Does your heart stop when you see your name in text? Do you seize up when a whisper of it passes through a stranger’s lips? Maybe you brush it off, walk away – but it lingers. It stays in your mind, maddeningly – running round and round, screaming itself into the walls of your consciousness, carving its marks into the clay of your skull.
You shiver, shrug, and continue about your day. Screens and papers fill your hours, and lunchtime arrives. You grab your wallet and head out with your colleagues. Then it happens again. The cab you’re in – or the bus you caught, carries your identity on its breath. You hear it loud and clear, and your lungs freeze. Your peers ask if everything’s okay, but you know they don’t really care. The pains of social courtesy. You nod hurriedly and look away as the conversation resumes. You’re lost in your own world as the vehicle you’re in carries you all to lunch.
You alight, and the rush of traffic forces a jolt of reality upon you. Of course, it’s nothing, just the late night you took last night or the caffeine you neglected this morning. You’re fine. You step into the establishment your acquaintances have chosen.
Order. Wait. Collect. Eat. Chat. Smile. Sip. Repeat.
You slip into the routine of cordial encounters. Everything feels okay. I feel okay, you think. I’m okay. Your neck throbs, and you rotate your head to stretch it. When you tilt it back, a few of your lunch mates are shooting questioning glances at you. You look down at your empty tray awkwardly, rubbing your aching neck. You feel a wave of relief course through you when someone brings up going back to the office, and you happily voice your agreement.
Back at the office, you plop yourself back into your assigned cubicle, the standard-issue chair creaking embarrassingly. Then it’s back. Your name, floating in the air around you. You’re convinced it’s real. You run to the washroom and splash your face with cold water – that’s supposed to help, isn’t it? You stare at the face in the mirror. You’re not sure if it’s yours. You hear the voices again.