No one in the room dared question her. As their boss, they were afraid of her sternness. However, these people did not know what a kind and enjoyable person she really was. At work, she did not show it. At the office, she was a different person compared to how she was in real life with her friends and family.
The woman dressed for her part as well. She wore a coal-colored suit, black heels and small golden earrings that matched her dark skin. Her black hair was tightly pulled in a bun and she wore red lipstick. Her name was Robin.
As her team left the conference room, Robin sighed. Her boss expected her to keep her distance from the employees, to be strict and crude. A role she played to exhaustion, for Robin was actually open to other people’s opinions and approachable. Her friends would say she was fun (especially when she had a couple of wines), decent and unquestionably outgoing. However, at work, she had to be someone that fit her job description.
It was the first working day of the new year. After the meeting had finished, everyone was off from work and welcome to the annual new year’s reception. Robin had her employees work on a marketing and sales proposal during the holidays. Which deprived them of quality time with their loved ones. Robin herself only had a quick brunch with her mom and her brother and his wife. The remainder of the time, she was working at home. How pathetic, she thought.
Robin worked at a Scandinavian furniture brand as country manager. It was not her dream job, but she was good at it and did not know what else to do. Well, she wanted to start her own company, but she did not have the guts to dive into that adventure.
She dropped off her laptop, presentation sheets and brainstorm notes in her office. Secretly, she was dreading this party. She could not possibly let go, let alone drink too much. Her friends were waiting for her at the local pub. Only an hour, she told herself. Then she would rush home to take off her costume and slip into something she actually liked wearing. Robin looked in the mirror and a fatigued face stared back at her. Nothing a bit of make-up could not fix. She camouflaged the bags under her eyes. Before she left her office, she poured herself a bit of vodka she hid in her desk drawer. Robin needed a kick to mingle with these people.
Champagne was poured richly. Even the high boss from Norway made an appearance. Trays of hors d’oeuvres were carried around the room by attractive hostesses. Business seemed good, apparently.
Robin took a glass of champagne but passed on the pastries.
Neil beckoned for her to join the conversation. Here we go, Robin thought.
Neil was head of sales and was talking to two guys in marketing. They looked around a tad nervously as Robin approached them.
He looks great in that suit, Robin thought to herself. She had been hiding a crush on Neil ever since he had started working at the firm three months ago. Naturally, she could not act upon it, but right now one of her fantasies was playing in her head. Focus. Neil was a smooth talker, but Robin could see there was a big heart behind that façade of cockiness.
“What do you think, Robin?” One of the marketing guys asked her. Robin stared at them, she had no clue what they were talking about. She was focusing on Neil’s eyes, his lips, on how bad she wanted to be alone with him.
“Bugger off, dipshit, I want to talk to Neil alone.” Except Robin did not dare say that. She had to swallow what she really wanted to say to someone on many occasions. Instead, she said harshly: “I don’t have time to have an opinion about such frivolities.”
Neil raised one eyebrow. Robin wanted to smile at him but instead gave him a nasty look. Why did I just do that? She walked away, angry at herself for not being herself and for not being nice to Neil and the other guys.
The Norwegian boss walked in her direction. Time to go. She did not care she only attended this party for a record of five minutes.
Robin pulled off her heels with a sigh of relief. She turned on some loud music. Whitney Houston sang loudly in her living room. Robin tried to match Whitney’s voice with hers and managed to do so quite successfully. She took off her clothes and untidied her hair. Naked, she danced around the living room, holding a comb as though it was a microphone. She gave quite a performance to no one but herself. It was a great way for her to let go of any tension and relieve herself of her work persona.
On the way to her bathroom, she almost tripped on a pile of clothes that were lying on the floor. There was only one day a week that her house was clean, and that was on the day her cleaning lady had finished. Soon after, Robin always made quite a mess. She put clothes everywhere and did not tidy up after she used something. On the rare occasion she ate at home and cooked herself a meal, she just left it on the table. Usually, she would order take away food and eat it straight from the boxes.
In the shower, she was singing the next Whitney song. After it finished, she replayed her workday in her mind. How pathetic it was. Working her ass off for someone else’s profit, with work she did not really like. Not to mention her colleagues. Shouldn’t I just quit and do something else? But what?
Being surly at work drained her. Robin did not like her work persona. There were some colleagues she would like to hang out with. Like Neil, or Sharon from marketing. However, she simply could not treat them any different than the other employees.
