A Sample Wordless Conversation

Yesterday, I wrote about silent conversations, but there really wasn’t much of a chance to show what I meant. Today, I’m not going to tell you more; I’m going to show you, with a wordless conversation I created as a writing exercise for my game about half a year ago.

The dark-haired girl stands in the middle of the office, a tall stool in front of her; she leans her left elbow on it, her briefcase clutched firmly in her dangling right hand. Her audience sits in a not-quite-arc around her: an older man seated behind the main desk, a veiled figure standing behind him; on the chair on their right, a younger, blonde woman perches, flipping an ink brush between the fingers of her left hand, while on the chair to the left of the desk, another woman sits, this one in a long jacket, her auburn hair in a tight bun and a pile of documents in her lap.

The girl looks over her audience and begins to speak. At first, there isn’t much response, just the swishing of brush on silk as the auburn-haired woman takes notes, but as the girl continues they lean in closer; the blonde woman ceases toying with her brush, and the one in the jacket keeps writing but ceases paying attention to the straightness of her lines. After half a minute of the increased attention, the girl stops leaning on the stool; her posture becomes more rigid than straight, and she brings her briefcase forward to grip the handle with both hands. More time, and her sentences begin to shorten; several times her right foot, the one she isn’t putting as much weight on, twitches ever so slightly backward.

When she finishes speaking, there is a moment of silence. Then the blonde woman leans forward, gives her a smile, and and asks a single question, extending her right hand from being curled up under her chin to a half-beckoning, half offering gesture. The girl nods, shifts her weight backwards onto her right foot (decreasing her apparent height slightly), and, face downturned but eyes still raised to meet her audience, gives a short response.

It’s hard to tell who responds more quickly to this, the auburn-haired woman or the man behind the desk; the former leaps to her feet, and only by sheer reflex manages to keep her materials in order and off the ground. The latter puts both hands down on the desk and stands, leaning on them and directing his attention straight ahead. The veiled figure makes what might be a shrug and takes a step forward, moving to a position just behind the desk.

The girl finishes her step backwards, then swings her briefcase onto the stool, flicking it open and hunching herself behind it. From the case she removes four rolls of silk, each sealed with a dollop of green wax, and holds them out in front of her. The auburn-haired woman sets her documents aside, the most recent on top so that the ink can dry; she takes a scroll, slashes a fingernail through the wax and lets it unroll. The blonde woman rises to her feet and picks up a second, delicately peels off the wax and lets the scroll unwind slightly as it rolls into her palm. Then the girl places the other two on the desk in front of her, each about in line with each of the people behind the desk.

The old man’s eyes narrow as he reads, the scroll flat on his desk. The blonde woman, the top of her scroll pinned tightly between her fingers and the body lying flat on her palm, tilts her head slightly and maintains an air of nonchalance, but she begins to blink more and more regularly as she reads over it, with increasing vehemence. The auburn-haired woman’s scroll is cradled in her elbows, stretching across her forearms and dangling over the tips of her fingers; as she looks over it, her teeth unclench, and she ceases to lean forward quiet as much, her eyes merely flowing over the text rather than flicking back and forth. The veiled figure is expressionless.

It is the veiled figure who finishes first, and rolls the tube back up, setting it on the desk. The old man is second, and goes back for another reading, this time keeping his expression neutral. Then the auburn-haired woman finishes; she briskly rerolls hers, then reorganizes her materials while she waits for the last to catch up. Which isn’t long afterwards, slowly turning the scroll in her hands to reroll it. During the reading, the girl has been rearranging her own materials within the case, despite the fact that they were in perfect order when she started; she looks up at the sound of folding silk. The old man also takes that as the cue to hold off on finishing his second read, and looks up.

Again, the veiled figure makes the first move, asking a single question; as the girl responds to it, she straightens up and accompanies her response with emphatic, two-handed gestures. Both women begin asking different questions at the same time; after a series of punctuated starts and stops, the auburn-haired woman waves a hand for the other to continue, and the other does, running a hand along the edge of the desk to punctuate her words. The girl shakes her head rapidly. The old man leans forward again, palms on the desk, and says something; halfway through the girl’s response, he raises his hands, slams them down, and shakes his head firmly. His veiled companion places a hand on his shoulder, and the auburn-haired woman steps around to stand obliquely behind the younger girl.

The girl looks up and behind her; the woman’s head dips ever so slightly, and the girl looks back forward and continues her explanation with increased vehemence. The blonde woman and the old man exchange glances, then nod to her.

She finishes and pauses for a moment; there is no sign of movement from anyone else in the room, just watching her or each other. She then delivers a hasty last line, nods to the group in turn (first the veiled figure, then the old man, then the blonde woman, then as she’s turning to leave, the auburn-haired woman), then retrieves her case and walks quickly out of the room. Just as her hand touches the door, the old man raises a hand in her direction and says something; she tentatively looks over her shoulder. One more remark from the old man, and the girl nods, turns to give him a full ninety-degree bow, then opens the door and jogs out of the room, closing it near-soundlessly behind her.

So—what do you think? What can you figure out about what just happened and how these people usually relate to each other? Does it work without words?

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