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.