“Bye, Ray. I’ll see you tomorrow. Don’t do anything stupid between this afternoon and tomorrow morning, okay?” Suzanne White winked at her younger coworker.
Raymond Ruiz laughed and said, “Farewell, Suzanne. I promise you I won’t do anything stupid. You know I never do. I’m too boring for that.” He stuck out his pinky finger and smiled.
The two walked in separate directions to two different types of transportation. Suzanne’s home was a mere three bus stops away from their office building and she never complained about that. Raymond had to walk ten to fifteen minutes to get to the closest train station, ride on the same train for forty to fifty minutes, and then walk five minutes to finally reach his house. Despite living so far away, Raymond was always early or on time to work, which impressed his colleagues. He had worked in the same place for over five years and had never begun working late. Colleagues of his who lived minutes away were often late and made the worst excuses for it. Every time something like that had happened, their boss would tell them something like, “Raymond hasn’t been late a day since he has worked here. For over five years the man has made it on time and he lives an hour away from here. Be better about getting here on time and if you’re going to make dumb excuses again for your tardiness, make sure that they’re actually believable.”
Raymond was nervous leaving work that day. On the train ride home, he worried about being even a minute late the next day. He was up for a promotion and that morning would be one of the most important of his career. When he arrived home after a long commute, his wife, Alana, reassured him that the next day would be like any other day and that he would arrive on time.
“Honey, you’ll do great tomorrow.” She comforted her husband and knew that what she was saying was right. Her husband was one of the best workers out there and she tried her best to always remind him of that. “Plus you’ve never been late a day in your life. Why would tomorrow be any different?”
But the next day was different. In fact, it was quite different.
Raymond woke up earlier than he usually did after a poor night’s sleep. When she woke up, Alana asked, “Did you sleep well?”
He shook his head and candidly responded, “Nope, not at all. I’m too tired. I hope I can function as well as I usually do today.”
Every few minutes, Raymond was checking the time and looking out the window. The weather in his area was normally friendly enough to not cause Raymond any problems, but that day was different. There was a major storm warning all over the news and there had been talks of unpleasant weather for days. Raymond had never seen such bad weather, so he allowed himself an additional thirty minutes to commute to work. While heading out the door, Alana exclaimed, “Wow, you’re super early today!” She kissed his cheek and handed him an umbrella. “Good luck, Ray. You’ll do great.”
The rain poured down heavily on his umbrella and booming thunder roared from above as he briskly walked away from home. Trying his best not to slip, he made it to the train station with a few minutes to spare. He was thankful that his wife brought him the umbrella or else he would have been soaked. There were more people at the train station than usual and although the amount of rain was disastrous, Raymond was surprised. He noticed his fellow daily commuters along with over a dozen new faces. The train was likely to be more crowded than usual, so he hoped that he was able to find a seat. He felt a swift tap on the shoulder and turned around to see Gary Klein, a man who also took the train on a daily basis.
“Hey, Ray. Crappy weather today, right?”
Raymond sighed and said, “Crappy weather with a crappier crowd. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen it this busy out here.
“Me, neither. I contemplated staying home today and I think I should have.” Gary looked around at the large amount of people and let out an obviously fake cough. “Oh no, I guess I’m sick. I better get going.”
Raymond teased, “You’re such a bad faker, but such a good decision maker. Bye, Gary.”
Raymond’s train pulled up immediately after Gary left the platform. He and the others quickly boarded the train and it left seconds later, probably to try to beat the worsening weather. Smushing himself through the walkways, he found a seat up towards the front next to an old woman. Sitting across from him were two men, who looked rightfully uncomfortable squished together. Raymond looked around and noticed how different it was than usual. He hoped the dreary weather and miserable commute was not an omen for the day ahead. His mind was louder than ever with worst case scenarios and those imaginary situations seemed to have no intention of going away. A little over halfway through his trip, however, all of his fearful thoughts were amplified when an announcement was played over the train’s loudspeakers.
“Attention all passengers. This is Frank Zachary, your train driver, speaking and I am sorry to say that we’re having a bit of a delay. We’ll be moving as soon as possible. Thank you for your patience.”
“Oh crap!” Raymond loudly yelled. He was so wrapped up in his anxiety that he did not notice every head turn towards him.
