The room is a tiny, sinister refuge from the darkness of the pouring rain. I step up to the counter and relinquish my license. I am handed a clipboard and told I must copy out, in cursive, an entire paragraph stating that I am the person who has registered to take the test.
I sit down in a chair and take on the task. Having not routinely used cursive since the 5th grade, I struggle to remember the loops of a lowercase “f” and the tags of an uppercase “I”.
Around me, four other young adults tackle the same paragraph. Not one of us acknowledges that others are present.
I hand back my clipboard, feeling helpless. I am assigned to locker 5.
Locker 5 is at the bottom of the cube of toaster-sized lockers. To place my wallet, phone, and keys inside, I lower myself onto my knees. I turn the key, attached to a large cardboard circle with “5” printed on it and place it in the pocket of my sweatshirt. Slouching back down in silence, I have nothing with me but the clothes on my back.
There’s a girl across the room, in a chair not ten feet from where I sit. We were twelve the last time we spoke. We explored the creeks in our neighborhoods together. Ate at each other’s houses. Challenged each other to diving board contests at the pool. Posed for the same class pictures. Ran together.
Now she cowers in her seat as I do, staring off into space, no possessions. She’s short and dark haired still, with a grin still tugging at the edge of her lips even in her neutral expression. She’s not as skinny as she was when we were young.
This whole friendship could be reinvented if only one of us crossed the impenetrable divide between us…could it?
Surely she would remember everything…if one of us only said hello?
But we won’t. It’s so early, not even eight in the dark-skied morning, the rain is cold, and we are adults now. Small, fidgety adults with kid-faces. The examinations we are taking will tell us if we are fit to be professionals. Real people, with real jobs. What worth is a childhood friendship, one we are supposed to think we no longer need?
I want to shout her name in a desperate whisper. Want her to turn her head in my direction. Want her to remember everything I remember. In a few minutes we will be taken away, possibly to never see each other again.
Her name is called. She leaves her chair and stands in front of a monitor next to the countertop. She recites her address. Her voice is on the verge of a giggle, just as it was in all the outtakes we took in our 6th grade mystery film project.
She empties the pockets of her sweatshirt. A metal detector stick is run down her body. They don’t trust her not to cheat.
She is ushered to the testing room, rows of silent cubicles waiting inside. They will hook her up to a machine. I will join her in the room momentarily. They will hook me to a machine too, maybe one right next to hers. We will still be as absent to each other’s realities as we are now.
Gabby steps inside. The time is zero. Behind her, the door slams shut, the seal airtight, complete.
She is gone.