Fire Exit

‘You know what your problem is?’ Hector says and ups his bid on a Suzuki Bandit with two minutes to go. ‘You’re not a team player.’

I’m losing my usual Monday morning game of ‘Balance the Inbox’. Outlook is a Hydra. For every email I dispatch another two translucent boxes announce themselves above my Taskbar. I pause during my fifth reply of the morning and look at him mid-sentence.

‘What do you mean “not a team player”? I am the team!’

‘Exactly!’ Hector puts his feet on my desk.

‘You’re contradicting yourself now,’ I say as one translucent box overlaps another.

Hector is very fortunate that we occupy the most envious seats in the office. With just the two of us tucked away next to the fire exit, Hector never has to perform a quick slight-of-mouse and swap his eBay, Facebook, and Amazon with Excel, Word, and Visio whenever anyone walks past. Whereas I am a falling tree in an empty forest. Without anybody witnessing my cluttered monitors, how I’m simultaneously coding and debuging software, writing and replying emails, my efforts go unnoticed.

‘I’m not contradicting myself,’ Hector says replying to a text message, ‘you’re not a team player because if you leave there won’t be a team. And therefore you’re selfish.’

I don’t know why I even told him, I guess I just wanted to tell somebody rather than harbouring this burning secret.

‘What you gonna do anyway?’ Hector likes some Michelle Keegan photos on Facebook.

‘I dunno. I could do lots of things,’ I say. Word’s table formatting function is being particularly obstinate and Hector’s increasing idleness isn’t helping.

‘Like what?’

‘I dunno yet. I’m just sick of all this!’ My voice raises my hands into the air as faces peer over blue partition walls and tut.

‘What kind of things?’ Hector says switching his focus to YouTube videos of Drake and Rihanna.

‘I don’t know! Like writing or something.’ I’m embarrassed to tell him. People like Hector don’t understand.

He pauses the video, peers across and raises his brows at my functional specification.

‘Not this kind of writing,’ I say. ‘Something…creative.’

‘What do you mean creative? Like stories and poems and shit like that?’ Hector’s chuckling stops when his Suzuki is outbid.

‘It’s not “shit”,’ I say, ‘and anyway, keep your voice down.’

‘Seriously. People really do things like that?’

‘You wouldn’t understand. Forget it!’

‘I just don’t see how poncing around looking at clouds is gonna pay the bills,’ Hector  says while retweeting a tweet,

‘Forget it!’ I say as I struggle with Word’s margin settings.

‘No. No. Go on. Go on. Write me a poem then,’ Hector says opening up Spotify.

‘I can’t do it just like that. That’s not how it works.’

‘How difficult can it be? Look. I’ll do one for you,’ he says plugging his earphones in.

‘Go on then, I’m intrigued.’

He stares in silence at the Bangers&More factory across the road. ‘Right! I got it! Ready? “Oh! Sausage factory, You mess with my olfactory and make me so hungry!” What’d you reckon?’

‘You’re just saying what you see. It isn’t Catchphrase you know. Forget it!’

As if being a part of Hector’s social media habits while I work for eight hours a day wasn’t bad enough, he became an increasingly bad penny over the week. Everywhere I went Hector would be there. I’d go for a leak and he’d be at the next urinal, he’d park his carbon-copy car next to mine in the morning, he would stand behind me at the printer pretending to print the same things, always reminding me how selfish I was for wanting to quit, how dumb it was to write and how easy it was to compose a poem on the spot.

***

‘Yo! Yo! Yo! Listen I got another one for you.’ Hector bangs the table, swings the chair around and straddles it.

‘Not now Hector. I’m trying to read. Go away.’

‘Come on! You’ll love this one!’

‘No!’ I say, not caring if anybody hears us.

‘You’ll love this one.’ He looks around the cafeteria. ‘Okay. Ready? “Pork pies are so nice, I got sausage rolls on my toes.” Not bad eh?’

‘Get lost! You’re just taking the piss now. You don’t get it.’

‘Get what?’

‘Forget it. I’m trying to read.’

‘No, no. Get what? Come on.’

‘Well,’ I say, still hoping somebody like Hector will understand, ‘It’s about the meaning behind things not the things themselves.’

‘What? You mean like what the sausages are made out of? How about this then: “Oh pig! You’re so big…”’

‘No! Stop it! Stop it! Stop it!’ All the knives and forks stop chattering and all eyes turn our way. ‘No,’ I say lowering my voice, ‘just stop it!’

‘So what’d you mean then?’ Hector swings his chair around, slouches and plays with his phone.

