Twelve of us, to start: seven women, five men. I don't introduce myself to the others, nor they to me. There is a powerful "eye on the prize" mentality cocooning me from them, a refusal to acknowledge that we are in this situation together. Maybe all of us understand this more than we are willing to admit. Avoiding eye contact, we uncomfortably shift our bodies on the prefabricated, sterile furniture, all gathered here in a waiting room that is too cold.
I try to imagine Alexandra here with me, wondering where she is right now. Instinctively, I reach for my phone, but it is gone. Electronic devices are not allowed in this room; they were all taken from us before we were allowed inside. There isn't a TV or even any magazines around to take our minds off of the wait. I wonder if this is the test.
We endure over an hour of nonchalant shivering before a door - one I hadn't noticed the entire time I'd been sitting here - slides open and sullen young man walks in. The man is accompanied by two armed guards. The mood shifts when we see handguns are now a part of the equation. I am here for the money they advertised, nothing more. I hope that this is also the case with my fellow test subjects. The man says his name is Dr. Cole, but nobody seems interested in what he calls himself. He removes a torn piece of paper from his pocket and reads three names. Two women and a man stand up.
Dr. Cole, his first group of volunteers, and the two guards exit through the hidden door.
More time passes, but now I have a blossoming imagination to keep me company. I wonder where the first group has gone, what they are doing. The post on the website said that we'd be paid at least once for the day, but possibly twice. It said the first part would be a "determining evaluation", which, at the time, sounded like a mental or physical test. But now I feel less certain. Some of these people have guns. I close my eyes, remembering my sweet Alexandra's parting words. Like nothing else, I wish that I had understood the meaning behind them at the time, that the true message would have found me then.
"If Burger King is willing to pay you that much to try a new chicken sandwich, you know it's probably not real chicken in it, right?"
The hidden door slides open again and Dr. Cole returns with one of the guards. The other guard and the first group of test subjects are nowhere to be seen. Someone has given the remaining guard a bloody nose; the front of his shirt is now ripped. He looks nervous, as does Dr. Cole, who shakily retrieves the torn paper from his pocket. The paper is spotted with a scarlet substance that I try my best to ignore. Dr. Cole clears his throat and calls out only one name this time. Mine.