Published on July 25th, 2014 | by The Beige Baron


Self-Consciousness is the Bane of My Existance

I really hate eating in public places. Why is this? I even get uncomfortable in McDonald’s.

“He’s having a chip,” thinks the person across the way. “Putting it in the sauce. Chomp chomp chomp. What a disgusting pig.” I sometimes can see myself from outside of my body and recoil at the strange shape of my head and my hunched posture and the rhythmic working of my jaws, eyes flicking back and forth furtively. Bit of salt on the lip. Smack smack chomp chomp.

If I’m ill-at-ease in a restaurant, I should never have tried to picnic on a train, where everything is frowned down except staring, sleeping or playing with phones. You can’t eat, drink, talk, look out the window, put on makeup, or read anything that wouldn’t fit in your pocket. It’s almost indescribably boring.

Last night I had my headphones, a good audio book, and a few centimeters of bench space between a sixteen stone office man and a bony-elbowed old granny. I thought I might close my eyes and imagine I was lying on the grass in a park. Let myself be carried away by my audio book. The tensions and psychological strains of the train carriage thus blocked out, I would leap off at the other end of the line with a spring in my step, refreshed and ready for the scrum at the ticket turnstiles.

Then I remembered the candy in my pocket. If I could only suck on a nice soothing lozenge, my entire sensory relocation program would be complete.

I opened my eyes a crack and saw most people were occupied with their cellphones, comic books and video games.

With extreme difficulty I managed to twist my torso around in small, awkward increments and burrow a hand into the pocket of my leather coat. I groped and sifted among an assortment of empty lighters, convenience store receipts and other rubbish until my fingers closed around a small, hard, cellophane-wrapped candy.

I tried to ease my hand back out smoothly, but my hand was trapped in my pocket; arm buckled inward and wrist twisted down as if I were in the grip of some terrible palsy. I couldn’t pull my elbow back and get my hand out without knocking it into the granny. I grabbed the hem of my jacket with my other hand and pulled it down, doubling over almost completely, and managed to free my hand, but the pocket of the jacket by now had turned inside out and a light rain of grit and scrumpled-up paper was falling softly into my lap.

I stuffed the receipts into the front pocket of my satchel. My neighbors were leaning away exaggeratedly with pained expressions as if suffering some intolerable inconvenience. I glanced up and met a gallery of eyes watching with cool interest.

It was too late to turn back. I could feel the prickly burning flush on my forehead and neck and cheeks. I started to fret at the wrapper, knowing that the tacky seal could suddenly give way and send the contents spinning onto the floor to clatter aimlessly back and forth like marble for the rest of the journey.

I finally got it open, and glanced up to see a score of eyes silently measuring my progress.

I conveyed the small orange globe up to my mouth between forefinger and thumb, lips groping for it like some kind of deep-sea dory. Mouth watering in sharp anticipation. All around me the watchful silence raged over Stephen Fry’s cheerful burble.

The candy clanked around in my mouth like a stone in an empty fish tank. My tongue felt as huge and thick as a slime-covered python. A sickly sweet odor was filling the carriage.

Gradually, people returned to their books and games as the train rocked and roared through the blackness.

I don’t want to eat any more candy on the train ever again.

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About the Author

Groping for trouts in a peculiar river.

2 Responses to Self-Consciousness is the Bane of My Existance

  1. Nazzarene says:

    gold. a small bit of water in the eyes after that one

  2. Teresa says:

    This reminds me so much of Patrick White’s Tree of Man I had to study in Year 12. It describes in pitiless detail an old couple eating steak, wiping the fat from their lips. I much prefer your writing which has the compassion of humour.

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