‘Nevermind! Forget it! Forget I said anything. You’re right it’s a stupid idea.’

‘No. No. Go on, I’m intrigued,’ he says trying to sound like me.

‘Okay,’ I say putting my book down. ‘What’s this?’

He furrows his brow.

‘It’s a serious question. What is it?’

‘It’s a table.’ Hector shrugs.

‘Wrong!’ I say. ‘She’s not just a table. Her name is Annette, she’s a gentle, silent supporter of us all, every day we pile our loaded plates onto her without so much as a “Thank you” or “Please” and yet she’s always reliably here. I mean look at this.’ I wobble Annette’s legs, ‘Her legs aren’t even good these days, and yet we take her for granted. How do you think she feels?’

‘You’re weird,’ he says to his phone.

‘Exactly! Too weird for this place,’ I say and return to my book.

Phil walks past with a jacket potato. ‘How’s that spec coming along?’ he says.

‘It’s in hand.’ I cast a sideways glance at Hector but he’s already run off at the sight of Phil.

‘Great!’ says Phil. ‘And the test plan for next week’s rollout?’

‘Already done!’ I say smiling.

‘And the evaluation for the new environment?’

‘Half-way there!’ I say winking.

‘Brilliant!’ Phil starts walking off, ‘Oh! One more thing. I’ve forwarded you a request from Finance. Take a look and let me know what you think. And don’t forget we have a meeting at four to talk about what we need to talk about in tomorrow’s meeting.’ Phil walks off and joins a table of managers.

‘You see.’ Hector reappears and sips my coffee. ‘That’s what I’m talking about. See how important you are. Everybody relies on you. I can’t believe you wanna leave man. You’re so selfish.’

‘Get lost Hector,’ I say, but by the time I look up from my book Hector has already disappeared.

***

‘So,’ Phil says futilely adjusting the projector, ‘I want to talk about what we’re going to talk about tomorrow. Group Services will need us to apply for an allocation ticket request before we can obtain a reference number in order to submit the change request. So it’s best we understand what needs to be done.’

I don’t know why Phil invited Hector. He just sits there doodling, contributing nothing.

‘So? What do you reckon?’ Phil says.

I look up from Hector’s doodles but had heard nothing. ‘Erm, yeah sure. Sounds good.’

‘Really?’

‘Yeah,’ I say looking at Hector’s doodles again.

‘But I thought you said we had compatability issues across the different servers?’

‘I did?’ I say. Hector smirks and continues doodling.

Without any conclusion being reached, it was decided we would have another meeting first thing tomorrow, and it was my responsibility to type up today’s so I could bring it to tomorrow’s impromptu pre-meeting.

I find Hector whistling at the next urinal.

‘What’re you so happy about?’ I ask. All I can see is the functional specification flapping its unfinished pages at me. And yet all I want to do is write a story about the stifling bureaucracy of office life.

‘Because I know it,’ he says.

‘Know what? What’s that supposed to mean?’

‘That you’re too chicken shit.’

‘Too chicken for what?’

‘To leave. Wait! Wait!’ says Hector. ‘I can feel another poem coming. Ahh…There it is: “Oh! Piss, I wish…”’ says Hector.

‘Screw you Hector! Well I got news for you buddy. I got the letter right here.’ I pat the resignation letter in my back pocket with my spare hand.

Hector just laughs.

He did it again.

Hector disappears without saying anything and before I know it Phil has sidled into his place.

‘What’s so funny?’ Phil says, he looks at me breaking that unwritten code of keeping eyes forward at the urinal.

‘Sorry?’ I say, upholding the code.

‘You were muttering something to yourself and laughing. You okay?’

I watch Hector smirking back at me in the mirror as I wash my hands.

You see the problem with Hector is, he’s happy being a corporate drone. Happy idling away his day on the internet while I do all the work. But I’m not, I desire much more. I have a fire burning inside me that Hector doesn’t understand. Hector thinks I’m being selfish for daring to do something different. But Hector’s the selfish one for making me stay.

Hector continues smirking at me in the mirror.

I ignore him and turn to Phil.

‘Phil,’ I say, ‘can I talk to you about something important?’ I reach for the letter as Hector tries to stuff it back into my pocket.

‘Sure,’ Phil says washing his hands. ‘By the way, did you get a chance to look at that email from Finance yet? They’re chasing up and we had another from Marketing. We need to get back to them soon. Oh and don’t forget about those minutes for tomorrow’s pre-meeting before the big meeting.’

© 2016 Occasional Dreams
In response to daily prompt: Daring
Image: “Evening Solitude” by Daniel Paixão Fontes / CC BY

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