GREETING RITUALS OF THE TERMINALLY SHY
By Alexandra Erin
There is a peculiar kind of greeting that awkward, shy people who don’t know one another give to each other. It is not done intentionally, but incidentally, in that moment when we glance across the aisle or at the person sitting next to us to size them up, quickly and discreetly, to assess their threat level and determine what, if anything, is expected of us.
We know that like some strange quantum phenomenon, the act of looking at a stranger might change the situation, but forewarned is forearmed, so we take our chances. We are already rehearsing our lines and planning our exit strategy in our minds, trying to remember what feel in our face means a smile, in case we’re called on to assemble one at a moment’s notice.
Then we see the other person, looking at us in the same way, the same furtive glance, the same bright fear in their eyes, and for a brief moment we are like a single organism sharing one full-body slump of relief, and then we go back to our books or podcasts or just the worlds we keep inside our heads.
Internally, we sound the all clear. The doomsday clock rolls back another hour. We return to Defcon 5. Well, Defcon 4. Maybe 3. Eternal vigilance is the price we pay for… what, we’re not sure, exactly.
Someone probably knows, but we’re afraid to ask. We pay it, though. If we don’t, someone might come around asking why we haven’t.