They think I can’t hear them, talking about me in what passes for a supermarket. This town, which is barely more than a bump on the map, has only one place to get the basic items to live on and anyone regarded as different provides endless fodder for speculation for the locals.
At first, I thought I was being paranoid, or overly self-conscious, but each time I come in I can feel a shift in the atmosphere. If I pass one of them in an aisle, they either look at me with a sidelong glance or stare at some spot beyond me. Anything to avoid making eye contact. But at the same time, they track my movements, waiting for a word or gesture to mark me out as strange.
It might be because I am not from here, and they are all so similar, with their narrow minds and lives. Behaviour that varies from their own is treated with suspicion.
It would be easy enough to tell them the truth, to cut through the layers of conjecture and gossip, but this would not end it. They would simply move onto some other person, or find something else unusual about me. It is as though by gathering to pick on any difference, be it real or perceived, they find a kind of unity which is otherwise missing from their lives.
And so, I say nothing, choosing not to let their petty behaviour and assumptions about anyone with a different experience than theirs affect the way that I live my life.
I’m participating in this blogging challenge for the month of January, which supports starting the year on the “write” track. You can find out more about the challenge, join in and read other posts here.
Photo: sign outside of library at Mona Vale