The Office                                 September, 2007 


Would she make it today? She typed even faster, so fast that her fingers were getting stiffer and she had to go back several times to fix her typos.  “Hurry up!” she yelled at herself. “Enter!”, “Approved!”, “Done!”, “Turn off everything!”, “Pick up and throw away!”, “Grab your purse and hit the road!”, “Run..!”

She typed as if her life was rushing away, alternating her sight between the clock in front of her and the glass door. That imperturbable clock marked 4:45 p.m., and the little hands moved in unison with her dancing fingers, as if they wanted to squeeze out, as soon as possible, the precious minutes that she counted on to move forward with her task.  In her desk, mountains of paper of several colors and textures waited until their fate was decided: at some point they would be signed, copied, mailed, filed, recycled or trashed. Many of them had been in the same spot for about a week. The phone rang for the fifth time. “Hello, yes, no, he’s not… can I take a message...What did you say your name was…Can you spell that for me…? And then, holding the phone between the right ear and the shoulder, with one hand scribbling down the message and with the other, clicking the mouse, this multi task professional managed to hear, see, write and surf the web at the same time. “Right, yes, my name is…thank you and have a nice afternoon”. Click.

 

 She took some air. “Breath if you want to get home alive today”, she thought. But she wasn’t so sure about that anymore. “Where was I?” she now talked to herself. Oh, yeah, eight reams of paper, $35.00 each, to be delivered in…Bip, bip! The fax barked. She turned around and saw how the device spat out another sheet of paper for the collection. “To Mr. Livaty, please answer ASAP”. Oh, God, what to do? Call him and read it for him?  Or put it in his desk so that he can ask me later? (He never bothered in reading it himself, but always called her regardless of what she was busy with). What if he gets mad if I don’t call him? What if I interrupt something? Well, I’ll think about it later. And she topped the pile in her desk with the newcomer document, making a mental note to remember about it later.

 

  She tried to focus again in the screen monitor, but she couldn't, because her stomach suddenly started to rumble with hunger.  But no, you can't eat here, because the crumbs attract bugs and they’ll ruin the assets of the company.  She sighed again, resigned, and decided to ignore the stomach and its laments of undeserved torture.  She kept typing when she discovered that the order was wrong: She had to go again to the little storage room and count one by one the left over paper reams.  She stood up of the chair, relieved a little by doing so, because her neck was braced, her back was stiff, and her legs were almost struck by a thrombosis. Above that, her bladder called her attention sending a warning to her brain. She had to go right now unless she wanted to pass out in a urine puddle. 

 

“Five minutes will be enough”, she calculated. She blocked the computer; so that no inexistent shadow will see the Purchase Order she was preparing or read the messages that no one but her understood. She notified the monitoring center what they already knew, for they had seen her standing up through the camera hidden in the fake plant on the corner of the office that always watched her. She forwarded all the calls to another telephone extension.  She cleared the desk a little so that the mess was less noticeable, and went out running in long steps towards the precious sanctuary that was the restroom.  Here, so many tears were spilled behind cubicles, makeup was retouched over and over, tear up clothes got fixed with emergency sewing kits, and the latest gossip exploded, brushed with the colors of sarcasm. Sadly, there wasn’t even a window to look outside.  “I wonder if it’s sunny”, she thought.  She couldn’t remember the last time she saw the sun shine on a working day.

 

  Sitting in the toilet, she lost her sight in the geometric engraving of the paving stone between her feet, and asked herself once again if all this trouble to reach her stars was worth it. She compared profits against costs, added and subtracted here and there, and finally came down to the same dubious conclusion: there was no better company around, she was making more money than ever in her life, her name was starting to be recognized in the highest-level society, her family was pleased with her job, and best of all, each month her savings account was growing bulkier and bulkier.

 

  But the bags under her eyes were also getting bulkier: so many days getting up earlier to get to work before everybody else and so many nights of no sleep, thinking in what was waiting to be done tomorrow.  When she managed to close her eyes for a few hours, nightmares assaulted her. Sometimes she woke up without breath while the executive chair was locking her between its arms, squeezing her lungs; and others, the computer screamed at her, exploding her eardrums while the paper shredder turned crazy and ripped her clothes, leaving her naked and helpless.

 

  When Sundays finally arrived, she used her blessed free hours trying to get back some of her sleep, then going to the beauty bar, then washing and ironing her working outfits and finally preparing snacks for Monday.  These snacks ended in the trash many times, because her stressed stomach rejected them at the second bite.

 

She pulled down the chain, looked at the mirror, counted another white hair that popped out of her scalp to join the others, and launched herself upstairs, stopping first in the little storage room to count the reams.  “Two, three, alright, then I need another seven”, she told herself, and kept walking.

 

All the other workmates looked at her, exchanged glances, and knew what the other was thinking.  They felt sorry for her, but nobody said anything, fearing to loose their jobs or their social status. “Poor girl, she’s the third one this year, do you think she'll last another month?” and so the bets were placed to see how long her body, her mind and her spirit would endure. 

 

Back at the office, she restarted the computer, frozen in her absence, and resumed the typing.  She found a message left by her: “Remember to call Mike about the quotation for the cards before tomorrow”.  And she started again to juggle: her eyes and her left hand prepared the purchase order, and her right hand and shoulder dialed and held the phone for the quotation guy. 

 

          The clock now marked 4:55 p.m.  “It's almost 5:00 pm.”, she thought. “So what?” she addressed herself in her mind. For the past two months she’d been leaving, at most, at 7:00 p.m.; and this last week, at 8:00 p.m.  All of this because of her loathed boss, who always arrived at the precise moment when everybody was either shutting down the office or turning on the car.  He seemed to have nothing else to do with his life but work, but for him, work meant getting drunk with power:  to order, to direct, to yell and to stomp on everyone under him, with the sole purpose of feeling omnipotent.  On the other hand, he treated his superiors as supreme beings; he accounted them for his actions with religious punctuality.  He offered and provided help at all times and places, even with favors that had nothing to do with his company duties. And of course, the recipient and channel of his orders, proverbs, wishes, politics, and communications, was the administrative assistant.

 

That's why every afternoon she held the hope of getting out of there at least before the sun settled down, as it was meant to be for humanity. Would she make it today? She typed even faster, so fast that her fingers were getting stiffer and she had to go back several times to fix her typos.  “Hurry up!” she yelled at herself. “Enter!”, “Approved!”, “Done!”, “Turn off everything!”, “Pick up and throw away!”, “Grab your purse and hit the road!”, “Run..!”

 

But it was too late.  The scent of a perfume by all well known was already infiltrating through the ventilation ducts.  The silence that precedes the storm fell around her.  The clock marked 5:00 p.m. Her heart sensed what was coming before she did and started galloping with an incredible speed she no longer thought could reach. The glass door opened and closed with a crash. The provider of her savings made his triumphal entrance, stomping on those dreaded guard boots.

 

“Come, I need you”.  No hello, good afternoon, how are you.

She swallowed dryly, looked again at the clock, that now marked 5:01 p.m., stopped for another second to look at him and prayed for an angel to whisper in his ear some inspiration of mercy towards her, but she ruled out that possibility, because the newcomer was atheist and trusted no one, including his shadow.

“Yes, sir”, She said.

“It's the same old thing”, she thought.

 

Spanish version

 

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