It’s funny how no restaurants have yet embraced the concept of a table for one. Sure, if you ask the waiter, they’ll guide you to a table for two, more precisely, a table with an additional vacant chair, and you can enjoy your afternoon discussing the Cold War with thin air. In my time here in this city, I have sat with many vacant chairs and almost all these encounters have ended, begun, or been disrupted by a surprised child looking up at me from the tables close by. As one would, I look back and can’t help but think about the variables and range of confusion this poor child could be having right then and I almost wanna ask: “Hey kid, have you successfully figured out your primary reason of distress? Do you have the psychoanalytical skills required to do so? Think, what is it? The empty chair, the skin colour, the ridiculously freaked out way I’m looking back at you, trying my best to smile and have it not look creepy, or are you just staring off into space and talking to your imaginary friend Freddie in an alternate dimension and I’m not even in your line of sight?” When you’re singled out in a world that doesn’t fully believe in the concept of being by oneself in spite of the abundance of Hallmark cards telling you to do so, it’s pretty hard to convince yourself that it is, in fact, completely okay to sit by the window alone and smile at little children trying their best to figure you out. I like these kids, though, and I do my best to entertain them. I guess when I lose the hesitant smile and morph my face into the funniest faces I could conjure in the one minute their parents decided to look away, they start to kinda like me. I mean, there’s always the risk of them rolling their eyes and getting back to their Happy Meal, but at least I don’t have to think about how they’ll remember me or if they would notice how my hands can’t pick up the receipts right or if they would dwell too deep into the whys of my being there alone. Their lack of object permanence is my saving grace, every day. My parents would probably never think of this whole thing as a problem.

What do you mean it’s making you sad that you’re alone in a city with people different than you and why the hell are you smiling at stranger’s children? 

Back in India, people do this every single day. They get out of their houses and head towards unfamiliarity; each person on the street is so radically different than the other, and yet from those encounters emerge the most beautiful of friendships—and the most bitter rivalries— and the most intriguing part is that they’re formed on the grounds of a single, shared fleeting moment and lost just as easily. Everyone’s your friend for the train ride and you could totally want to rip a person to shreds after having seen them for a second. See, this is why New York isn’t a big deal for me in terms of unfamiliarity. I know what it is like to not connect with anyone. Home is messier, more complicated than this city could ever be. It’s just that no matter where I am, I’ve always sucked at existing with the unfamiliar and being a part of it. Even when I embrace it, it doesn’t have a habit of recognizing me. Puppies and babies and average sized humans look at me and think, ‘Hmm, interesting.’ and that’s as far as it goes. Maybe I’ve never wanted to be there just for the moment, which is why I never can. And I don’t know how to go beyond. I guess, at this point, everyone I meet looks at me with the same childlike wonder. It’s how I’ve begun to look at myself, too. And yet, everyone tells me that there’s something really brave about just existing when you feel disconnected from everyone and everything. When every day feels like an exaggerated prank that has run its course, when living itself is an exercise in uncertainty, I say to them what Andrea Gibson said better than I ever could: ‘Brave is just a hand-me-down suit from terrified as hell.’ I am beginning to understand that good intentions can’t carry themselves to other people via vapor, that no one can appreciate something they can’t see. For the people who I have still somehow managed to exchange voices with, I’m grateful. As for who’s going to fill in the other side of the table,  I don’t know. But I’ll remember to say ‘Hello.’

Swati Sharma is a freshman majoring in Film at SVA. Swati is an international student from India. “Slowly, New York City is becoming my home.”