He has an unassuming air. My mother, a psychiatrist, once told me that the most dangerous patients are the ones who seem the most dangerous because you see it coming. Substantially more dangerous than the man who does evil is the man who does good. Counter-intuitive I argued, but she reasoned that it’s all about the quiet, unassuming ones nowadays; the ones that smile at you and greet their coworkers and kiss their children before turning a gun on them. It’s all about that mask of sanity in the media and so people forget that sometimes violence is so simple.
He has a laptop sitting on the cafeteria table, but it’s apparent that his attention is elsewhere. Unassuming because he is young and in most likelihood a student; prejudged to be defenceless by his quiet demeanour and slight build and young face. He stares transfixed at a girl speaking on a cell phone two tables over. His eyes roam around taking in her features and her manner of dress and the books that she carries. He evaluates her – perhaps a judgment of worth, although I cannot be sure because he also seems to be looking for something. He blinks and a smirk crinkles the corners of his mouth as he takes another sip of coffee and reaches into his backpack.
Flipping a page, I gaze disinterestedly around the cafeteria. Students with books open and coffee mugs litter the tables, feeling the gruelling anticipation of twenty days of final exams. They chatter animatedly but the air is tense. The clock on the wall was not moving. Suddenly the youth of humanity whom have all the time in the world have the least, and it drives them mad. The irony unsettles me.
His gloved hand reappears with a small, brown notebook. It was approximately a hand’s width in size – unassuming much like the rest of him, and with his dark hair and darker eyes I am surprised he is ever assumed at all. He pries the newest page open with a sort of reverence, a sinister quiet, twirling a pen in his fingers. The girl is still speaking loudly, unashamed of her public revelations, and he studies her for a moment before his gaze darkens. A shift occurs – subtle, very subtle, and he is no longer smiling.
The doors open and send an uncanny chill through the hall. The small hairs on my skin unfurl and rise, as a group of students enter the cafeteria. The rubber pattering of footsteps and lilting conversation crescendos and fades, leaving the air stale and monotonous. The clock on the wall is not moving. The doors flutter closed, but the chill remains.
Mother once told me to count my blessings every morning. Its purpose, she explained, was not to learn to be grateful but to learn humility. Counting one’s blessings makes a child realize that blessings are finite. Watching his demeanour across the cafeteria as he began to scribble madly, glancing up every so often, I wondered how many blessings he counted as a child, and it struck me with a certain absurdity of how counting one’s blessings when one’s blessings were none did not teach humility, but rather, desperation.
He ceased his scribbling abruptly, and reached into his backpack again. A student coughed lightly in the background. The glaring fluorescent lighting made the grey walls seem more ominous somehow, I noted as I removed my glasses, placing them lightly on the table and rubbing my eyes tiredly with the heels of my palms. The clock was still not moving.
His eyes were black, I noted as I suffered the heat of his gaze; sudden, abrupt, sharp, and short – a flash of tension and he looked away again. Ironic how for all that he observes he cannot be observed. It intrigued me with a sort of passing, bored interest how his demeanor seemed to flicker unsteadily from predatory to anxious; unquiet. Like a hateful child with fire in his hands and fire in his heart whom unexpectedly realizes that he is a child. He is not used to being seen.
He pauses for a moment, his dark, gloved hand hovering over his bag. He hesitates.
It occurred to me then, without warning, watching him, how his very existence seemed to be a precarious, delicate work of poetic vice. For literature and learning be damned, there he sat enshrouded in shadow, seen but not seen. He pulls out a cheap, white Bic lighter, and suddenly the poetry is in motion, its masterpiece complete. A symbol juxtaposed to symbol, oppositional and defiant, flame and menace and macabre motion!
A movement of gears and the fire alights at his fingertips. At first I thought it beautiful – an appreciation of life and vivacity; a holy, luscious canvas of red heat and dribbling orange amidst the dull grey walls and stagnant clocks. I meant, in my eager youth, to stand and proclaim boldly: “The light! The light!”, but then I met his gaze and a thread of hot fear began to smoulder and smoke. He was so captivated by the flame then, in that moment, that I seized upon the opportunity to judge him for myself.
The release of metal contraptions, and abruptly the light is lost. The chill returns and the clocks stall and a student coughs and my hand falters as it readies itself to flip a page. I had ensnared a glimpse of his eyes before the flame died, and what I had seen chilled me more than the cold ever could. I had, for the briefest of moments, seen a darker terror – a profound sadism, a magnificent malevolence; rapid and quietly treacherous but it burned brighter than a flame in the holy dark.
A dark gaze, and I felt as though I had looked into the abyss. His eyes were still burning, and my finger was still poised upon the corner of a page. I flipped it. He looked away, returning his attention toward the girl still speaking animatedly two tables over. Another quiet flicker, and this time I felt that I had seen something perhaps, that was not meant for my understanding.
The clocks were still not moving.