One of the common questions we throw at candidates at our interview sessions at the office is the rather smug “do you consider yourself smarter than the average person?” tripe. The result is hardly surprising every time. Most of the candidates respond in the affirmative after a brisk introspection. And, more often than not, they are not wrong – our process is already optimized to ensure that the best candidates make it to the room. It is the ones who take a longer time to respond that hold my interest. For, in that prolonged pause before they reassure themselves, I too, find myself on the spot, trying to answer that same question.
I have lived in my current apartment for a year now and my spatial judgement of the area hasn’t expanded significantly since I moved out here. The first three trips to my apartment before I moved in, it seemed like I was visiting the area for the first time. I was petrified I might take a wrong turn and miss the street. For months after I moved in, I only stuck to the same route from the office to my house. I never explored any other detours out of my street, even though there’s at least five of them. I have tried one of them out since that time.
There’s a guy – at least, I assume it’s a guy, I can’t say for sure – in the apartment beside the stairwell to my floor who is something of an instrumentalist. He plays at least 2 musical instruments – I have heard sounds belting off of a saxophone and a piano at different times. He’s almost always practicing. Or maybe it just coincides with the times I am home – my schedule is pretty regimental. Over the months that I have been here, I have managed to put a face to about 7 of the people who stay in my building. The possible number of neighbours I have in that 3-storey building is at least twice that number. And I don’t know which one of them is the musician. Now that I think of it, I only got to know one of them is an engineer from people yelling “engineer” at some man on the ground floor every now and again. He fixed my generator too, according to my flatmate. I think about how so little I really know about the people around me or the environment I live in and the things that go on there. But the people here know me – as the guy who largely keeps to himself, leaving in the mornings and returning late in the evenings. But I am mostly oblivious and not too eager to do anything about that realization.
I have no idea what my flatmate’s car looks like. I know he has a car and he parks it in the compound sometimes when he returns from work. He leaves for work at least an hour before I do and I may never see him drive out or in with the schedule we both keep. The man in the flat above ours gave me a ride once when it rained and I had to go to work. He carried me beyond the flood so I woudn’t have to step in the water. I had probably stumbled across him or his son not more than 3 times before that day. I and my flatmate speak often (if we can call it that) at home when we’re both around on weekends, especially in the kitchen on days we each feel like making our own food instead of ordering take outs. But I don’t really know him – at least, beyond the surface level stuff. I am the one who is least inclined to strike up a conversation, to be honest. In my rather busy street, I only occasionally speak to the lady who sells me confectioneries, the noodles guy and, recently, the barber who has cut my hair twice now. Short, polite, meaningless conversations to ease our transactions.
When I was in university, ladies got bored from me not having a clue when I was being greenlighted. The subtle nuances were always lost on me. Lol, it hasn’t greatly changed now, to be honest – I am always second-guessing the signals or I’m oblivious altogether. Sometimes I require a floodlight to get a hint, I’m afraid. At work or some other set up I’m involved with, when I get to hear of people who are rumoured to be seeing each other, I kick myself at the realization that the hint was there all along and I missed it because I wasn’t looking.
I’m usually not looking at these things – and there lies my problem. I am largely oblivious of my immediate surroundings and I could maybe hold a decent conversation on politics, foreign policy, physics, math, media, psychology, technology and all those things that one can grasp from reading books and observing people. But it seems I am oblivious on purpose, because I tend to make connections pretty quickly when I absolutely have to. I always joke about how my aloofness tends to immediately fade out when it really matters.
The average person is not necessarily aloof. Ignorant, maybe, but everyone is ignorant about some things. Thoughts like these run through my mind in those few moments the person sitting on the spot is contemplating whether they consider themselves to be smarter than the average person. When they finally say yes, I quietly think, yeah, me too. I think.