“I need to slip out of the office before a semi-mandatory brownbag,” I tell my friend via IM. “bbiab.”

The brownbag starts at noon.  Not only do I not remotely care about the topic, I don’t want to spend my lunch break reading a tedious PowerPoint presentation.  I lock my workstation and head for the elevators.

My new coworker is setting up the projector for the presentation.  We lock eyes, but neither of us say anything.  He came into the office at ten yesterday, took a lunch, and left at 3:30.  I let our manager know, because he was out yesterday.  New guy got talked to, and now I suspect he isn’t speaking to me.  It’s possible he’s not talking much because his back has been killing him, but I don’t think that’s it.  This doesn’t bode well for our future working relationship.

I hit the street and head for Pike Place Market.  On the way, a friend’s girlfriend passes me on the street and doesn’t recognize me.  I’m not very good at small talk, and I decide that talking to her would be awkward, so I let her pass by unmolested.  I find the pasta bar and get the tortellini.  I try to understand some of the conversation taking place in Spanish next to me, but I don’t pick up much more than “Gracias” and “Yo quiero.”  I read from a collection of short essays I’ve been going through on my lunch break.

The current short story is one about social isolation.  I think, not for the first time, that I must be doing something wrong.  I go to the same sandwich shop once or twice a week, but I don’t know the names any of the people who work there.  I can’t even tell if they recognize me.  Except for the maybe one or two times a month that I have lunch with a friend, I eat alone. I never speak to anyone unless spoken to.

I find myself wolfing down my tortellini and try to slow down, to enjoy my food.  I still finish way too quickly.  I pay, then look at the time.  Only 12:15.  I don’t want to go back to work yet, so I wander the market.  I find a few new restaurants on the southern end that I hadn’t noticed before, and try to remember to come back to them on Friday.

It’s a bright fall day towards the end of tourist season.  It’s a nice amount of people.  Not so many that I get crushed or slowed by the crowd, but not so few that I get the uncomfortable feeling of being the only customer and noticed by every shopkeeper.

I complete my wander and sit down cross-legged on a raised concrete pad near the north end of the market.  It’s divided into stalls, and during peak tourist season, this would be where someone would set up to sell their wares for the day.  Tourist season is nearly over, so today half of them are empty.  I pick up my book and resume the story.  The narrator lives in Russia but barely speaks the language.  He’s disliked by his cohorts because of a misunderstanding.  He’s alone but tries to pretend that’s what he wants to be doing.

I sympathize.

I finish the story and check the time.  Almost a quarter to.  I guess that’s enough time killed.  I don’t want to start a new story, so I go back to the office.  On the way, I think again that there has to be a better way to interact with people that doesn’t make me feel worse than not interacting at all.  I give it some thought, but I decide I only know how to be myself, and I’m not likely to change.  It doesn’t feel good.

The brownbag is taking place on the fourth floor, right in front of the elevators, so I go up to the fifth in order to better slip in undetected.  The stairs creak much louder than I ever remember them doing.  A couple people turn to look as I round the bottom of the stairs and quietly walk back to my desk.  The meeting concludes, and my manager walks over.

“You missed it,” he says.  “You were number one for being thanked for the site migration.”