“Who are you?!”
When he tried to answer that question that’s what he came up with: nothing. Even when it was he himself demanding an answer, in front of the mirror of a public restroom. So how the fuck was he supposed to walk into that office a few minutes from now and even pretend to have an adequate response, and in front of all those people? He couldn’t. He couldn’t do it. He had to get out of here. Now! Preferably without anyone at the front desk noticing him sneak out.
Leaning against the row of black marble sinks, facing away from the mirrors he contemplated his options. Every ten minutes or so a freshman had come up to the front desk and asked some kind of question. It was orientation week. He could’ve almost set his clock by it during that dreadful hour that they had made him wait in the lobby. Next time one of the students came with a question, it would be his cue to make a quick exit.
Facing the sinks again, careful this time not to glance at his reflection in the mirror, he gripped the ostentatious marble of the sink in an effort to steady himself for his imminent escape. But his fingers pressed upon something that shouldn’t have been there. Too hard to be chewing gum, it was flat, jagged along one side, and colder than the marble around it. He got down on his knees, bringing his head level with the edge of the marble sink. The legs of his dark blue slacks rode up as he did so, exposing his bright pink and yellow Sponge Bob socks.
He found a small, golden key stuck to the underside of the sink with what looked like double sided tape, a small, folded piece of paper sticking right next to it. Still level with the sink, he turned around. No feet protruding from underneath any of the stall doors. He turned back to the black marble, half expecting the key to have been a stress-induced hallucination, but there it was, still stuck to the sink. As if waiting.
As he pulled the key off the double sided tape, the paper came of with it, landing on the tiled bathroom floor. The key was still sticky from the tape and clung to his fingers like cobwebs. He let himself fall back onto the floor and sat down cross-legged as he picked up the note and unfolded it.
DO YOU WANT TO KNOW WHO YOU REALLY ARE?
That was it. Just that one line. The handwriting was arbitrary, all caps, almost as if it had been printed, except that he could tell by the way not all the letters looked exactly the same that it had been handwritten. Do you want to know who you really are? More than anything. And not at all… What if no one liked who he really was? What if who he was wasn’t important? What if who he was just wasn’t enough? What if who he was was… no one? No one anyone liked, or cared about, or thought about, or found worthy? What if all he was was a lonely, worthless coward?
He got back to his feet. This was getting ridiculous. Whenever this key came from, it didn’t have anything to do with him. What he had to do was find a suitable moment to slip out of the bathroom, leave this place and never come back. He placed the golden key on top of the marble sink and turned towards the paper towel dispenser to dry his still moist and now also sticky hands. But the towel dispenser wasn’t there anymore. In its place was a wooden door let into the wall that had definitely not been there ten minutes ago… Or had it? Maybe all the stress of the past few months was making him hallucinate after all?
He closed his eyes, took a deep breath and opened them again. The door was still there. Maybe he just hadn’t seen it coming in? It looked ordinary enough, dark brown wood, nothing fancy. Except for the door’s knob and lock which were made of a polished, bright gold. Just like the key. Do you want to know who you really are? Screw it! Hallucination or not, he didn’t care. He grabbed the key from the sink, closed the distance between himself and the door in one, quick stride, and let the key slip into the door’s lock. Without a sound, the door swung open and a glowing bright light pooled out from inside the door into the bathroom, engulfing his entire body.
They all began to clap around him. Some of them even got up to shake his hand, clasp him on the back, adding words he couldn’t make out. Eventually his mentor whom he hadn’t immediately noticed among the crowd of other professors, came up to him and grabbed his hand, smiling broadly. “For a moment there I thought you’d be a no-show. I’m glad you did show up, though. Congratulations. You deserve it, Doctor.”
Standing a little ways apart from the others now discussing the details of his doctoral thesis, he began to laugh.
Context for this piece: Each day of this new year I will be setting aside about half an hour to write a short text, any kind of text. I will use four random prompts generated by an app called Writing Challenge, with five minutes of writing dedicated to each prompt, bringing it up to a total of 20 minutes of writing for each text.
The prompts are marked in bold letters and a full list can be found here:
- Start with a dialogue that begins with the words “Who are you?”
- Include the sentence “he found a key”
- Include the sentence “they began to clap”
- End the story with a character who laughs