The Third Floor
The third floor of William Hensley & Associates was shrouded in dimness. Dimness because it wasn’t quite pitch-black darkness but rather a dreary gray. The dark window shades were tightly drawn, and fluorescent lights flickered overhead, teasing the third-floor employees with a few brief moments of illumination before the gloom set back in. The only constant source of light was the dull glow of computer screens.
Black-clad employees sat at cramped cubicles before their screens, working with their heads down and speaking in hushed whispers–when they did speak. But most times, they worked in silence. The gentle click-clacking of computer keys and scritching of pencil to paper was the only sound to be heard.
In the dimness, at a corner cubicle, sat Hope Obiako. Hope was a small woman with an equally small demeanor–although she would beg to differ. Her kinky hair was pulled tightly into a neat bun, and her crisp slacks were starched to perfection. On the bridge of her nose sat a pair of round-framed glasses that she didn’t need to see but rather to appear well-read. And she was well-read–she just needed everyone else to know it.
Hope glanced at the calendar on her desk, eyeing the day’s red-marked appointment.
It’s almost time, she thought, her heart pounding in anticipation. She cleared the nervousness from her throat and took a sip of cold tea from her mug.
Hope jumped a bit in her seat. She’d forgotten to switch her cell phone to silent. This was a mortal sin on the third floor, as phones were banned for being “unsensible tools of distraction”. Hope fumbled with her desk drawer as each vibration grew louder than the last, piercing the silence that blanketed the office.
A loud, sharp “Shhhh!” shot through the air, followed by chair creaks and rustling papers. Someone was getting upset. Heat rose to Hope’s cheeks, and her palms slipped with sweat, making it even harder to find that pesky phone. Finally, she spotted it, hidden underneath a pile of post-it notes. Hope grabbed the phone with her slippery hand, trying not to drop it, and quickly hung up. The missed call was from her landlady, Lisa. She knew it was only a matter of time before she’d receive a text message reminding her to pay her rent.
“Hey, Hope!” A whispered voice shot around the corner of Hope’s cubicle.
Hope winced at the sound of her name. It’d been a while since she’d been directly spoken to at work. She leaned back in her rolling chair and peeked over to see her cubicle neighbor Alex staring back at her. Alex had a kind of pleasant face that always seemed to be smiling, even when he wasn’t. He sat up straight, but not too straight, and casually commanded the respect of a seasoned executive, although he was quite young. His brown eyes gleamed through the dimness, and his dark hair was parted and slicked like a nineteen-fifties car salesman.
Hope held up her cell phone and mouthed, “sorry”.
“You’re fine!” He swatted away Hope’s apology. “I was actually gonna ask you for a favor, but you look really busy today,” he whispered.
Hope swelled with pride. She couldn’t help it. He said she looked not just busy, but really busy. He must have noticed her glancing at her calendar. Or maybe it was the tea. No, no, it was definitely the calendar.
“A bit. But not too busy to help out a cubicle neighbor!” She flashed a toothy grin, which he returned. “What do you need?”
“Well…could you please grab me another cup of coffee? Thanks!” He thrust his empty, coffee-stained mug into her hands and swiveled back to face his work.
Hope sat in her embarrassment for a moment, racking her brain for something, anything to say to save face and snatch her shreds of power back. She imagined rolling over to Alex and letting him know she was far too busy to run errands like some kind of lowly assistant. She thought of simply placing the mug on her desk and returning to her calendar without acknowledging its audacious presence in her workspace. But instead, she responded to Alex’s back with an enthused, “Sure!”.
Hope mentally kicked herself for being a pushover and stood to make the trek to the break room at the other end of the floor.
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Excerpt from HOW TO BE A BETTER ADULT published by Jacque Aye. Copyright © 2023 by Jacque Aye.