxiety and displacement.