The Empty Chair

More than half of the seats in the auditorium were occupied and a hundred or so procrastinators were still in the aisles. Individuals were looking for a group to be a part of, and groups were chatting casually and looking for a row of enough empty seats for their comfort. The younger ones in the crowd (self-consciously playing with their hair in the reflection of their smart phones), social butterflies (flopping into the fold down chairs with relish), and social flops (floating around with eager hopes) were all obliged to take a seat for the next 45 minutes. The choosing of seat somehow took a higher importance than was perhaps necessary.

An older woman stopped suddenly in front of me and I brushed into her. She offered a brief apology as she turned around and went back up the steps the way we had just come. Perhaps she had seen someone on another aisle and needed to reach them. I would have ducked into the row to let her past, but the unshaved flannel shirt sitting there had his big boots sticking out so that I could not, without getting mud on my jeans. It was my turn to utter an apology to the flannel shirt for backing into him, though I felt he didn’t really deserve it. I continued a few steps down, not recognizing anyone very significant to me. I saw some friends from freshman year, but they were already sitting in a full row. I waved my hand casually as I passed them and few raised their own hands in acknowledgement, contented in their cozy spot among friends.

I saw a guy who had hit on me awkwardly in Public Speaking sitting by himself on a perfectly good row with several empty seats for spreading out. It wasn’t worth it. I continued several more rows before I would consider settling in again. I found another row with several empty seats. I chose a seat three in from the aisle. That should be welcoming enough without seeming like I was waiting for someone specific. The chair squeaked loudly as I sat. Well, there was no moving now without attracting attention. Just then, a group of chatting Elementary Ed. majors came down my row from the other side. They started counting seats. The number ended at my chair. They clearly stated the number of seats they needed again to one another and then looked at me dumbly.

“I can move down if you need me to,” I said as I picked up my purse and the chair protested loudly.

“Oh, could you? Thanks.”

A girl with designer clothes and boots so pristine, I was sure it was the first time she had worn them, sat next to me and laid her coat on the back of the chair, spilling the sleeve over into my space, which I tried not to notice. Once settled in, she immediately turned to the guy on her right. Apparently, he was a very amusing because she punctuated his every sentence with a high-pitched laugh or a bubbly euphemism. While her back was turned, I gently flipped her coat back over the arm rest and settled in to watch the crowd. I was about three quarters of the way back, so I commanded a good view of the rest of the masses and there was a good chance someone would take the seat beside me before the speaker began. The time on the screen currently flashed 2:41 and counting down.

More people walked down the aisle, some in groups, some alone. Most of the people alone were looking up only briefly from their phones to check for available seats. I didn’t recognize any of them. Would someone I know sit next to me? What if it was someone I hadn’t seen in a while? 2:07.

Would it look bad if I moved to the aisle seat if no one came by the start or would that look like I had been stood up? I picked my purse again and idly looked through it until I found my Chapstick. I put some on and by the time I put it back in my purse decided I would stay in this spot either way, so I set my purse back down. The transient trickle had slowed down now as most people had a place. I turned my head to see who else was still coming down the stairs. A few people moving a little more quickly than the others had, trying to beat the dimming of the lights, but still no one I knew. 0:53.

I gave up hope of having anyone interesting to converse with and entertained myself watching a girlfriend trying to discreetly signal her boyfriend who had passed her and had resorted to standing in the very front and scanning the crowd with his mouth open. He finally caught the signal right before the lights dimmed and took the steps two at a time.

I looked at the empty seat beside me one more time, and suddenly there was a hand on it, pressing it down. I made eye contact with the lanky man sitting there and we shared a brief smile then turned our attention back to the front as the announcements started. When he crossed his legs, I noticed his shoes were nice leather. I always liked it when guys took care to wear nice shoes instead of sneakers. Funny though, most people naturally cross their right leg over their left leg and he did the reverse. Was he left-handed too?

The 45 minutes passed, the speaker talked, and I tried to think of anything original to say or ask the pleasant gentleman on my left to prolong our acquaintance. Nothing original came to me. The talk finished, the lights went up. I slowly picked up my purse as the girl beside me stood up and tucked her coat under her arm as she continued talking. The coat was inches from my face. I craned my head away and as I did, I noticed he was already gone.

 

Image from unsplash.com

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One thought on “The Empty Chair

  1. imacookymaker@jetbroadband.com

    You are so talented, Chelsea. 🙂

    March 1 2017 3:18 PM, “As I Go, I Grow” wrote: harpandsong2 posted: “More than half of the seats in the auditorium were occupied and a hundred or so procrastinators were still in the aisles. Individuals were looking for a group to be a part of, and groups were chatting casually and looking for a row of enough empty seats f”

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