The old woman sitting next to him whispered, “Quiet down, sweetheart. There might be children here.”
“Yeah calm down, sweetheart.” The man seated across from him mocked the old woman and rolled his eyes.
She hissed, “You quiet down too, you piece of crap.” Her language surprised the men around her. She squeezed Raymond’s shoulder and, in an attempt to calm him down, said, “My name’s Grace Hartford. What is yours?”
“Raymond Ruiz.” Raymond stammered his reply. “Nice to meet you, Ms. Hartford.”
Grace chuckled and emphasized, “You calling me by that name makes me feel just as old as I am. Call me Grace, please.”
He laughed and said, “Alright then, Grace.”
She asked, “Why are you so nervous? You look like you’re going to throw up or faint. Do you have a fever?” She lightly placed the back of her hand on his forehead. “No, you don’t feel warm. But you are sweating, quite heavily. That’s too warm to be raindrops.”
Her nurturing nature slightly calmed him down. He gulped and replied, “I have one of the most important days of my career today. I have worked at the same place for over five years and I have never been late. Despite it taking an hour or more to get there, I am always early or on time.”
The man across from Raymond, who had been silent the entire time, gasped and blurted out, “You’ve never been late? Not even once?”
“Yep, always early or on time.” Raymond replied. “But today might be different. And today is more important than usual, so it matters more to me now than ever to be on time.”
Grace rubbed her forehead and said, “That’s impressive, Raymond. You deserve an award for that. I showed up hungover to my first job. A hungover waitress isn’t really what many restaurants are looking for.”
“Thanks, Grace. I appreciate your kindness. I wish that this train would get going again.”
Grace and Raymond chatted throughout the rest of the delay and Raymond was beginning to forget about being tardy when the train began moving again. Grace’s stop was two before Raymond’s and as she stood up to leave, she squeezed his hand and whispered, “Knock ‘em dead, honey.”
While she was stepping off the train and onto that station’s platform, he decided to check his watch. Before he glanced at his wrist, he calculated that he had a maximum of twenty minutes to reach his work building. He felt hopeful until he checked the time. It was 8:40 am, which meant he still had a chance of making it on time. Not a guaranteed one, but still possible. At 8:42, it was time to get off the train and rush off to begin his day. The platform was more crowded than ever before and in order to leave quickly, he had to force his way through. People he bumped into reacted sourly, naturally, to being practically pushed to the side, but he did not notice. He ran out of the station and towards his office, feeling optimistic that he would arrive on time. Strangers driving and walking by wondered why a well dressed man with a briefcase was frantically running down the road and towards downtown. As soon as that optimism peaked, however, he slipped while crossing the street. The fall added two minutes to his time, due to the people who hurried over his way to help him. Raymond was appreciative and thanked the six people around him, but brushed off their concerns. He had no time, even for the kind actions from those around him. His ankle began to cause him immense pain, but that did not matter. The only thing that mattered to Raymond at that moment was arriving on time.
Raymond glanced at his watch as he entered the building. His wrist watch showed one minute until nine. He began to shake and sweat. He never minded going up nine floors in the elevator, but now he had no time for stops and others needing the elevator. Going up the first few floors brought no problems. Two women pressed the elevator’s button on the fifth floor and stood outside of it.
“Doris, are we on the right floor?” One woman asked another while standing in front of the open door. The two looked around and shrugged. “You can get going now, sir.”
Raymond was too afraid to see the time, so he stood in the moving elevator, in silence. Ding. He made it to his office’s floor and his journey there was officially over. He took a deep breath before looking at his watch for a final time.
He was one minute late.
To the average person, one minute was far from being a big deal. But to Raymond, it was an event of catastrophic proportions. His world felt like it was over and his mind was giving him apocalyptic levels of anxiety. He dramatically dropped to his knees and loudly gulped. His heartbeat was overwhelmingly rapid and his face became pale. Everyone nearby walked over to him with wide eyes and open mouths.
His coworkers stood around him in utter disbelief. Suzanne White whispered, “Ray, I can’t believe this. You’re late!”
He stood up, brushed off lint from his wet knees, and quietly said, “I know, I can’t believe it either.”