He started his first day by unwrapping a pre-made sandwich he had taken out of his back pack. It was 9:00 am. Jenny knelt beside him and took control of the mouse, as she went through the firm’s IT systems. He stared vacantly, transfixed by the blinking computer screen, as he took the first bite out of the white triangle of pressed ham and margarine.
Asha sat down in her chair and glanced over at him and the end to her freedom. Being a Restricted Practitioner, one rung up from the bottom of the ladder, Asha was acutely aware that the luxury of having an office to herself could only last so long. However, with little more than a day’s notice of his arrival, she couldn’t help but feel a little like she was being persecuted by the firm for an undisclosed crime.
Who was this guy, anyway? Jenny had snuck him into the office while Asha was brewing her morning coffee, so she didn’t have a chance to introduce herself. Jenny had played some kind of prank, positioning him in the room while Asha was away so as to confuse Asha into believing he had been there the whole time. However, Asha knew the truth. Even if yesterday’s freedom already felt like a dream, a distant memory. And now, Asha now had to come to terms with the facts: he was to remain her office buddy for the foreseeable future.
Asha sipped her coffee and went back to work, checking the usual websites for the latest celebrity gossip. After ten minutes of intensive browsing, Asha flicked over to her Windows Outlook. Asha kept her hand on the mouse – a feeble attempt at pretending to browse her work emails – and looked over her shoulder to spy on her new cell mate.
Poor Jenny was on the ground, kneeling on one knobbly leg, cheekily flashing its naked calf from underneath Jenny’s long, grey school-mistress skirt. However, Jenny seemed far more uptight than her bare leg suggested. Jenny scratched her greyish-brown beehive and wiggled her gigantic, horn-rimmed spectacles, as if adjusting the focus on a sight. Whatever it was that she was trying to demonstrate on the computer screen, Jenny appeared to be failing spectacularly.
Asha couldn’t help but feel sorry for crabby old Jenny. What kind of man would let an old lady kneel on the floor while he relaxed in a chair? Although, God forbid if Jenny actually ever heard Asha calling her old!
Jenny bashed the mouse against the desk like an old television set, as if the physical manifestation of her frustrations would filter down the nerve-like ending of the mouse cord and into the brain-box that was the CPU. Asha giggled sympathetically, bemused at the idea that Jenny was the firm’s resident IT guru. She contemplated offering to help, however she didn’t want Jenny to think she was being patronising. Asha would never have heard the end of it. Having reasoned her way out of altruistic thought, Asha resigned herself to sit back and enjoy the show.
Jenny took off her spectacles and let them hang over her red and green woolen jumper by the plastic chain around her neck. She let out a sigh, which seemed to indicate some kind of small victory. Jenny rubbed her eyes, took a moment, and then put her spectacles back on, returning her attention to the computer screen.
All the while, his gaze remained transfixed on the screen, completely unfazed and uninterested in Jenny’s exasperated state. His only distraction was his sandwich, which he bit at regular intervals.
His meal intrigued Asha. Who even eats a sandwich in the morning? And who thinks it is socially acceptable to eat a morning sandwich on the first day of your new job, during an IT presentation, conducted by a sweet, old thing? Perhaps he had issues with his blood sugar? He was unusually pale for a man who had just experienced a Perth summer.
And what, Asha wondered, was with his crew cut? Was he previously in the military? Or was he just a fan of Top Gun? Eighties power chords suddenly crashed in Asha’s mind; the theme tune to her sudden anxiety.
Asha turned back to her desk to pontificate her sudden hysteria. She tried to allay her fears. Asha knew that she was being irrational. After all, she hadn’t even had a chance to talk to him. She was judging him based on what: a sideways glance? Asha felt like a spoiled nine-year old, determined to reign over the destructor of the status quo. But she knew that her anger had been misplaced. He was an innocent bystander. It was the firm that failed to give her notice, and now her precious privacy had been vanquished before she had taken the chance to truly appreciate it. Asha decided that she would try to forget her first impressions and give him the benefit of the doubt until she at least had a chance to introduce herself.
She scrolled through her emails impatiently. Jenny could take hours to impart her worldly IT knowledge onto him. Asha sighed. She had realised that she would actually have to work for the time being. She opened one of the files next to her keyboard that she had been working on the day before. However, before she could even finish reading the first sentence, Asha’s boss entered her office. She could tell from his face that he was in one of his bi-weekly “everything-I-say-is-urgent-and-I-need-your-undivided-attention-right-now” moods. Before she could mutter “stomach cramps”, or any kind of excuse to deflect his wrath, Asha was already half way down St George’s Terrace heading for an appearance in Chambers before a Court Registrar.
* * *
Exhausted after fighting her way through a frighteningly more contentious court appearance than her boss forecast, Asha happily returned to the office just after noon. A simple consent order, her boss had promised. Unfortunately for Asha, the proposed consent orders were not so simple when the other party did not consent to them. Asha felt like she had earned her stripes trying to convince the Registrar to grant the orders and despite her failure, believed she was ready for a well-earned break.
Asha skipped through reception, down the corridor trenches and into her office sanctuary, which had been invaded by an intruder. There he sat, exactly where she had left him, sitting at his desk and staring intently at his screen. Asha sighed. She had completely forgotten about him and now she was in no mood for small talk. However, Jenny had left so Asha decided that she had no excuse to not talk to him. Other, of course, than being a complete bitch.
After exchanging pleasantries, Asha rummaged through her handbag to find her purse, with the intent of escaping the office for at least for 20 minutes to try and enjoy some lunch. With purse in hand, she turned to him to invite him along. A chance to suss him out.
As she turned, she saw that his backpack had resurfaced, although no sandwich appeared. This time he produced a large plastic bottle and a jar of some kind of powdered drink mix. He unscrewed the large plastic bottle and slowly placed seventeen pills, one by one, onto his desk.
“What’s with all the pills?”
“Wow. Why so many?”
“Oooooh, I just find that I get really tired and worn out toward the end of the week, you know?”
“Yeh, I don’t drink coffee or alcohol or any other impurities. My body is a machine.”
“So what are you drinking?”
“It’s a coffee substitute.”
“You mean decaf?”
“Something like that. I need to make sure everything that goes in will keep the machine performing. I go to the gym a lot to keep it serviced.”
Asha discretely gave him the once over. He wasn’t a fat man, but he wouldn’t be described by many as looking fit either. He certainly didn’t look like a gym buff. He was just a regular guy, perhaps a few inches taller than average height, with pasty white skin, a chocolate-brown crew cut, unusually stiff sitting posture, and a slight ponch of the belly.
“Well, I don’t think I could function without my coffee in the morning.”
“I do miss coffee sometimes, but I guess I just go crazy with it. And by Friday I feel quite tired .”
Asha tapped her fingers on her purse and looked at her shoes. His quick-fire admissions had successfully eliminated any immediate potential for natural small talk. Asha racked her brains, but came up with nothing. For forty-five excruciating seconds they lived in each other’s silence.
“I’m having a blood test on the weekend.”
Asha opened her mouth for a second and emitted the tiniest squeak, as she failed to verbalise any logical response. Returning her mouth to a close, Asha turned toward the door and headed out for lunch, alone, wondering exactly how long she should continue to give this Destructor of Freedom the benefit of the doubt.
This is the Chronicles of Creepy Pants.