Every day it felt as though she had to put on a mask. Maybe that was why she dressed to the occasion as well. Why she put on red lipstick and did her hair in a tight bun. It functioned as an armor, as a costume.
After her shower, she played some house music to get in the vibe for tonight. She put on a short black skirt and a white blouse, showing a bit of cleavage. After she was dressed, she straightened her hair and put on some sneakers.
Before she left for the pub, there was one more thing she liked to do. Her ritual before going out was to play her favorite shoot out game. It was a fantastical war game in which she got to shoot demons with guns or slay them with swords. It had a calming effect on Robin. Some people would take a nice long and hot bath, but Robin’s mind did not work that way.
In front of the pub, there were people smoking cigarettes. Robin liked the smell but had never smoked herself. She opened the door and scanned the crowded room to find her friends. It was not hard to find them. She needed only to listen for the loudest girls in the room and to find the only ones dancing.
When one of her friends spotted her, Robin yelled and danced her way over to their table, while pinching a guy in the ass. She winked at him and danced her way through.
“You need to match our level of drunkenness, darling,” spewed Diana, the drunkest of her friends. Diana poured Robin a firm shot of tequila and held it in front of her. She continued, “while I drink one, you drink two. Cheers.”
Diana had already been drinking heavily with their other friends Sally and Jess. Jess was snogging some guy right at their table.
A song from the Spice Girls played, prompting Jess to stop kissing and turn to her friends. The four of them screamed with joy. This was their song. Ever since high school, they would always perform the same dance to this song. Tonight, this pub was in for a treat. These girls knew exactly how to get the attention of every man in the room.
Drunk, Robin shared a cab home with Diana who lived close by. After the pub, they had moved on to some club. A couple of admirers from the pub joined them, but Robin just wanted to hang out with her friends and did not desire the attention of men tonight.
In bed, Robin thought about her day. She could not shake the thoughts she was already having before going out.
How had she been three entirely different Robins in just one day? There was office Robin, home alone Robin, and party-with-friends Robin. How come there was not just one Robin, oblivious to where and with whom she was? She just wanted to be herself in every circumstance, among whomever she was with. Not thinking about what was appropriate or not, or worse – what was socially accepted.
Robin thought about it for a while. Losing herself in a maze of thoughts, seemingly without end. The more she thought about her different personas, about how we all keep up appearances, the more oppressive she felt. It was not only at work, or at home, or in the pub with her friends she behaved differently. It was basically in every social setting. With her family, she was definitely not the same person as with her friends. In her Spanish class, she was not as haughty as she was at work (but certainly still not very open). In every group she belonged to, she wore a different mask. Not necessarily on purpose, but it was just how it worked.
In every group, with friends, family, coworkers, associations, religious groups, economic classes, nationalities, everyone behaved differently and according to the norms and values of that group. Like a secret code that was not meant to be broken. Creating different characters for the outside world, but never showing one’s true self. Holding back emotions when they were not welcome in that particular social setting.
But when was she her true self? Only when she was alone? Naturally, most people are frightened to show their true colors whatever situation they are in.
At that last thought, she fell into a feverish and drunk sleep.
Robin woke up with a bit of a headache.
Once she was transformed into office Robin, she headed out for the subway.
It was not as busy as usual. Some shops were closed. That is odd.
She found one coffee bar that was open and ordered an extra large cappuccino.
The barista said something along the lines of having a shit day and change your bun. It did not really register with Robin.
While waiting for the metro, she noticed some oddities. No one was dressed for work, at least not the people who would usually take her metro to the business district. Generally, there were more ties and suits on this platform.
Just as Robin thought the metro would fail to arrive, she heard it approaching. Inside, someone was playing loud music. People were dancing and singing. Wearing odd outfits. A beautifully dressed girl was picking her nose and looking around bored. Where the hell am I? Am I on a TV show? It would be typical for Diana to apply me for such a program.
She sat next to an elderly woman, scolding the man next to her. Robin jumped at the curses the old lady threw around. Robin took a sip of her cappuccino and chose to ignore everyone. In the corner of her eye, she saw two men fighting each other. People jostled around the fight, screaming, encouraging, even betting on the possible winner.
The woman opposite asked Robin point blank why in God’s name she was wearing black when she could wear whatever she wanted. Then, the woman invited Robin over to her house to do stuff Robin did not even want to do with Neil.
