I’m in the Quiet Room and doing some homework on my laptop when he enters, this heavily-bearded old dude in a baseball cap, open raincoat, and khaki shorts. He doesn’t look dirty or homeless, but man, does he stink. I watch him via the reflection of my unnecessarily glossy laptop screen as he settles into one of the armchairs behind me and just sits there…stinking. Like, he’s not reading anything or on a laptop or even using his phone. He’s simply watching the room, smiling, smelling putrid, silently insinuating a thousand missed showers.
Across the way, at one of the other tables, this Asian guy holds his nose while he packs up his things and makes a beeline for the door. I’m seriously considering doing the same when Summer messages me:
summer_girl: What’s up, babe?
evaluscious: Studying at the library.
summer_girl: Yuck. Books.
evaluscious: I’m more worried about the smelly guy who just walked into the room.
summer_girl: Ew, smelly like how?
evaluscious: Like the world’s dirtiest armpits, crotches, and butt cracks joined forces to rally against the soap industry.
summer_girl: What’s this guy’s deal?
evaluscious: Dunno. He’s just sitting in here.
I don’t get it—why this guy’s in the Quiet Room, but, more specifically, why human BO is so rank in the first place. A dirty dog stinks, but a dirty person reeks. Like, if I had to choose between hanging with Smelly Man or a dog that hasn’t been washed in just as long, I’d definitely pick the dog. Why is that?
I ask Summer as much, watching with envy as a second patron defects from the Quiet Room.
summer_girl: I read somewhere that we sweat more than animals do. Sweat is basically food for all the odor-causing bacteria on our skin.
A tiny blow-horn sounds behind me, accompanied by a fresh waft of stink.
evaluscious: ZOMFG, Smelly Man just farted.
summer_girl: And you’re still there because…?
Oh, I want to leave. I really do. In my laptop screen reflection, it looks like Smelly Man is smiling directly at me, waiting for me to acknowledge his stench.
evaluscious: I don’t want him to think I’m leaving because of him.
summer_girl: Who cares?
Don’t laugh, but here’s my problem: every time I’m about to get up and leave the Quiet Room, someone else beats me to the punch, and I hesitate, not wanting it to look like I’m participating in some kind of mass exodus. One, it’ll make it awkward every time I see Smelly Man from now on—he’ll know I was offended, and that I left specifically to get away from him. Two, doing so would be admitting defeat in this twisted olfactory game of his. This is a public study room, not Smelly Man’s own private domain. I shouldn’t have to leave just because this gnarly old geezer can’t control his funky BO—
—I need to make it look like my exit has nothing to do with him, like I’m going for a drink of water, or maybe I need to look up something in the stacks, or I need to get better Wi-Fi by moving closer to the library’s router—oh, my God. Listen to me. I sound like Theo, totally overanalyzing the situation, making a big deal out of something small. Smelly Man’s probably one of those guys who doesn’t realize he reeks, or who has a glandular problem. Or maybe he’s allergic to chlorine in tap water. Nobody’s a big enough asshole that they’d intentionally sit in a small room and stink everyone out just to do it.
This is dumb. Of course Smelly Man doesn’t care if I come or go. Even if he does, what do I care if he cares? I’m going leave because I feel like it—
—yep, I’m definitely leaving. I slam my laptop shut, heft my backpack, get up from my seat—and in doing so, I inadvertently glance at Smelly Man.
He makes direct eye contact with me, smiles, ruffles his raincoat, and says, “Checkmate.”