I am a doctorate student researching homogeneous charge compress ignition engines. My campus is sparsely populated. It often feels as though we are characters in a post-apocalyptic robot drama. “Why?” you may ask. (Although, to be fair, you may also call into question my mental state, after all, we have just met.)
Let me defend my sanity, below is a picture of my campus.
The drab grey building decorated with just as dull brick stands imposing in a depressing contrast to the natural beauty of the site. As you approach the building, grey encompasses all else until you are desperately searching for colour amongst the infinite shades of grey. The hallways are barren. No flyers, posters, artwork, or other typical college hall decor is visible. Neither visible are the students typically present in the halls of any campus building. In this eery quiet, your footfalls echo with every step. Unconsciously, you step slower, lighter in hopes your steps would not pound in your ears like the dinosaurs in Jurrasic Park. (You know the scene: the ripples of the water push out followed by the deep, threatening sound of a terrifying foot falling heavily with each step.)
The only reasonable progression forward in your exploration seems to be up the stairs directly in front of your entry, but across a large space where a receptionist once sat, lonely and bored. You reach the top of the grey stairs, there must have been a sale on when it was time to paint this colossal shrine to the beauty of grey. You find that you are on the third floor, despite entering at the main entrance. Or maybe the door numbering system is as confusing as everything else has been in this building. The door plate reads “Graduate Students.”
Here is where the people are hidden, you think as you push open the door. Oh, it is a pull. You can never tell, can you?
Sixty-three cubicles the colour of angry clouds sit in rows of nine fill the open room before you. Windows higher than the cement panel drop ceiling are covered with charcoal curtains. Your eye scans the cubicles, searching for life. Alas, a student sits at his desk. His black hair shouting at you in the otherwise lifeless room. Desperate for conversation and thankful to the forged iron coloured carpet muting your steps, you cross the room and navigate the cubicle labyrinth until you reach the occupied cubicle.
“Hello?” Your voice is loud in your own ears. You realise the room is quiet, unnaturally so, like a library occupied by the dead. Your voice seems to have interrupted the occupants, disturbed them. As the occupant turns toward you, you realise he too appears grey.
He speaks, or you think he does. His lips moved, but the words were spoken so softly that you could hear nothing. You give him a questioning look. He repeats himself loud, his voice not more than a library whisper. The inner monologue in your mind seems louder than his words. As is the law of whispering, you speak back in a volume that matches his own,”How are you?” You realise you missed the volume completely, maybe you should think
As is the law of whispering, you speak back in a volume that matches his own,”How are you?” Well, you tried to match his own. Your voice betrays you and seems to scream out in comparison to his. Maybe if you try to murmur?
He seems to shrug. For a moment, you wonder how to interact further. Did you say something wrong? This was strange, right? You try to think of where to take the conversation from this painfully uncomfortable moment.
While you struggle, he turns back to his work and as he turns, you see the wire panel in his back you missed at a distance. The robotic humanoid continues at his workstation as if you never interrupted.
Okay, so the robot is an exaggeration. But, I am not 100% sure than the Ph.D student in the graduate student hall are not replaced one night by robots like a modern day changeling. But the interaction and description of the building are spot on.