Sunday, March 26

Stranger

It was guaranteed that should one wander past her secluded desk at any time of the day she would be in the same position: legs crossed, her head tilted to the side, her left hand’s fingers fingering the long strands of her hair, the other doing very little upon the mousepad, staring at the screen – not work – with very dull indifference. Address her and she would snap out of her reverie and regard you with bright eyes and closed smile, as though she had never encountered a colleague before in her life. It was so seldom to catch her doing work; in fact if she ever engaged with me on a professional level, she gave as little enthusiasm to her request as anyone could stand. Despite all this, she was an impeccable time-keeper and kept her head down, both of which are highly regarded traits in a professional sense.
I was most surprised when she sat down on the desk next to me one day. I quickly cleared all of my paperwork that overspilled into her area, and said hello, but suspicious of this new neighbour I was unfamiliar with. Slowly we built up a rapport. Mostly I was interested in how she carried herself. She was always well-dressed, even her most casual of outfits possessing a pizzazz so often absent from our office. On other day’s she would wear elegant dresses! She had a black blouse, too, over which she wore a leather harness that piqued my interest. She was Estonian, very tall, taller than me, straight up and down but with two-thirds of her height dedicated to her legs. She drank green tea constantly and ate healthily, as well as thinking nothing of devouring a large bag of chocolate sweets in an afternoon, absent-mindedly dropping them in her mouth as she stared out of the window. She would ready herself so that at dead-on five o’clock she was leaving the office and not looking back. Out of nowhere she would send an e-mail to all staff about a play she had seen the night before and how delightful it was, and that, if we should find ourselves with an evening to kill, we should go see it and let her know what we thought. Her review of the play must have run over half-a-thousand words, which the office received with sniggers and so forth. Often she would send similarly strange e-mails to all staff and I found it most amusing.
I did not know what to make of her, and she interested something in me I could not put my finger on, so I did something I had never done before: I looked her up.
Straight away I was presented with photographs and articles including her name; although it was a slightly different name, double-barrelled. She was wearing ball gowns and stood on red carpets, posing for photographers, caught in the flashlights. She was at premieres. She was pictured at galas. She was on a yacht in Cannes. She was pictured with socialites and, herself, was described as such in the caption. At once I felt so rude and voyeuristic! I looked further and found her under another name; the first name the same, the second different, but rhyming with the first. It rolled off the tongue. A nom de plume! There were interviews with her and launch parties of her book. So she was a writer! I could not believe my eyes! I read on. Her debut book had been aimed at teenage girls, but now she wished to write something for older women, women in their twenties, women like her. Reading the interviews about her novel I chuckled to myself at her sitting next to me through all of my foolishness at work. I could not talk to her about it. If she asked how I knew I would be forced to reveal I looked her up, and of that I was most ashamed. No, I would not talk to her about it, but would treat her the same as before. She was just now a bigger person to me than she had been, and I had shed some light on her life some more.
Always her fingers were in her hair. She had long white hair that curled naturally. If one were an admirer of hair, they would say it was a wonderful head of hair. One day I got back from a lunchtime walk and said—‘I thought I saw you on the street, but it was just your identical hair twin.’ She turned with her eyes wide and said—‘No one has hair like me!’ and laughed. She was good company at my desk and then one day someone else sat there. The day after someone else sat there again. I missed her sitting next to me; she had a calming influence over me, like a fairy godmother. I went looking for her—
‘What you doing over here?’
‘Someone else was in my seat. I couldn’t be bothered to chase them out, besides this seat has a bigger window.’
‘It does that,’ I said.
She had not relocated long when I learned that she had been made redundant, her and another colleague. The department wasn’t making as much money as it needed to, so it was being cut in half. Someone told me that she didn’t really care about being laid off. With she over a cup of loose green tea, I asked her—
‘So what are you going to do now?’
She stirred—‘Have a break for a bit.’
‘Until 2019?’
‘No, I’ll start working again, I just don’t know when… Maybe in the autumn… I like to take holidays at late notice. It doesn’t really work well being employed full-time, so I might go contract… Maybe my old place will give me my job back… I got on very well with my boss and he’s been promoted since then… I might go back there eventually.’ She cared not a jot and I grinned.
Her leaving-drinks were held at a local bar, as well as a farewell to two others. Frankly I did not believe she would even turn up but there she was, with her partner: a flamboyantly dressed man, much shorter than her, sparkling in brash jewellery, his appearance carefully organised and perfected. I went and said hello. Within two minutes of meeting me he was ridiculing a celebrity for all her lengthy relationships and not getting married. I nodded—‘Hmm, yes, you’re right. If you’ll excuse me, I’m gonna go have a fag.’ They left, together, ten minutes later and everyone began to talk about what a strange couple they made.
On her last day, she must have spent a lot of time putting her affairs into order because she did not leave as punctually as usual. In fact, it was seventeen-fifteen before she got up to go. By that time on a Friday the office was almost empty. She did not mind to say good-bye. I looked at her and smiled but I was sad to see her go, although I was not certain why. She waved at me—‘Good-bye, R—.’ I nodded—‘Good-bye, T—. Take care.’

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