Office cubicles and postcards (Part II)

One of the more tolerable tasks of Carin’s new position was that twice a day she had to walk down to deliveries at the back of the building to hand over and then later collect papers from sun-beaten old Sean. He was sweet and always gave her an elbow bump every time he saw her, but it was the legitimate break from not only her desk but also her landing that she appreciated. Now, if anyone whinged about having come to speak with her and not finding her at her desk, she could say, “Oh really? What time abouts was that? I was probably downstairs at that moment doing paperwork with Sean.” (Sometimes when colleagues came to her cubicle to discuss things she was in fact there; they just didn’t see her tucked away under her desk, taking a nap.)

The logistics department was on the third and top floor at the back of the building. If she swivelled in her chair, which she was known to do, she could see out the window down onto the trucks in the loading zone below. There was a stairwell just next to the door to their communal workspace that would lead her straight down to Sean’s matchbox office. She could be there and back in a minute flat if need be.

It was just before noon when Carin stood up to do her Sean-related errand, but she then remembered she had a question to ask Sienna Smith in marketing (a department on the south side of the building, second floor) that had the potential to make or break the entire company, both locally and internationally. By the time she reached Sienna’s door, however, she’d forgotten the question. So she went in, sat down and asked after Sienna’s two kids.

Ten minutes later, having ensured all was well in the Smith household, Carin meandered through the second floor towards the stairwell. If you’d asked her how, she couldn’t have explained it, but her route somehow took her past Hlengiwe, who worked at the back of the call centre. Hlengi was a poster child for insomnia. Right then she sat cradling the phone between her ear and shoulder, hands hanging limply off her chair’s armrests. Carin slowed down enough for them to exchange eyebrow raises and a sisters-in-arms high-five as she passed the latter’s desk. She could hear Hlengi’s resigned string of “Uh-huh’s?” and “Oh really’s?” as she walked away.

Carin made a mental memo to email Hlengi when she was back at her desk about a coffee break later that day so they could discuss more escape plans. Her friend always had fantastical entrepreneurial schemes, and just talking about resigning and going into business together made Carin feel lighter.

While paper-towelling her hands in the second-floor bathroom and inspecting herself in the mirror for any wrinkles around her eyes, Carin realised she hadn’t actually brought the papers for Sean with her, which meant going back upstairs to get them. She went and fetched them, then walked down to see Sean, stopping along the way on the first floor to steal milk and sugar from the bigwigs’ kitchenette.

Sean was standing outside his office. He smiled when he saw her, bumped her arm with his elbow, took the papers from her, and nodded that all was good.

So twenty minutes after she had first stood up, Carin plodded back up the stairs to logistics. She made herself a plain black coffee, and then plonked into her chair. Leaning back to put her feet on her desk, she proceeded to stare sourly at the postcards on her cubicle wall. Last she had heard he was living in some small Bhutanese village with a name nobody could ever be expected to pronounce. He didn’t write much on those postcards, what with his hurried, loose scrawl, but it was clear he was doing well. He was doing very well.

She twisted her head to gaze out the window at the massive 70s-era square block of a building that pushed down on the earth on the other side of the parking lot. She knew it was the twin of the building in which she presently sat, and had been sitting in for a quarter of her life. The thought was more than a little horrifying, especially when it was juxtaposed with the wild open spaces portrayed on the postcards in front of her. A smarter person would be in Bhutan right now, she told herself, shallow straw hat on, walking stick in hand, Derek’s smiling face to look at, and fears of the unknown being blown far away by a cold and determined Himalayan wind….

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  1. The letter (Part II) | Living my write life - February 7, 2013

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