The sky suddenly poured all of its content down to earth.
I was on my way to the office party when it started. Thank my gut for telling me to bring the coat. I thought it would rain, but I’d never have guessed it would be this hard. I managed to get to the building where the party is going to be held. My coat covered my torso, but my pants got drenched.
I proceeded to climb the stairs. I need to go up 5 floors. Or was it 4? I wasn’t paying much attention when my boss told the whole office about this party. Oh well. I can always check each floor.
This week was rough. My division was handed a project. Nothing unusual, just some basic accounting of another division’s financial report. But then again, have you ever checked an end-term financial report? All those columns of income and expenditure drains your soul quicker than you’d expect. Not to mention it’s the closing of the year for the whole office. Everyone’s already focused on the long awaited holiday. And the yearly bonus. There’s always bonus in government offices.
What makes things rather unbearable is the ‘delegation’ of work. Since everyone’s working spirit is cut by half, only some of my coworkers actually worked. Senior workers ‘asks’ for their juniors’ assistance. And being the lucky junior that I am, some coworkers of mine asked me to do their part. ‘I have to book a ticket’, ‘I have to tend to my family’, ‘come on man, your skills are awesome; I’ll owe you one’.
I only know you by name, and you sure as hell do so. Heck, I’m pretty sure some of you don’t even know my name. But hey, I can never turn them down. I have too much things on my plate to risk the social stigma. This workplace is predatory. Everyone talks about everyone, everywhere. Some people I know even sacrificed their friends to get better paychecks. Can you imagine what could happen to my sorry ass if I turned down a senior? I didn’t get in here with all my effort just to be trampled by hierarchy. Besides, if no one takes their load, who would? In the end of the day, everyone just wants to go home with their job done. I’m no exception.
I looked at the number on the stairwell.
This might be where the event is held. I opened the door and looked around. Lo and behold, apparently this is the right floor. I glanced at the meeting room, now turned into party venue. Minimal décor, dimmed lights, and lounge music. This is actually better than the office party last month. If there’s free drinks, I might even stay longer than expected. I walked towards the room, to find that no one is in sight. I guess this is what I got for arriving an hour early in a graveyard shift of a day. I hesitated to come in, afraid that I’ll be considered hindering preparations. That’s when I saw her.
A girl from my division. About the same height as me, with glasses a little too big for her face, and shoulder-length black hair. I felt bad for forgetting her name; she was one of the few people that actually works hard in this place. She looks rather busy doing something, so I didn’t bother trying to get her attention. Right when I was about to sit on the bench nearby, she turned at my direction, and apparently noticed my presence. She waved and smiled, and walked towards me at a brisk pace.
“Hey, I never thought you would come today. This early, too!”
“That makes the two of us,” I responded, cracking a nervous smile, rather overwhelmed by how she addressed me. I am always bad with people with such sunny disposition. “Just finished some work, myself. What are you doing here?”
“Well, I’m actually one of the few that planned this event. It’s our division’s event after all; the boss thinks we’re doing an outstanding job!”
So that’s the occasion. God. I should really try to avoid spacing out at work. It’s rather ironic though, how the boss thinks that all of his workers contributed on the ‘outstanding job’. But I should know my limits. Not like I can do jack shit about it. “I see. Pardon me for asking, but are there drinks for the party?”
She looks quite puzzled after I asked her that. Maybe I shouldn’t be so vague after all. I was about to elaborate when she finally realized what i meant. “Oh, you mean alcoholic beverages! Of course there are some. They are in the coolers, right over there.” She pointed at some blue boxes neatly arranged at the far end of the room.
I am somehow relieved. “Well, thanks. Now I might stay at this party longer than I planned.”
She giggled a little. I waved my hands as a sign to end the conversation, and she did too. I proceeded to walk at the coolers, hoping that they are serving my favorite brand. But then again, as long as it’s cold and free, I’m all set.
I finally got to the coolers. This room is bigger than it seems. It took me quite the steps to get here from the entrance. I opened the cooler, and my favorite brand is nowhere in sight. Oh well. I guess I have to make do with what I got. I grabbed a stout, and headed towards a table at the far end corner. A strategic place for someone who would rather not be disturbed by the noises of an office party, but still comes anyway because of the free drinks.
I rested my wet coat on the chair, and turned that place into a temporary workplace. I needed to finish more work before the real holiday starts, after all. I sipped my drink, turned on my trusty laptop, plugged in my headset, and opened my work documents; doing work I don’t even love.
