You walk into the room, slightly apprehensive. Will anyone be there that you know? There’s a registration table, but you ignore it. Registration is one of those things organisations like to do to make them feel, well, organised. Instead of ticking your name off, you make your way to one side of the room or the other, demarcated by sex.
You look around, searching for a familiar face. A few acquaintances come in for the kiss and hug, the awkward, well-meaning chit-chat. ‘How’s work?’ ‘How’s your husband?’ ‘So, when’s your turn?’ (The worst question of all.)
To your relief, you locate your friends and swoop on them eagerly. Much hugging and wild gesticulating ensues. You feel instantly at ease. You guys own the joint. You sit wherever you feel like, comfortable now that you’re safely ensconced in the midst of the group. This is what you’re here for, after all. To learn, surrounded by people you love and trust. Your love and trust is built on nights like these, on shared scribbles and meaningful glances when the Shaykh says something you find amusing.
You look around the room, and observe the usual suspects:
1.) The Veterans
These people know everyone. They know you too, but only because you see them at every event.
2.) The Semi-Famous ‘Celebs’
These people are known to everyone for writing some article or being on television once. They probably don’t know you, but they’ll pretend to just to be polite. (Alpha people are always polite. It’s key to their networking activities.)
3.) The Newbies
These people are new to the scene, and you feel a strange kind of pity for them in all their starry-eyed, hopeful gazes.They have no idea what they’re in for.
You could observe for longer, but the Shaykh is starting his talk. You concentrate, or try to. There are always distractions at these things. A baby crying, an appealing refreshments table, a guy/girl you’ve been admiring from afar. You soak it up, check your phone occasionally and try not to look to the side of the room where the opposite sex are seated. It’s not the done thing, to allow your gaze to wander. You’re here to learn.
It’s time for a break. You have a laugh with your friends, exclaim over the amazingness of the Shaykh. It starts up again while you’re still in mid-conversation, so you hold the thought for later. You hate Q&A. People never seem to ask questions, just make long-winded statements or disguise personal problems in generalities. Just let the Shaykh speak, you think. The babies are restless now, and so are you.
And then it’s over. People stir as if waking up from a spell and immediately set upon the refreshments table with vigour. Little groups start forming across the room, the gender boundaries relaxing as people mingle over their teas. The unmarried couples come together tentatively, despite the fact that everyone knows who they are. The almost-couples avoid each other’s vicinity, afraid to make the first move, until someone just does it. The unattached people laugh loudly and uninhibitedly. People who know of each other from social media pretend not to know each other here, until someone just blurts it out.
You’re tired now, your head pleasantly buzzing with the noise and the newly gained knowledge. You make your way out of the room slowly-there’s always another goodbye to be said, another cheek to kiss. You walk out with a friend or two, laughing at something silly they did, like not know someone’s name or spill their drink as they were talking to someone ‘important’. Maybe your friend has met an interesting someone. Maybe you have. Maybe neither of you have, but it really doesn’t matter.
This is where you belong. Single, married, divorced, you’re absorbed into the fold, with all its pettiness and squabbles. Because at the heart of it is knowledge, and this is where your heart longs to be, warts and all. This is home.