When you’re at university, after a non ending process of trying to meet a series of deadlines and working under pressure inducing constraints, you can by all means decide how you want to greet people. Through all those preferred methods, handshakes are the least used by South African students. Hugs are the new crossover maneuver of the previously ‘hello and hand wave’ gesture.
The corporate world however is a whole new ball game. In this place, people extend their hands everywhere you go. Whether it is to open or seal a deal, a simple greeting or an act of kindness. The hand gripping encounter is probably the first gesture after eye contact. This is their lingo.
I’m fairly new to the corporate/real world. I’m trying to learn as much as I can and adapting pretty quickly. I’m not a health freak nor am I picky (okay maybe I’m lying). But it cannot be further from the truth that I’m not fond of a variety of things and neither am I easily impressed.
The handshake is the least of my favourite gestures. I do not like the idea of locking my hands with somebody else’s hands who’ve been everywhere except in the presence of tap water and soap. As a result, a series of flashbacks play in my head before the handshake. This one of…let’s call him Pete suddenly comes into mind.
After suffocating his entirety for the sake of fitness and avoiding a premature heart attack on a machine called the treadmill, Pete placed his index finger on one of the buttons on the machine, and the thing’s speed lowered to a halt. He looked around as if hoping to find something or maybe land his eyes on somebody familiar. I guess he remembered the importance of all the signs that sit on each wall at the gym, reminding each member to bring a towel and a bottle of water with them. Nonetheless, Pete had no towel nor a water bottle. With his broad shoulders held high as one whose just got an employee of the month certificate, headed for the men’s restroom.
As he emerged from the ablution you could tell that he tried to wipe out the sweat running its own marathon on his face with those cheap single ply, white flecks releasing toilet papers. He took fast, brisk, uneven steps, with a few unnecessary glances on his runners. His journey reach its destination at the weights section where he picked up two adjustable dumbbells weighing 12lb each, and began working out his sculpted masculine arms. After counting from one to ten for more than enough, he threw the damn heaviness of the weights down.
I watched him bemused. His well kept body which had huge, well trimmed rock like muscles emerging from his calf and arms bewildered me. The gait and jolliness he walked in was unseen before by my eyes. As I sat on the table after my workout, pretending to be interested in one of those healthy lifestyle magazines. I wondered what his next move would be.
I read a sentence on the magazine and looked up in Pete’s direction. O holly Mary mother of Jesus! Pete was doing the deed. Starring at himself. Sitting on his haunches. An adventure seemingly enjoyable or maybe necessary to the doer but yet so gross to the spectator. Sometimes it is inevitable but most of the time it is an induced action. He toyed. Pleasured his being and cared not about his vicinity, a public place. I really didn’t want to look, but you know the eye (sigh).
He fiddled. Not the kind of fiddling you do when you’re agitated and sometimes nervous, but the one where the index finger takes a deep inspection journey inside the nostril. And to increase the excitement of this journey, he was squating close to one of those ‘you’ve lost weight’ lying bastards called mirrors at the gym.
I guess he figured his finger had done enough expert work. He drew the finger out and in slow motion, rubbed his hands together as one whose very cold. After a good minute, he stood up. Straightened himself and walked. His steps were drawing closer and closer to where I sat. I felt goose bumps, the kind you feel when walking outside at night and hear slow moving steps behind you. I wanted to run to the ladies but I felt stuck, so I had only one choice; to bury myself on a magazine as if the article I was reading was anything short of world class facts on belly flattening.
He took a seat on a table DIRECTLY opposite me. My eyes longed to peep at him but my mind posed a question, what if he’s looking at you too? Dang! I needed to do something, fast. He beat me to it. He stood up, came straight to my table and flipped through magazines that sat on the table. I looked at him. He looked at me. Eyes locked. He smiled. An awkward smile. He extended his hand, as if to receive my hand so they could grasp and do the up and down movement like blood relatives before the inventions of hugs.
I looked at his thick, short fingers. My mind replayed the inspection process. I don’t do handshakes. I explained. He folded his hand to form a fist. I succumbed. He told me a name I can’t remember today. The meet and greet was done. He went back to the magazines and picked out one with two big, gym slaves gentlemen on the cover and went back to his seat. As he sat, the plastic chair made crackling noise. I looked into the magazine. My mind replayed the classic index finger investigator scenario. The magazine in my hands suddenly felt dirty. I put it down and stood. Recollected my self. Took my belongings and walked out of the gym.
FADE TO BLACK