Unbeknownst to me, I finished filling the last column of the year-end report. I laid my back on the chair, tired from all the checking, typing, and re-checking that is my everyday work. I let out a sigh, and looked at the bottom left of my screen to check the time.
It’s already well past an hour. Time sure flies when you focus on a work.
I noticed several party-goers slip past me, but I didn’t pay much attention to my surrounding when I work. I only realized that so many people have come after I’m done. I proceeded to grab the bottle of stout that was resting on the table, only to find out that it’s empty.
Great. Now I’ll have to grab another one. I stood up, and walked towards the coolers. Lucky for me, there is plenty drinks inside the coolers. I suppose most people don’t prefer their drinks bitter. I’m not one to complain, though. Means there’s more from me. Successfully getting what I wanted, I headed back to my precious spot at the corner. I waded through all the office workers, who were mingling with their friends while conversing about stuff I didn’t care to comprehend.
I reached my solitary spot, sat down comfortably, and resumed the music that I listened before.
One would ask, why would I bother coming to an office party without conversing with coworkers? That kind of defeats the purpose of such parties – to bring people closer together. Well, first off, I didn’t come here to have small talks with people I barely know. It’s a pain in the ass for both me and the unlucky person I spoke with. I came here for the drinks. Because come on, what sane person would pass up some free drinks, paid for you by taxpayer money?
That came out very wrong. But still, it’s true.
And this antisocial and misogynistic act was adopted with good reason. I have no interest in knowing the general population here. Sure, I know names and faces of my coworkers around here, but that’s about it. I have no interest in getting to know these people better. Make no mistake, many of the people around here is top-notch workers; that’s why they were admitted here in the first place. It’s a damn shame that for the majority of those people, personality is no important matter. Say what you want, but I know a third-rate human when I see one. I witnessed so many, from simple workers who kiss ass, to downright division managers who corrupt office funds. How can you expect me to keep respecting my coworkers?
I can count the respectable humans in my division with my hands. Hell, I won’t even be exaggerating when I say one hand is actually enough. I always wanted to change how things work, given the chance. But ironically, I won’t be able meet such chances. Even with no one telling me, I just know that an insignificant accountant like me will never have the influences or the connections to make such changes happen.
I can only wait.
I was always told that being overly idealistic will eventually bite me in the…
“As I said, it’s a hard decision.”
My monologue was interrupted by a voice, coming from nearby. I glanced around, to find that it came from some coworkers that just occupied the seats behind me. I am not familiar with their faces. Probably these guys came from a different group in accounting. I wouldn’t know.
The one guy who isn’t talking looks awfully generic. Semi-formal clothes, sleeves rolled up, with the slicked back hair, plus a face that says ‘I like to think I know everything’. Instant dislike.
Once again, pardon my misogyny.
The other guy, however, looks like someone who likes to live properly. He dresses uptight, shaves his hair according to regulations, and not unlike me, he works whenever he can – a document lies in front of him, with some kind of income statement in it. They are from another division in accounting, now I am positively sure.
But what strikes me most is his expression. The deadpan face of someone who isn’t comfortable with something. I know it, because I am well acquainted with someone with that face.
I see that person every time i look into the mirror, after all.
From what he said before, this conversation might get interesting. I decided to listen.
The square resumed what he was conveying.
“I’m really uncertain about this promotion. The division I’m headed to is positively dirty. Not thrash talking anyone, but the treasury division? I saw people coming in there with barely enough money to pay rent, and coming out as an unbelievably rich person.”
Promotion, huh? Can’t say i have been in that position since I got this job. Maybe I’m just too green. Most likely, he’s liked by someone up top. I wouldn’t know for sure though.
“Well, I guess it’s kinda inevitable, man. Besides, some more money on the sides won’t hurt, right? Ignorance is bliss, anyways,” the fuckboy said without much thought.
After a long pause, the square guy finally responded. “I know. I need money. Everyone needs money. But I don’t know, man. I want my life paid for by clean money.”
I like how this boy thinks. But I’m not gonna lie, it’s basically his funeral.
Not that I promote corruption on a daily basis, no. I just think flexibility is essential. I didn’t stay this long in this god forsaken office without turning a blind eye to several questionable transactions. I know that those people with the people can crush me easily, and I bet they would.
But then again, what happened to me?
