The fluorescent lights provided a soundtrack to the quiet panic every waiting room seemed to inspire. Whether it be dentist, doctor or interview the waiting room is where we experience our deepest dread. The wallpaper is always a sickly color, in this case green. The cheap art that adorns the wall is uncomfortable and stark looking. Any effort towards warmth is lost beneath the fear that hangs in the air like a thick fog.
Every sound cuts the atmosphere with an unnatural pitch. I began questioning if my relationship with Dev was even worth this pain. Sheila was wrapped in her sweatshirt and curled up on the seat next to me. She was hiding her anguish, but not well enough. Every once in a while, a sniff or sharp inhale would utter out of the messy lump of fabric and I would put a hand on her foot in an attempt to be somewhat comforting, but I'm no good at this. She knew that.
“It’s good of you to be there,” a woman across from us finally said, “you’re a very cute couple.” Her sympathetic smile made me uncomfortable. I took the unhelpful hand off Sheila and slid my hoodie over my face, “we aren’t together.” “Oh, what a pity.” I didn’t want to go through this game today. People always liked to play cupid with the two quiet Asian kids who just hadn’t realized they’re perfect for each other yet. After so many years I've learned to walk at least an arm’s length away from Sheila and Dev to avoid these remarks.
A PA system blared loudly through the double doors calling a Dr. Melvin to radiology. The man taking forever to sign in was making an insufferable scratching noise against the edge of the counter. The woman across from us had given up on matchmaking and was now coughing phlegm into a tissue. The thin fabric of a hoodie was no match against this intolerable symphony of anxiety.
I stood up, but Sheila grabbed my arm. “Where are you going,” she said. Her desperate look was cutting. “I’m just going out to smoke.” I haven’t had a cigarette in four months so this had to sound genuine, “it’s been a rough day so…” I was internally panicking. I always felt like women knew when I was lying. “Don’t leave me here.” She said, turning back to face the wall. Crap, I said too much. Never the less she would learn to forgive me someday.
It was almost dark outside, but the street lamps were still off. Two hours ago, we were huddled around my coffee table with a few beers, ready to marathon the next season of Sherlock. Sheila was cozied up next to Dev, and he was trying his best at a British accent. I was laughing, and for a second it felt like I was part of the love story. “Two hours,” I thought, “nah that can’t be right.”
I was sure I parked my car in the space next to these doors, but then again the last hour was sort of a blur. I jammed the button several times and strained my ear for any sort of response, but nothing came. I’m never getting out of here. “Are you searching for something,” I hadn’t noticed, but there was a nurse leaning against a lamp post behind me. “Yeah.” Was he for real? This was a parking lot.
“You seem in a hurry to leave, friend,” he held out a carton of cigarettes, “perhaps a slower train of thought for a night like this?” After a moment of hesitation, I grabbed one and he held out a match to light it. In the brief glow I caught a glimpse of his face.
He was smiling widely, with the wrong end of the cig hanging out of his mouth. “You know it’s the other way, right?” Something was off about him. At a certain age Dev said he had stopped trying to separate people into categories, but I was always doing it.
“Is that so,” he said making no effort to correct himself, “I wouldn’t know. I don’t smoke.” “What are you doing out here then, opening your own dispensary?” “I’m here,” he said, “just here.” Where the fuck was my car?
The man looked at his watch and counted down from his fingers, “right…on…cue.” The street lights buzzed on. In the distance a Honda Civic was rushing into the lot at a lightning speed. It stopped next to the ER entrance and a panicked man hopped out of the driver’s seat.
The nurse laughed. “Maybe someone’s hurt,” I said, half concernedly, half just trying to make him feel bad. A pregnant woman stepped out and the man rushed to support her as they made their way through the emergency doors. “No waiting room required,” I thought, and then immediately hated myself. Somewhere inside Sheila was alone.
“It will go well,” he said, “your friend was strong.” Was he talking about Dev now? “What do you mean by that?” With the aid of the street light I could now observe him fully. He was unnaturally handsome, and very thin with a dark complexion. Mom would say he looked angelic, and this would annoy me if I hadn’t thought it myself.
“What's wrong with you,” I said. He didn’t seem to notice that I even asked a question. His mind was elsewhere, eyes moving upwards towards the ever-darkening sky.
A blue bus, with a striking ad for Illumination Cigarettes pulled into the lot. To my surprise it turned past the ER and slowed to a stop right in front of us. From where I was standing this didn’t appear to be a bus stop. The doors opened and a young woman stared down from the driver’s seat. “That was fast,” the nurse said, dropping his entire pack of cigarettes to the ground. “Slow night,” she said.
I looked back, and saw that the entire back of the bus was dark. Apart from the driver it appeared empty. “For you,” the nurse pointed to the carton on the ground as he began to board. “Hey,” I wasn’t sure why I was yelling if not just out of sheer confusion. The nurse did not stop but before the doors closed I heard him, “if you want people to listen, Will Osaka, perhaps you should not be so quick to leave them behind.”
The bus pulled away and I watched the most confusing encounter of my life fade out of the hospital street light’s yellow glow. For a second I sat paralyzed by fear on the curb of the sidewalk. A few yards away I could see the blue hood of my car prominently protruding out of the careful lines of a parking space. I didn’t know how I missed that.
An ambulance blared in the distance, as a baby began to wail, experiencing the first pain of his new life. On the second floor a dying wife said a last “I love you,” to her husband, and a couple was being told they were going to have a child. Somewhere in the waiting room a receptionist was shoving off the advances of a drunken patient, and Sheila was crying by herself. They had only just brought her the news.
After considering for a long time all the new information of this night, I stood up. The carton of cigarettes was the same brand of those advertised on the bus. After smoking one more, I headed back inside.