‘I MUST MAKE SMALL TALK’
Christine has written this on a post-it note and stuck it above the kettle. Each time I make a mug of tea, there it is and this morning it has survived yet another steaming.
It is her intention that I see it shortly before setting off for work acting as a prompt. She is convinced I use my shyness as an excuse to not talk and it is a habit that, with a little effort, I could begin to break.
It wouldn’t hurt you, she says, to be a bit more open, a bit more magnanimous, and I can’t argue with that. I certainly don’t want her to write on a post-it and stick it on the tile alongside the other. Trouble is, I haven’t had any practice and I am not very good at it.
I walk to the bus-stop and say the words out loud, MUST MAKE SMALL TALK, I MUST MAKE SMALL TALK. Drawing closer to the stop I chant more softly, the mantra losing its momentum until both I and it stutter to a halt.
I take my place at the end of the awkwardly formed line. No-one speaks, not ever, despite the fact we are forced together as a group almost every weekday morning. Oddly, I feel inspired and determined. Today I will make small talk.
And why not begin right here and now? I’ll make an announcement, say something witty, profound even. But what? In a minute or so the bus will arrive and I need to act quickly. I start chanting again, the words are still lodged crudely in my head.
MUST MAKE SMALL TALK, I MUST MAKE SMALL TALK.
The woman in front turns and stares at me and the others in the line are also peering around at me. I am talking aloud. I close my mouth, clenching it tightly shut and it stops. But I feel like an abandoned hose, violently thrashing, the water relentlessly escaping.