Adam places his jacket on the back of his chair and drops his satchel off beside his table. He sits down quietly at his desk. It’s the same routine every single day, five days a week. A nine-to-five office job with the tedious daily grind of data entry, filing and copying for the basic threshold of financial stability. He could push himself further, achieve more, but he doesn’t. Why upset the equilibrium?
Opposite Adam is Olivia, wrapped up in a knitted grey jumper, a favourite she has recycled for the last two winters since she started working in the office. She drops herself into her chair. It squeaks in protest. To Adam, she is perfect. Her big, brown eyes are enchanting, still and mysterious like deep waters. Her carnation pink lips form a crescent. Her body is curvaceous, strikingly so. Infatuation is an easy lure; love is even easier. Adam longs to be able to brush the lips with his own and hold her body against his. He longs to make Olivia laugh, hold her while she cries and tell her everything so nothing between them is secret. To be intimate with her. Simple desires.
Society has told him he must be a man though. Macho, strong and never vulnerable. Life has told him to conceal true feelings or face ridicule for being too soft and emotional. Pressure to objectify Olivia is common, but he refuses to share in the chauvinistic vulgarities.
“Good morning,” she says to him. He stutters, she laughs at him. Her giggle makes him tingle; the hairs on his neck and arms rise, warm, waking with the early morning sun that’s creeping in from the nearby window. “Not talking to me today?” she adds, teasing him a little.
Adam mops his brow of nervous sweat, catching the beads which also trickle down his temples. Her gazes at her pretty face, at the eye staring, not blinking.
“Olivia, can I ask you something?”
Now she is looking at him with a raised eyebrow because he hasn’t followed up his question, or her response. The other three staff members on his hub are looking on, intrigued to see what he has to say (they know his true feelings for Olivia, it’s so obvious, although to be kind, they never let on), but none more so than Olivia herself.
“Did you process that council invoice?”
She does not seem convinced by his question. She feels he has something else to tell her. The phone rings on her desk and as she smiles and takes to work, he sighs. Another opportunity passed.
Adam stands in the communal kitchen waiting for his rice to cool. Odours of stale coffee and fading bleach turn his stomach. He stares unfocusedly into space. The beige painted walls and greasy kitchen tiles are far from stimulating and nothing penetrates, except perhaps that stain in the bottom corner where the countertop meets it. Somebody has spilled their soup, maybe tea. This is life, he thinks.
“Whatcha doing?” comes the familiar voice behind him. Adam spins around, Olivia is standing beside him ripping the lid from her carton of pea and ham soup (maybe it’s her soup stain on the wall?). He swallows nervously. Smells her scent. He inhales quicker to consume the perfume, to capture the moment. He feels lightheaded, dizzy. Her brown eyes fall on him and he looks deeply back into them. They’re like an abyss; the deeper he goes, the more he loses himself.
“Anything good?” she enquires, punching in the time setting on the microwave.
“Chicken and rice. Nothing exciting.”
“My ex-boyfriend used to eat that like it was going out of fashion. Tosser.”
Adam knew Tosser hurt her bad. His infidelity resulted in their break-up. That recollection makes Adam hot with anger. His usual manners slip.
“Moron,” he says.
Olivia gazes on at him. Blinking, no. Breathing, apparently not. She simply stands in thought. The world seems to hold and only the gentle hum of the microwave and the growing smell of pea and ham soup have any reality at that moment.
“But at least now you’re better off,” he adds.
Another recess. Olivia’s eyes converge into vacancy as she assesses the last statement. The magnitude of those easily spoken words with the potential for underlining meaning.
“You know what?” she says finally. Adam holds his breath, waiting for his fantasy to transform into reality. What if this is it? She removes her bowl from the microwave and turns back to face him. “There has to be more to life than this place and pea and ham soup, right?”
Her passing, downhearted smile forces one out of him, and with her eyebrows raised as if her point is made, she leaves the kitchen clutching her bowl of soup and with a distant look in her eyes; like she is somewhere else, far away.
Adam places his coat on the back of his chair and drops his satchel off beside his table. He sits down quietly at his desk. It’s the same routine every single day, five days a week. A nine-to-five office job.
He looks down at the heaps of unorganised paperwork on his desk. More reports to copy; more sheets to sign off. His eyes are darker, his hair thinner, fingernails worn. He strokes his overgrown stubble and pushes the paperwork to one side. The workload has increased since the staff changes.
Adam looks up, over to the desk opposite him. The chair is empty, unoccupied for nine months now. The desk is desolate and untouched. Everyone else around him seems content. Those days seem like an eternity ago, and every day, five days a week, Adam has to look at the empty space, a painful reminder of his failure to act. He never imagined that when Olivia made the statement about there being more to life that she would leave him behind. He thought it would all work out very differently.
She has stayed in contact and has settled in New Zealand for at least a year to work. Auckland. She’s loving life, she says. It seems so easy to get up and leave. The tears often form on his eyelids which he battles to hold in. The heaviness on his chest continuously hurts him.
“What’s for lunch today then? It’s the only thing to look forward too, eh? That and pay day.” the colleague to his right says. Her name is June. She holds up a limp looking sandwich in a plastic bag, rethinking her positive endorsement for lunch. June is younger than him, with thick, dark brown hair that covers most of her face. She wears a sweet perfume that reminds him of a confectionary shop, one with a brown fascia and ‘olde’ over the door and stripy red and white paper bags. She sits sipping coffee from a custom-made New York mug, awaiting his answer.
Adam turns to her. He considers his lunch choice, her words. He begins chuckling, but this fades quickly and a wry smile is left on his lips.
“What’s the crack?”
“Chicken and rice.”
“What’s funny about that?” She always thought he was a little peculiar.
Adam picks up his satchel, slings the strap over his shoulder and begins to walk towards the main door. He calls back to her.
“There’s more to life than this place and chicken and rice.”
Image Credit: Jankuss