So it didn’t quite go as planned.
All the clockwork perfection of 6 months ago were nowhere to be seen this time both inside and outside the selection board. For starters, we got caught in the summer vacation wave and ended up grossly overpaying for a shitty hotel room and I came down with a terrible, terrible, cold. There were nearly 196 of us this time, a sharp increase from the 147 last time around. There was chaos right from the beginning with shortages in seating and personnel, the officers each trying to improvise on their own crossing each other’s commands, the students shifting between buildings back and forth. The chest numbers weren’t age-wise either this time and I ended up being #136.
All the chaos and crowd was making me very queasy and suffocated. Granted, it was none of my fault and my job was just to do as told, however being the type of introvert that I am, uncertainties tire me out especially when I don’t have a sense of familiarity. I am surrounded by unknown people speaking languages I do not understand, the officer I recognise from last time are on different duties and obviously do not recognise me. Even though I have done this before, somehow the second time around it was a bit more overwhelming. Not allowed to pull out my phone, so as we were waiting for to be called in for the picture perception test, I focus on what must be going on back home and it cascades the train of thought into everything I could do in the next few days – there were fewer people to email this time, I had friends now in the same city I could hang out with the weekend after this ends and I wondered if I’d really be able to live like this for the next 2 years, and more or less the 14 years after that. Cut out from the world, following orders, constantly moving, constantly thrust in the middle of new people. I’ll miss both Captain Marvel and Avengers 4 and the entirety of phase four!
Perhaps the circumstances of the last 6 months had to do a lot with my state of mind then. Last time around, I had hope, I didn’t overthink it. I only thought about me in a cockpit, soaring high and nothing about the other aspects of military life. I imagined coming out of training after 2 years and people waiting for me, in joy. But now I could only focus on the loneliness of it all, walking out of training in 2 years and standing in a world that has moved on without me, completely unaffected by my absence. It led me to question if I would really belong in the air force or if I am there just out of fear of unemployment. For a split-second, I wished I would screened out so I waste no more of my time walking into a path I may not like later. My ambitions are different, I seek a sense of contentment. I do wish to change the world and make an impact, only my world is very small and centred around very few people. As I was going through this mental roller coaster, we were called in.
This time around, I saw the foggy picture and my mind went blank. There was definitely one old person, a sort of a typical bearded-beads all around the arms and neck type of sage, seated in the middle with a frowning man standing with his head bowed down at the left extreme. Okay maybe not ‘definitely’ but that’s what I saw. I had no clue what story to make of this and I had also completely ignored the right half of the image and my 30 seconds were up. I’m a compulsive liar, spinning stories at the drop of a hat is my thing, but somehow this time I had no stories to tell. I managed to fill half the page before we were called out. No worries, no one looks at the paper. I could always finish the story as I recited it. My discussion group was a doozy. I was second to last and it looked like they had all walked right out of a typical SSB training centre for all their stories had absolutely nothing to do with what was on the screen. They all saw three characters, apparently, there had been another man on the right half, all three of them in a positive mood, I call bullshit. The man on the left was most definitely distressed. And that was it. They just spun on whatever stories with three men. Regardless of whatever they saw in the picture. Most of the stories were typical military bait, with some retired officer doing good for his village. My turn came around and I finished my entire story under 30 seconds. I had no faith in it. The last guy who went after me was the only one who had also seen just 2 characters, one of which was in a bad mood. These coaching-centre dudes so badly want to stray away from anything negative and into the ‘good for society’ mode that they would hold no regard for the purposes of the actual test. What do I discuss with a group of people I hold no respect for? The moment the discussion phase began, there were at least six people speaking simultaneously at any given point in time. Two of them were completely quiet. The one next to me, the only other guy who also saw an old person in the image, kept trying to get the group to calm down but his cries of, “Friends, friends..” completely missed everyone’s ears. For a moment I tried joining him, asking people to try to maybe agree on the number of characters in the image but to no avail and for the rest of the session I leaned back in my chair smiling at the morons. None of us is making it in bruh. Once our 15 minutes was up, the officer asked us if we had reached a consensus and to nominate one person to recite it and four of them nominated themselves. The audacity! Not a word was discussed about anyone’s story and at that moment I so very deeply missed my group from last time. It began with chaos but very soon settled down into a very good conversation. This time was nuts. The officer patiently waited for us to settle down, and one of the self-nominating guys went ahead and nominated #132 to conclude. Funny thing is I’m pretty sure he meant 131 because 132 was one of the guys who remained silent throughout. A completely startled 132, who had no clue what the group had concluded went on to give what should probably go down in history as the least coherent way to string random words in English together. We were dismissed and when it was time to announce the results, I had my chest number already removed and folded to be handed over. All fifteen of us were sent home. Cool.
Where I should’ve felt disappointment, where I did feel disappointment last time around, now I felt only relief. This was not going to be the path for me. It was just one more hot plate that I had to touch to make sure it was indeed hot. We all know the waiter never lies.