Hana Shafi The Anonymous Dream

Most people have this secret dream; this dream where they walk into a bar and are greeted with cheers, this dream where heads turn to reveal the smiling faces of all these people who just adore them, where the bartender can give them their usual, where they are the life of the party. It’s nothing to be ashamed of; I too have this dream, my embarrassing fantasy of popularity and adoration. But lately, I’ve had a different dream, and this one’s so much better, because I actually get to live it. 

This is the dream of anonymity. Where I can walk into a bar or a coffee shop and see only strangers. This is the fantasy that only the big city can indulge, where it becomes less and less likely you’ll bump into work colleagues, old acquaintances, or just that group of assholes you hate seeing. I’ve started to realize that while seeing people you know can be comforting at times, identities come with expectations, and also, that small talk is the bane of my existence. 

When people know who you are, certain behaviour is expected of you, and every now and then, the burden of these expectations can become mentally straining. These constant expectations can make me feel like I have a fallen into a boring, stagnant stream of homogenous behaviour, made so much worse by generic “how are you’s? how’ve you been’s?” where no one ever really answers honestly. 

But when no one knows who you are, possibilities seem endless, and it suddenly feels like there’s room to breathe. It’s not that I ever really do much in these situations; I don’t mysteriously stroll into a bar with red lipstick and a black trench coat and give some fake sexy name. Really, I just take a seat and sketch or write something or read a book and yet even though there’s nothing particularly adventurous about this, it gives me a strange sense of relief. I don’t have to explain to anyone why I’m here or what I’m doing or whether any of this even vaguely pertains to my long and winding to-do list. I don’t have to fake a smile to remain civil with someone who I think is a pretentious snob.

When I walk around and see dozens of strangers, a few of them catch my eye and become stories in my head, and I’d like to think, or at least hope, that some stranger has made up some fantastical story about me. There’s something truly beautiful in the infinite possibilities of anonymity; even if these possibilities are never explored, it’s nice to know that they exist and that you’re in a place with total freedom and a clean slate. Plus, if you’re having an ugly day, not to worry, you’ll never see these folks again. 

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