I remembered that I was a person with strong ideals back in the days. Heck, I am still a straight guy if you all compare me with the scum I work with, but I have – no, I had – strong ideals. I hated the ruined system of this country, I hated the people who decided to be ignorant, and of course, I despised those up high who committed those atrocities. But look at me now. Working in the place that I hated most, rotting in a small cubicle, surrounded by people who is willing to kill for their own gain.
And worst of all, I had my own idealism chipped away, little by little.
I just realized how far I have fallen. But what can I do? I hate to admit it, but I need this job. I need to pay for my parents’ debts, I need to pay for their care, and I need to provide for my sister. But staying here means I will become nothing, and I will achieve nothing.
I let my mind wander for a while. I thought about what I was in the past. I thought about my old friends. I thought about my what’s left of my so-called ‘family’. I thought about this shitty workplace. I thought about many things, and honestly, it’s taking a toll on my mind. I decided to go home early, but not before I take a breather.
I stood up. Or rather, I tried.
I let out a curse, thanks to the slight cramp I got after sitting too long. I picked up all my stuff, and slowly headed to the door. I looked for that girl I met before to bid farewell, but to no avail. She is probably in the other side of the room. Oh well. I’ll just go out then.
After going down four flights of stairs, I got to the ground exit.
It’s still raining.
Disappointed in the circumstances, I decided to take a seat on some crates, and proceeded to light one of my last cigarettes.
It was bitter, but that’s how I like it anyways. At least it’s much tastier than the life I’m living.
It’s been fifteen minutes. Or I think so. Usually one cigarette lasted that long.
And I spent the whole time staring at the void, mind wandering, yet again.
Now after I begun thinking about what I have become, I cannot just let it slide. More importantly, I thought of what I wanted to achieve. What I wanted to create. What I wanted to leave before I depart from this existence.
From the beginning, I never wanted to be rich, nor wanted to achieve a high social status. I have never been that kind of person. What I wanted was to leave behind something meaningful, whatever that might be. Considering where I am now, I wanted to change the system. Somehow, any way possible. But we both know that is a long shot, right?
Will I forever be here? Stuck in a dead-end position for a generic worker in a governmental office? In an awfully stable environment where I can get no excitement, except for more work with shorter deadline? Where did my old dreams go to?
I tossed the cigarette butt in my hand away, and leaned to the wall.
Now I feel helpless. Not as a worker, but as a person. What I wanted cannot be achieved. I could try to think positive and say to myself that I can change what I want, but even I know that it’s near impossible to achieve. I must change the essence of who I am to be able to do that.
Is this what all comes to? Must I lie to myself, allowing society and its expectations to mold me into someone I never wanted to become?
I reached to my pocket to take another cigarette, but my hand fumbled and I dropped the whole carton to the floor.
“Whoa, careful there,”
I heard a raspy voice talking to me. I didn’t notice that someone was nearby, so I looked around, trying to find where the voice came from. When I looked to my right, I saw a figure. My glasses were fogged up, so I cleaned it to get a better view.
It was the resident janitor of this office building. He is responsible for the night shift, so there’s a high probability for us not having actually talked. I saw him sometimes, but that’s about it. He was taking out the trash, I assume.
The janitor was an old one. Receding hairlines, saggy face, et cetera. There aren’t that many janitors in this compound to begin with, so I’ve heard about this man once or twice before. What I gathered, he’s been here for quite a long time, even before I got the job here.
That got me thinking. Me and him, we’re rather similar. We’re both stuck in this place, nowhere to go but out. The difference is I probably have a better paycheck.
Emphasis on probably.
But despite all that, he stood there, his worn face sporting a hospitable smile.
I proceeded to grab the carton on the floor. “Yeah, I wasn’t being careful. Thanks for your concern.”
“You’ve been awfully silent for quite a while. Got too much work handed your way?”
Whoa. How long has he been around here? More importantly, was I being that noticeable?
I stopped mid-sentence. Who am I lying to? The only person being duped for the last decade was me. That’s it. I need to vent. I need to talk to someone who is in the same situation I’m at. Besides, having a smoke alone can be boring at times.
“Actually, you know what? This might take a while. Do you smoke?” I asked the old man who looks positively confused now.
“Indeed I do,” he responded my inquiry. “But I’m out of cigs, unfortunately.”
I opened my carton, and found two cigarettes ready to be burned. I gestured the old man to come at me. “I still have plenty, no worries.” I said while raising my carton so he can see it. He smiled, and walked slowly to sit beside me.
I handed one to him, and take one for myself. He immediately lit the cigarette, and took a long drag. “That was nice. I haven’t been smoking all day long!” he uttered while exhaling the smoke. I grinned at this old man’s one-liner.
