This is a story, but this is also life. This is how we become what we would rather not because we have refused to believe the truth we are.
Morning came too soon that day. I was happy to stay in bed all day long and not bother going into the office. You know, take a personal holiday so I could enjoy a reprieve from the monotony of my tragic life. I imagined staying under the covers and watching reruns of the X-files with my cat, Bobo. He seemed to enjoy it as much as I did. But of course, the inevitable trap of being employed left me no choice. Yesterday, I spent nearly 5 hours on a spreadsheet for my boss after the official working hours, and would have given anything – even my soul – for a day off. I considered calling in sick.
I’d never taken a sick day before because our mean boss docks our pay when we don’t show up. Even when we are unwell. After deciding that I didn’t have the cojones, nor could I afford (literally) to accomplish such a daring feat, I succumbed to tradition and did as is expected of all responsible adults – I got ready for work. It was vital that I put in the man-hours even if it was to scrape by in an existence that ranked slightly above an average dog’s life. This seemed to be the only purpose of my lowly life.
A few hours later, I walked through the office doors reluctantly and presented myself to my slave master. It was mandatory for all 13 workers to go by his office on the first floor every morning to greet him. He glanced at me sideways and waved me off. As I walked downstairs to my office, I contemplated quitting (for the fifth time that week). It was only Tuesday. I didn’t like my job and I hated my boss even more. Mr. Lockmann picked on me because I was so pliable; easily succumbing to the slightest hint of threat. Then, of course, there was the matter of not giving in to his constant proposals.
That was the first and probably the only thing in my adult life that I dared to stand against. It was something Ms. Hammond, the proprietor at the orphanage I grew up in, drummed into the mind of every girl under her command. So yes, I may be a wuss in general, but not when it comes to that. Besides, he was a pervert and perfectly repulsive, to say the very least. As punishment, he piled tonnes of work on me at the oddest times – lunch, after work, weekends and even on holidays.
I could complain forever. But in some ways, I felt lucky to have a job. This was the only needle left in the last employment haystack at the bottom of the ocean. It wasn’t great. I could barely pay my bills at the end of the month but at least it kept food on my table, and for that I was grateful. The alternative was too scary – be unemployed, broke and try to start my own business. Who cared about what I had to offer? I was a certified nobody, and no one cares about nobodies.
Like an obedient maid, I sat down at my desk and kept my nose to the grindstone even through lunch. By afternoon, I was sapped. I made a promise to myself to close early. Not a second after 5:00 pm. It was only 3:00 pm when I felt the sudden urge to leave the office—an outlandish idea. I scanned the room and planned my escape. For once everyone except me was glued to their desk. My office line rang. It was The Lockmann. I ignored him. He called my cell. I turned it over and let it ring. “Thwack!” A bird flew into the window, startling everyone and drawing me away from my thoughts. I welcomed the distraction and walked to the window with the others.
It was a crow. It hopped around a little bit and took flight once more. I allowed myself to follow its path in the air. The sun scorched, but the clouds looked happy and the streets looked lively. I craved that. Taking advantage of the distraction, I walked back to my desk, shut down my computer, dumped all my stuff in my bag hurriedly, and left the office. Looking back, it was as though I was under the influence of some external force. My co-workers turned to look at me, at the clock on the wall, and back to me. I ignored their curious stares and rushed out.
At the gate, I paused, took in a deep breath and stepped gingerly onto the sidewalk, hoping to relish the warmth and liveliness I had seen from my office window. Instead, the sunny skies turned pale, and darkness gathered, gradually thickening with intensity. The warm weather became frigid and a swirl of cold wind swivelled around me mockingly. The tall buildings along the deserted street cast their long shadow over me. Besides the whistling of the wind, everything else was silent. I looked up again into the skies and saw the clouds gathering toward me, fast. I turned to run back inside the office but the space it once stood had become an impenetrable blackness.
I turned to my right, where a glimmer of light shone through a crack. I dashed toward it but before I could get there, the cloud overtook me and stood in the way of hope. I persisted, sticking my hand through the cloud, and almost touching the very last glint with the tip of my finger. It was too late. The crack closed and I saw a reflection of myself fall limply onto the pavement. I thumped at the walls that hemmed me in, desperate to get back to where I had been taken from. It yielded nothing. After a moment of spine-chilling quietness, I resigned my fate to the floor. If death had come for me, there was no use fighting it.
Cocooned inside the deadness of that blackness, a glimmer remained in my eyes and gave off some light. Images started to flash against the blackness. Silhouettes of repressed fears – people, places, things that terrified me – somehow took form and came at me with determined aggression. They multiplied, bunching up and rising above the ground in a shadowy mist that engulfed me. Others hung over my head like lamps, illuminating other more terrifying, angular, and oblong forms. I could have sworn I saw the Lockmann sneering down at me with jagged teeth. My fears heightened, and the more frightened I became the darker they got. I felt something crawl up my legs, feeding on my skin.
I reached down to brush it off but it latched onto the back of my hand, clinging to my skin and crawling up my arm, then over my shoulder until it made its way to my neck. I could feel it penetrating the core of my soul. My arm disappeared; becoming one with the blackness as did the rest of my body. The pores of my skin filled up as it slithered its way into my throat. It choked me until I eventually passed out, suffocated by fear.
The sun was extra bright when I woke up in my bed early the following day, wearing the same clothes as I did the day before. I’m not sure how or when I got there. All I knew was that I was famished. I reached for my phone to hit the snooze button. It was 6:15 am. The sun’s rays poured over my hand, bringing into sudden, vivid memory what happened yesterday. I pulled it back and lay in the bed for another 5 minutes before I went into the bathroom. In the shower, I scrubbed off every trace of the day before and imagined it washing down the drain into oblivion.
A few minutes before 8:00 am, I was at my desk. I shut everyone out. Even the Lockmann couldn’t get my attention. I was lost in my thoughts. Forgotten memories danced in my head. Mother. How she died. I distracted myself with an excel spreadsheet that wasn’t due for another month. Maybe today I’ll stay a little longer at work. Like clockwork, my eyes turned to my watch as it hit 3:00 pm. Not today. I’ll wait. Years later, the time only stood at 4:00 pm. I fidgeted in my seat. I called Obi, a taxi driver friend who lived in my neighbourhood, hoping for a lift home. Obi was about the only one I could hustle for a cheaper fare. The rest never budged. He didn’t answer. I dialled his number a second time but let it ring only twice.
I presumed he was either ignoring me or on a trip. I sighed. In the moments that followed, I must have dozed off again. I couldn’t tell when or how; only that I woke up to the sound of my mother calling my name, “Aba, my Aba!” She was the only one who called me ‘Aba’. When I lifted my head from my desk it was 9:35 pm, the lights were out and everyone had left. Even Kenny with whom I had an unspoken contest on leaving late had gone. I had outdone myself.
As I gathered myself from sleep, the sound of my mother’s voice echoed around the room. I couldn’t keep my hands from trembling. A chill swept over me as the shadows from the day before returned, poised to complete whatever mission remained unfinished. I rushed to the door only to find that I was locked inside.
(To be continued)