Nervously, I walk through the white-painted, wooden doors that lead me into a room that reminds me of my old school’s gym; spacious, dim, chilly and absolutely no windows. A small group of people sits gathered around in a circle in the center of the room. A quick headcount and I come to realize that there are at least fourteen other people here. I inhale deeply in an attempt to get rid of my nerves. I see that at least one of the other attendants spotted me so there is no going back. I can’t change my mind; no changing my mind the last minute before running backwards through the doors again.
“Name, please?” a feminine voice startles me. On my right, I find a woman sitting at a table. She eyes me questioningly and I don’t know what she’s expecting me to say or do. She caught me by surprise.
“Name?” she asks again. This time I try to smile, but I am too nervous.
“Vicky,” I say. “My name is Vicky.”
She takes a marker and scribbles something down. When she hands it to me, I see it’s a name tag and I stick it to the front of my shirt. I am not certain if this is what I am supposed to do or not, but she doesn’t laugh at me so I figure it’s okay.
“Go on,” she smiles encouragingly. “Go have a seat. Marie will be here any moment.”
Marie. The woman I had spoken to on the phone.
Very self-conscious, I make my way over to the centre of the room. I try to make as little eye contact with other people as possible; two people catch me off guard. One is a teenage boy who just shies away the moment he notices that I noticed him watching me. The other person is a woman, in her thirties I guess, and she smiles. I attempt to smile back, hoping I don’t scare her.
Then there’s the matter of where to sit. Do I take the empty chair closest to me or the middle one out of three empty seats? In a moment of complete and utter insanity, I make my way across the opening of the circle.
“Is this seat taken?” I ask in a hushed voice. The woman who smiled at me earlier – Joanne, her nametag says – shakes her head and sends me another friendly smile. I wonder if this is the first time she comes here, too. I don’t ask. Without a word, I sit down and place my handbag in my lap. I try not to look lost and check if I turned off my phone to keep myself busy. The awkwardness prolongs. I hate every single second of it. In my mind, I list all the reasons why I shouldn’t be here. The list is endless. Maybe I should make a run for it after all? If I quickly grab my handbag and don’t look back, I might make it out of here. Mentally, I prepare myself for my walk of shame.
“Good evening, everyone.” A blond woman drapes her jacket over the back of an empty chair and while I watch her do that, I know I blew my chances of ever getting out of here. “My name is Marie,” she continues with a friendly smile. I swallow. I am not ready. I shouldn’t have come here in the first place.
“Did everyone sign in and get a sticker with their names?” Some people in the group respond with a yes, but certainly not everyone. As I stare at my shoes, I notice in my peripheral view that some people nod their head in response -- I don’t do that either. I’m wearing the damn sticker; proof enough that I made it past the registration table. I need new shoes, I think as I inspect them intently. I’ve had this pair of shoes for a very long time; they’re my favorite pair of shoes, and it’s really starting to show. Sometime next week I should take the time to go shopping for shoes. I dread it. I hate shopping.
Marie has taken place in her chair and I can’t tell for sure, but I think she glances around the circle. There is an awkward silence for a few moments and to take my mind off it, I count again. This time, though, I count the feet. I am not going to look up to find out how many people I’m supposed to share my story with. Counting their feet means that I don’t have to raise my head and that’s all that matters at the moment. I see quite a few male shoes, some shoes that must belong to women, and a few of which I can’t decide whether they belong to a man or a woman. Thirty-two shoes in total form the circle, mine not included. Together with sixteen other people, I’m seated in this silly and awkward circle.
“Let’s begin, shall we?” Marie breaks the silence. It makes me wonder how much time has passed already. To me it feels like half an hour, at the least, but my watch says it has only been a couple of minutes. I want to go home and curl up on the couch.