What first hit me was the cold. What I first hit was the printer. Daft to leave the tray poking out over the bin everyone was discarding their cupcake cases in.
There were fans on every desk. As well as overhead fans. The flapping of neon post-it notes forming the disco lights of the party. All the windows were wide open, the sounds of gulls and sirens added to the mix of the whirring of the blades and the hens’ clucking going into overdrive as they welcomed me, the new chick. I would like to say it was all in celebration of my arrival but it was also the retirement of some grizzled team leader I was meeting for the first time that day, then would most likely never see again.
I bent down to pick up the pen I’d pretended to drop (actually a move to get brief respite from the line of the hellfire halitosis of the woman training me) and saw there were fans under some of the desks too, pointed groinwards. I felt my own one wince at that vision of its future.
Someone had tuned a dusty radio to a sixties pop hits station. Sensible penny loafers were having their time to shine, tapping on an already threadbare slate grey carpet. I regretted my own choice of black knee high boots with their two and a half inch heels. I had wanted to add a little height to my 5’ 1” frame. Instead I looked like a slut with a hobble. That’s the last time I rely on the fashion pages of Cosmopolitan magazine.
Enforced fun. The worst kind. I just wanted to get back to my desk. I needed to get in touch with IT to sort out their mistake when they were setting me up with an email address. It’s ‘J-O-D-I-E’, not ‘J-O-D-Y’. Not like I had to send them a million forms with my name spelled as it should be beforehand or anything. Maybe it’s their idea of fun, when they’re not spying through the webcams.
Someone whose name was Sally or Sarah is exclaiming over my nose ring. “Does it hurt? What happens when ya hafta blow yer nose??” You could just hear the double question mark. I was used to it from men on dating apps following up from messages they’d sent milliseconds ago, less so from women I was meeting for the first time in a professional setting. I could tell Sally-or-Sarah was just itching to touch the ring. I’d been warned of the Gollums from accounts by a friend who’d just left the Trust. I managed to slip away after distracting her by pointing out the dollop of coleslaw adorning her cardigan.
Someone it took me a month to figure out was called ‘Cee-Cee’, not ‘Sissy’, was fanning herself (“the hot flushes, they’re non-stop – never get old, m’lovely!”) with a patient information leaflet on eating disorders while simultaneously demanding I pile my floppy paper plate high from a beige wobbling pyramid of sausage rolls. On closer inspection of the buffet table I was surprised to find their vegan counterparts. I suppose not having a plant-based option would result in human rights violation emails to HR from the girl I spied with the too short fringe. The shorter the fringe, the shorter the temper, so I’ve found. I’d be annoyed too if I had been given that haircut. I think because we’re similar in ages I’m expected to gravitate towards her but I’d rather be alone with the homemade samosas I’d just spotted.
I was about to pocket a handful of After Eights so I could have them later at the designated time the brand creators had in mind but then became ensnared as soon as my fingertips brushed the little square envelopes. I had to pretend to listen to a rare fox among the hens superciliously drone on about the apprenticeship in Information Governance he co-ran. I told him I’d like to at least complete my mandatory training first – unfortunately he took that to be a joke, guffawing and spraying cheesy biscuit crumbs. He actually gave me a business card when he got a hold of himself again, as though I couldn’t just look him up on the intranet. I caught a couple of the hens twinkling beady eyes at each other. Sorry to disappoint, Sally-or-Sarah and Ann-or-Anita, this isn’t the start of some office romance. This is the start of me collecting evidence to tell the Green Team how trees were being killed so Andrew could enjoy the feeling of shoving his face in my palm, given he wouldn’t be shoving it anywhere else on me anytime soon.
At least three of the phones are ringing, but nobody is answering. Not when there are snacks.
I muffled a sigh. I was there to work. I was there to change things. From the inside. I had experienced all the failings of the healthcare system as a patient, what with years of misdiagnoses since a young girl. The blackouts that were put down to puberty, hormones, not enough exercise, not enough vitamin C in my diet. The mood swings. The constant pain. Being asked all the time and always by a new consultant, never the one I’d seen last, if I was taking recreational drugs. I was angry. But I was ready. I’d get through this dreary do, fix the fuck up with my name, then I would start to help those in need. Because I knew the wilderness of being knocked off the waiting list for unclear reasons. I knew-
A proffered miniature plastic cup of warm orange juice snaps me out of my reverie. The strip lights (the cause of so many of Maureen’s migraines, lest we forget) shimmer and dance on the surface of the liquid, drawing me forwards. I dive in. So sweet.
A nervous new girl places a lilac coloured envelope on the corner of my desk where I’ll read thirty of the same platitudes scrawled inside, or at least try to while the flies and the phones buzz around my decaying carcass, before it goes straight into the recycling bin when I get home:
“Happy retirement Jody!”
Never get old.