I was trying to light mine, when the old man uttered a question. “So, if it ain’t about work, what’s bothering you?”
“I never said it wasn’t work.”
The old man took another drag, and grinned. “Call it intuition. Was I right, though?”
He’s perceptive, I’ll give him that. I took a long drag myself, and begun to tell the events of this afternoon to the old man. I told him how I hate my job, I told him about all the shitty coworkers, I told him about why I’m still here, I told him the sudden train of thoughts I had today. Most importantly, I told him how I might need to betray myself to find fulfillment, albeit only temporary.
I told him everything. I even told him the mundane details. And surprisingly, he listened it all. He just sat there, occasionally letting out a meaningful grin, or taking a drag off his cigarette.
There was a long pause after I was done talking. We just stared at the void, like what I did before. Well, I didn’t expect a response, after all. I only need to vent my thoughts to another human being.
All of a sudden, the old man begins to talk to me. “You know, I can somehow relate to you. This might come as a surprise, but I never intended to become a janitor, myself,”
That was a bad joke for this situation, but I laughed anyway.
“I always wanted to be a musician, to entertain others with my skills. But then, I told to myself that I can only become a janitor here. Just like you too, I stayed here because I need to provide for my family. At first, I also thought what ifs, also thought what should’ve, and also despised what I had become. My biggest mistake, which you can still avoid, is that I didn’t seize the opportunities that I had. Or in your case, I didn’t try hard enough to leave a mark in the world before it’s too late.”
I interjected him. “Yes, I know I can seize this ‘opportunity’ you mentioned before, but to do this, I need to change who I am. Do I really need to do that, just to gain this sense of fulfillment?”
He laughed. I got confused.
“See, son? That’s why my old self and you are just the same. You two are too narrow minded for your own good.” He paused, and took another drag from his nearly burnt-out cigarette. “The life we’re living is not singular. It is not a room you are stuck in. it is a house, with many rooms in it. You don’t ditch the house if a room was ruined. Even if it ain’t salvageable, you’d still have other rooms.”
I was dumbfounded. I never look at things that way. “So what you’re saying is I should do other things?”
The old man nodded. “More specifically, you should do other things that you enjoy. That way, you can be good at it. Who knows, you might create something good by doing that.” He paused, and then looked at the sky, that now has ceased raining.
“I used to play the violin, you know. Rather decent at it, too,”
He dragged what’s left of the cigarette in his hand. ”I thought of playing at a gig somewhere, or join a group of sorts. But I was too scared. Too scared that I’m not as good as I thought, or that I’d disregard my job, or that it ain’t gonna provide a living for me. By then, I didn’t consider that I can still do that while working. Enjoy my life while working. Can you imagine that? Some fool I was!”
He let out a sarcastic laugh.
“Don’t repeat my mistakes, son. You still have a long life ahead of you. If you let this place bend you, there might not even be a chance of coming back.”
He looked at the burnt out cigarette in his hand, and looked at the clock fixed at the wall.
“Well, would you look at the time. I guess I must get back to work, those trash won’t take out themselves.” He propped himself up, and gave me his hand. “Thanks for the cigarette, son.”
I shook his hand firmly. “No. Thank you, old man.”
He smiled knowingly at me, and headed back into the building.
I decided to head home myself, now that the rain has stopped. I headed to where my motorbike was parked, and drive back home. Along the way, I thought about what the old janitor said. Do what I enjoy. But what do I enjoy? It has been quite a long time since I did something purely out of enjoyment. I spent the last decade studying and working by necessity – I found little to no joy in it.
But then it struck me.
I got back to my apartment lot, and I directly headed to the parking area to put my motorbike. After finding a parking space, I rushed back to my room, hoping that I brought that when I was moving here.
I finally got to my room and went to the storage, rummaging through all the boxes lying idly there, hoping to find what I was looking for. And there it was, covered by white linen, hidden beneath all my stuff.
My old typewriter.
I bought this back during high school, when I had a sudden urge to write. I decided to get a typewriter, because it would force me to think before I type; to make my stories as meaningful as possible. But that was never realized. I told myself that I have not got any free time; that I need to study first, and enjoy writing later. That was a sad excuse, and look where I am at now.
What I did, was not starting because I have no reason to.
And now, I do.
I moved the typewriter to my study, and checked the ink, the keys, everything. This bastard still works as it were, thank god.
I put a paper inside, and aligned the writer to the middle.
I then began to type in one word, carefully.