I am walking through a dream, a hallway, a conference perhaps. People are moving past me. People I know, people I am acquainted with, colleagues, strangers. I smile, and wave perhaps, but there’s no need for conversation. The burble of conversations all round does not distract me. The flickering florescent lights is weird, but it doesn’t bother me.
To my left, along the wall of the hallway is a row of tables lined with computers – a temporary workstation for those of us attending this event. Walking by, I notice that one terminal has been left open and logged in, passcodes and passwords still available. Conscientious, I stop to log out the terminal, to close it down before mischief can occur, and I notice that it is B. who has left this workstation open and exposed.
B. and I do not have a good history. Workmates and colleagues, perhaps, but not friends. Associates at best. Confrontational at worst – though I have tried, for my part, to diminish that aspect when I can. And even though we have had quarrels, I do not wish him ill, and would not delight to see him cause calamity.
I close out the program, log out the user. Safe now. Closed. I send B. a friendly message, “You left your terminal open. I closed it for you. J.”
Just then I see B., further down the corridor. He whips around, scans the hallway until he sees me. He glowers. He stalks back through the hall toward me. “What do you think you are doing?” He would be yelling if it weren’t for the others in the hall.
“Helping,” I say. “Nothing more.”
“You are a liar,” he says. “A liar. Nothing more.” And he turns away from me again.
“Hey!” I shout at him, regardless of the others in the hall. He turns back. “Why do you automatically disbelieve me? Why are you so keen to suspect me?”
B. eyes the people who have stopped to stare at us now. He grabs me by the elbow and leads me away from them. In an ill-lit alcove near the restrooms and water-fountain he says, “Because of what you said. It’s famous, don’t you know? You said that your payers don’t mean anything.” B. grins sardonically, all teeth and thin lips.
I am surprised. I do not remember having ever said this. And I tell him so. “I like to think that I know myself. At least a little. And that does not sound like something I would say. I do not remember having said it.” B.’s grin widens as if he’s preparing to devour me. “But,” I continue, “If I did say such a thing, and in a moment of peculiar, confessional honesty said that my prayers mean nothing, you believe – because I was honest then – that I am a liar now?”
B. snaps his mouth closed. His teeth click together. I wonder if he’s bitten his tongue. He shoves me out of his way and storms down the hallways towards the conference room.