I needed to do some work this afternoon, so I went where I usually go when I need to sit down in peace to get some work done: in a restaurant. It was a place where I usually go and the staff know me very well, and among other things I always get to choose where I sit.
At the time I arrived (middle of the afternoon) the place was empty with the exception of a big table occupied by half a dozen of.... black males. The kind that I would never talk to: loud, not sounding very clever to start with, and with those big round-the-neck gold chains taken straight from a rap video clip.
Wanting to have a bit of fun, I asked the staff who welcomed me to sit me next to them.
When I arrived next to them, they all looked at me, with that look which was a mix between surprise and inquisitiveness. I was admittedly dressed like an academic today (had been with my students in the early hours of the day), with alexandra in my arms and with that air of somebody wondering whether or not he should write a new file system (more on that later). Their looks then turned into full amusement as I started to dig in my bag and take out various papers and my pens. All this of course in slow motion because after all I am a star and know how to make an entry :-)
Five minutes into my papers, having already completely forgotten about them, one of them slided on the sofa and came very close to me. I instinctively thought that he would ask me about what I was doing or the computer or the wireless network, but he didn't say anything. Instead, he started to play with my stack of carefully positioned paper napkins, after half a second spent wondering what on Earth he was doing, I got it: he was trying to take one of them.
At this point I resisted the mental temptation of spending time wondering on which planet I had landed where people just come along and play with my very private (and carefully positioned) napkins and decided to have fun [I decided to prevent myself to think, because people see when I think, and I didn't want them to see what was happening inside me]. Instead, I looked at him, totally expression-less. No surprise, no aggression, nothing. My face was a blank sheet. Then very slowly I moved my attention to his hands and his fingers, putting on them as much interest and focus I could. I basically looked at them like they were doing something very amazing that I had never seen before in my life (like emitting Higg bosons), and just carried on looking at them like nothing else in the world existed at this very moment.
He managed to get a napkin (after many efforts I have to say, like they were too heavy for him -- to his credit my knife and fork where on the pile of napkins), and slided back to his original position. I did not follow him, though, my sight and attention had remained on my table, carrying on looking at the same piece of table where my napkins were.
It is at this moment that something happened. Their table became completely silent and I felt deep inside me that they were thinking. Probably wondering on their side what had just happened. I guess that they could not interpret my reaction and my face. I was there, being of the same color as them, but with a completely different... signature. I was not afraid, not curious, not surprised, not bothered, not angry. Just, if any, attentive.
They would have understood, I guess, if I had reacted, in any way whatsoever, for instance, if I had said "Hey, what the fuck are you doing ?", or if I had showed surprise, or if I was looking like terrorized, or (this part is interesting) if, at least, I had followed their friend with my eyes as he was leaving my table.
Two seconds passed in complete silence and already I was coming back to my papers, like nothing happened; not even acknowledging that somebody had just been next to me, and certainly not looking in their direction.
Then they snapped out of their silence and in turn, one after the other, apologized, starting from the one I had mentally identified as the leader of the group. With that slightly cute and messy way of doing from people not used to do that. I did not look at them, did not react, despite the fact that they knew I heard them. I remained silent and uninterested.
This would have been the end, but then something changed until they left. They were far less loud than before and, should I even say, were behaving calmly. Like I had contaminated them, in some ways. Maybe they somehow felt something my sub conscience had been trying to tell them from the start: "I am significantly more powerful than what you imagine".
I still don't know exactly what I did to them, and I will never know why they felt the need to "test" me (if this is exactly what they had in mind), but the episode was priceless :-)