Robin started to panic and fidgeted in front of the metro door, anxious to get out of the metro. But on the platform, more curiosities awaited her. A tall, dark man was ballet dancing. People walking passed and cursed at him or made fun of him. Others applauded him or cried. Hmm, a bit much guys. Where is that TV show host? What’s his name again? Robin thought as she hurried upstairs and outside.
Unfortunately for Robin, it did not end there. She came across even weirder situations and people. By now she felt uneasy and did not think she was in a TV show anymore. She would ask Neil; he would know what was going on. They had a strategy meeting scheduled now.
She was sure the moment she entered her office, in which she found Neil naked on her desk. Robin dropped her coffee and purse and let out a weak squeak.
“Hi Robin, today I decided I must go for it. I couldn’t take it any longer. I have to have you. And I know you want it too. I’ve been waiting for months to rip you out of that tight suit.”
For the first time in her life, she was lost for words. Am I dreaming? She pinched herself to make sure she was awake. Positive.
“Neil, get off of my desk and put some damn clothes on!”
Robin was confused and scared. Why is everyone so honest and true? She wondered if people had lost all their inhibitions and she had an idea. Then it dawned on her – might everyone be showing their honest and true selves? Am I having one of those lucid dreams in which I know I am dreaming but I have control of my dream itself? She took a gamble. “Neil, do you think I am hot?”
“Oh yes, I do!” He answered her naughtily.
Robin shuddered at this version of Neil. “Do you think I am a good boss?”
“Well, no. You are way too distant from your employees. Sometimes you are mean to them. You ask too much of them and don’t lead them well enough. Also, I think you can show more compassion and your true colors. I was there you know, last night in the pub when you were dancing. My god was that a different side of you. And a wonderful one, I might add.”
Robin laughed to herself. He was too honest. Could it really be true that people had somehow lost their inhibitions? This should be fun.
She left her office and Neil in his birthday suit and walked to her boss’s office. His receptionist was not even there. The boss himself sat back, feet on his desk. He whispered sweet nothings in his phone.
“I quit, you moron. This company could use some spice and fun.” Robin said calmly.
Her boss responded, “No problem, we are almost bankrupt anyway. I was just about to let half of you go. Have a nice life.”
Robin sniggered. This was too much.
No one in the office was really working. Some people were playing a game of twister, some were drinking. The guys in marketing she spoke to yesterday stroked each others hair and lay on the sofa. The head of HR was playing the flute. There lay beer cans and wine bottles scattered across desks. People dressed oddly. Someone yelled at her that she looked ridiculous. At that, Robin undid her bun and waved her hair. Some people whistled.
As she left the office, she called Diana. After she picked up, Diana started a rant about a party that was supposed to be given right now, in a huge mansion by the lake. Diana invited Robin to join her. It was not even nine o’clock in the morning.
Her Uber driver was a woman who talked passionately about some guru from India she was following. She was doing everything she could to persuade Robin to join her following. Robin was happy when she finally arrived at the mansion. What she saw there was beyond her comprehension.
It seemed the whole city had been invited. There were people everywhere. The mansion looked like a castle. It was immense, surrounded by a 2000-acre estate that ended at the lake. There were multiple pools, hot tubs, food trucks, small and big stages for music, there was an entire maze. There were people everywhere, like ants crawling on a sweet pastry discarded in the park. This looks awesome, Robin thought.
Robin felt kind of scared that morning in the metro, this was like that, but times a hundred. This party was no ordinary house party; it was like a festival. People were drinking and smoking everywhere. They gathered around stages where some people performed music, stand-up comedy, and even plays. Only this was no ordinary festival, this one definitely crossed some boundaries. Many people did not wear any clothes or left little to the imagination. Drugs were being taken out in the open for everyone to see. Robin saw people having sex out in the open, and definitely not very discreetly in some corners just out of sight. But no one seemed to care.
It took her some time before Robin had finally found Diana in the ballroom of the castle, dancing and even more intoxicated than usual. On her way to the castle, Robin had encountered other friends, some of her former high school classmates (who undeniably were more expressive that she remembered), and even two of her younger cousins (completely off the wagon). This was surely a lot to process for Robin, and she did not even have anything to drink yet. It was time to join these silly people.
Since everyone was open and at ease with him or herself, having no inhibitions, Robin decided to have some fun in this new and crazy world.
