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from Two Candidates Walk Into A Bar by Nick Edinger

Chapter XV

It was obsession at first sight.

The first time Amal saw Kaleo, he couldn’t stop staring at the birthmark on his forehead.

Amal was in a conference room of smooth tables and chairs. A pine air freshener hung from the overhead projector. Amal had performed all of society’s expected manners in the correct fashion, so far. He had showed up to the Victech conference room on time, with his stack of notecards in his satchel as opposed to his hand. He had sat down on the mahogany table, and only gave himself a microwave-sized square to place his notepad and pens. He had shaken hands with his new teammates, Kaleo and Kendrick. He had shouted their names inside his mind until they stuck. He had thanked Mr. Worthington, the elder Victech representative leading the meeting, for affording him such an opportunity. But now, as Mr. Worthington droned on about the importance of Internet culture on the youth, Amal stared not at Kaleo’s bushy eyebrows or slender arms, but instead at the Texas-shaped birthmark on his forehead. At least, it looked like Texas at first. Sometimes, the mark morphed into the shape of Florida and Oregon making love.

Kaleo’s eyes shifted around the room. They centered on Amal. Amal turned his head straight down, to face his notepad of aimless scribbles. Mr. Worthington’s words dripped like molasses from above onto the recruits, made slower by the L.A. afternoon heat.

Amal skated his pen back and forth over a single patch of loose-leaf. He considered texting Henry— but enough angry teachers had instilled in him the fear of using a phone in front of an authority. Mr. Worthington glanced at his stack of notecards, then began a presentation on how uploading works. Amal looked to the windows, then the dead TV screen behind Worthington, then Worthington’s name card, then back to Kaleo’s forehead.

This time, Kaleo’s eyes were waiting for him. Amal darted his head back down.

It occurred to Amal that he had been ogling the only black man in a room full of Republicans.

Mr. Worthington finished his talk on uploading, and moved to discuss cultural sensitivity.

He finished his talk on cultural sensitivity in a few sentences, which Amal forgot instantly. Mr. Worthington yawned, and then turned over the last notecard.

“Well, that takes care of that,” said the old man. “I hope I’ve made matters perfectly clear to you all. If you please, let us proceed on to your workplace.”

Amal raised one eyebrow. Did the old man ever talk about what their first assignment was? Perhaps the information was in all the forms Amal filled out before the meeting began. Kendrick and Kaleo stood up and stretched, gathering their respective paper and tablet.

Everyone moved in slow motion, altogether different from the slow motion Amal had seen in one of Henry’s dumb action movies. The shuffle out of the conference room appeared, to Amal, like the slow motion he would experience whenever he tripped.

Amal stuffed his notepad and pens in his bulging backpack, disturbing its organization. He half-jogged his way out of the room.

Kaleo and Kendrick strolled down an office hallway, where the white floor’s shine bounced off of the surrounding, blurred office windows. All the recruits followed Worthington’s slow gait.

Amal lingered behind. He took note of the clacking keyboards muffled by the surrounding office walls. He took note of Kendrick’s blank face. Then he took note of his notes. S...

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