“Diana darling, I think you should be more careful with the booze. Also, you deserve a great guy, but you will not find one at the pub the way you act almost every night.”
Those two sentences alone were enough for Diana to howl with tears, hugging Robin like a little girl. Through her sobs, Diana told Robin it was just her way of defending herself, that she used alcohol to lose both her inhibitions and to attract guys, but also to be someone she is not.
“Can I join your hug ladies, I need one. No one touches me.” A bald guy stood next to them, with a weird grin and his arms wide open. He winked at Robin. She cringed, gave Diana a kiss on her head and left her with the bald guy.
Just as Robin was about to explore the party, her favorite Whitney song came up. Should I? Oh what the heck. She walked towards the DJ and asked for a microphone. She kicked off her high heels and walked to the stage in the ballroom. Just do what you do at home, Robin, no one cares. With that, she started singing and dancing like she was at home with no one watching. It felt great.
After she had finished, most people applauded and cheered. People complimented her on her voice and dance moves. However, there were plenty of people who insulted her as well. There was no false praise in this world or dream or whatever she was in today.
At the bar, she knocked back a shot of vodka to take the edge off. A tall blond man, who looked like he had spent more time in the gym than at work, approached her, offering a puff of a big joint.
Maybe today was the day to do everything she would usually not dare to, or would usually find inappropriate. She took some puffs from the joint. The smell of hash lingered in the smoke clouds surrounding her and Mr. Baywatch. Almost immediately, Robin felt her muscles relax and becoming heavy. Her mind became clouded, but with a newfound interest in her surroundings and her brain was racing with thoughts and ideas.
Mr. Baywatch was talking about something, but Robin was not listening. She bought two shots of vodka and drank hers at once. Then, she kissed him, to his pleasant surprise, only to leave him after a few seconds to explore the party.
Robin walked through the castle, amazed at what she saw. Rooms were decorated like castles should be: portraits of distinguished looking men and women hung on the wall, overlooking the wild and free fellow humans. On the walls were deer antlers and swords. The furniture was old-fashioned, with lots of wood, stone and leather materials.
People were touchier and more affectionate towards another. In the world she was used to, people kept their distance. Not here, people were all standing close to one another. Robin peered into every room she encountered, only to find a different scenario in every room. In one, a small band was playing songs, with people lying on the floor and in the bed, listening. In another people were all over each other playing, like a human pyramid, occupied in a game Robin did not understand. She found a room with a silent disco, in which she stayed for a while, dancing.
Suddenly she noticed a couple behind her that apparently followed her ever since the ballroom. Robin stopped and turned around.
“Why are you following me?”
“We’ve chosen you.” The woman replied.
“For what?” Robin said in surprise.
“To join us in the bedroom.” The man said in a silky voice.
At that Robin laughed so hard, she could not remember the last time she laughed like that. When she got over herself, the couple was gone. Thank god.
In the library, Robin spoke to a woman her age. Apparently, she was the daughter of the owner of the castle. Robin learned that her parents lived abroad and bought the house as an investment and mostly rented it out through AirBnB. Her name was Peggy.
Suddenly, Peggy started sobbing. She told Robin she was unhappy at her job, with her dull husband, with her strict parents and the fact that she had so much to live up to with her dad. Robin put an arm around her and told her she was struggling with the same issues, but that she struggled more with being so many different versions of herself in every different situation. Peggy nodded but said that was not necessary anymore.
“Just be who you are.” The woman said with a weak smile. Then, she leaned forward to kiss Robin. Robin let it happen, but it was not her thing, kissing girls.
A big woman, wearing a purple bathing suit tapped them both on their shoulders. She was probably well into her sixties. The stout woman held out her hand to show them a handful of orange, monkey shaped pills.
“What are they?” Robin asked in surprise.
“X, you’ll love it. Haven’t tried it before girls?”
Both girls nodded no, and then took one each with a sip of champagne.
The heiress of the castle kissed Robin on the cheek and thanked her for listening. Waiting for the pill to kick in, they were watching the people wandering around the library.
Robin noticed everyone was very expressive. No one was holding back on their emotions. The difference was striking with the real world in which people should receive Oscars for their performances of being someone they were not. People were in deep conversation or reading a book by the fire, many danced their asses off, some were playing a board game.
After a while both Robin and Peggy noticed the effects of the pills kicking in. They really ought to dance! They set out for the dancefloor, dancing with each other. Robin felt good, content and loved.
Peggy told Robin she was into girls, but that she was afraid of what her father would think of it.
Robin told Peggy she secretly loved her co-worker, but still had not let him know.
“You know what, let’s both go after what we want tonight!” Robin said excitedly and very fast.
They hugged and left. Robin was going to text Neil if he could come and meet her in an hour in the ballroom. First, she needed to find Diana and the others. She felt a sudden urge to tell them she loved them and appreciated them for who they were.
Walking through the castle, Robin could not help but feel anxious. What am I doing here? Why is everyone so weird? Why can’t I act normal and is everyone looking at me? She needed to lie down to catch her breath. Then everything started to get blurry. Drunk, stoned, and whimsy, Robin fell asleep in a room where people were listening to someone reading a short story out loud.
When Robin opened her eyes, she saw Neil, Diana and Jess’s heads above her. She was in a bed and still felt funny. She smiled at them.
“I love you all so much.” She said with a weird grin.
The girls kissed her on the cheek and then left her with Neil.
Diana shouted at the other people in the room to piss off and hang out somewhere else.
Neil lay next to Robin, stroking her face.
“Sorry if my action this afternoon made you uncomfortable. I guess it was my way to say that I like you. Well, more than like you.” Neil said with a wink.
Robin had to dig into her memory to try to recover what happened that afternoon. Abruptly, it came back to her and she started laughing. “Well, I like you too, Neil, but don’t expect me to lie down naked on your desk anytime soon.”
Neil grabbed her hand and kissed it softly. “Let’s get you home.”
Neil supported Robin on the way out of the castle. She was a little drowsy and unsteady on her feet. They were quiet in the cab. Robin dozed off. When they reached her apartment, Neil guided her to her bed. After he made sure she was sound asleep, he left.
Robin fell asleep, but she woke up regularly, not feeling tired at all. She could still hear faint noises. She thought about her day. How extremely weird it was, but also how fun it was and liberating. She wondered if tomorrow would be the same or if it was all a dream. Or a weird drug infused trip. She learned many things today.
But the most important thing she learned was how to let go of her fear. Her fear to be herself. To stop living a life narrated to her by other’s expectations. To stop holding on to a so-called reputation in society that hinders our true self-expression.
She should not be a slave to her own fears or the fear set upon her by others anymore. Today felt like all her different Robin personas had melted into one.
Robin just hoped she could find the courage to get back into society and taking the spotlight in everyone’s masked existence, to show them not to fear to be themselves. If she would ever get back to the ‘regular’ world – although this world was fun and educational – society could not function at all if there were no inhibitions, no rules. At that last thought, Robin fell into a deep sleep.
Robin felt ill at ease. Would today be as weird as it was yesterday? Or would everything be back to normal? She hoped for the latter. She decided to just go to work and see what she would find there. If she still had her job. If everyone was acting the way they usually did. If Neil had any clothes on.
Her trip to work was as it usually was. She got her coffee from her favorite coffee bar (without being hissed at). She stood on the platform with people wearing similar uniforms as she was wearing. Only today, Robin did not wear her hair in a tight bun, nor did she wear a jacket. She had only applied a little bit of make-up, and no usual red lipstick.
The people in the metro were minding their own business. Gazing at their phones, heads down, listening to music, completely shut off from the other passengers.
As Robin approached the office entrance, her heart skipped a beat. She felt nervous. Would the others remember what had happened yesterday? Would Neil? Her heart skipped another beat.
She walked through the office, everything was neat and clean. People were working diligently behind their desks. There was no fooling around, no drinking or cursing.
When she opened her office door, Neil was standing there holding a bunch of documents in his hands.
“Morning Robin, shall we start right away? I have another appointment in half an hour.” Neil said as he smiled at her.
“Neil? What are you doing here? Listen, about last night–“
“We have our strategy meeting, remember? And about last night, I must say I quite enjoyed you and your friends singing and dancing. It proofed I was right.”
He obviously did not remember what happened yesterday. Had yesterday started again? Robin thought confused. “What are you talking about, Neil?”
“The Spice Girls performance, of course! I knew you weren’t as stiff as you present yourself at the office. No offense.”
“Aha. Well, none taken.” Robin laughed. Her laughter turned into a roar. She took the documents out of Neil’s hands and threw them on her desk.
“Come, let’s have breakfast together and reschedule your appointment. I’ll tell you a bit more about who Robin really is.”
- The End -
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