Prad’s steering wheel looked to be a tad bit dented as he pulled into the employee parking lot that morning. It might have had something to do with the fact that he was beating it with his fist for the entire drive. Caught between ecstasy and anxiety, he expressed himself by repetitively thrusting his fist against it. It was a happy beating, but it left his fist sore nonetheless. He checked the time just as he pulled in.
9:13 am. He would be fifteen minutes late by the time he got inside and to his desk. The sweat was already collecting on his brow the second he got to the front door. The weather was nice and warm, the sun shining. The welcoming concrete of the front entrance was already baking and radiating some heat up at him. Not a good combination at the moment. He forgot to apply his Speed Stick and his grimy extremities are also getting warm.
A quick run up the stairs to the second floor, where the air conditioning is running, the colours are muted greys, and the lights are fluorescent. He knows his pits will be cooling in this and will surely begin to reek in just a few minutes. But what can he do? He needs to get to his desk and act like he’s been working this whole time. Lunch will be the first opportunity he gets to take care of the smell problem. Flex hours are a thing of the past, abandoned in favour of the easier-to-monitor and regulate eight hour day. Under that ancient regimen, the hours of nine to twelve and one to five are spoken for. If he’s absent for any amount of time within those two blocks, he’ll be penalized. And he can forget about staying late, that’s overtime.
Prad takes a moment to curse the one group of assholes in management and the other in labour who created this ridiculous system between them. He hopes there’s a particular stinky corner especially reserved for them in hell (the smell that’s wafting through his shirt at that moment is what makes him think of this).
He wonders what the words in his native tongues would be for the condition. He wonders mainly because the English word is just so damned appropriate, and yet so abrupt. Like many such words, missing entirely are the long flowery descriptions that just don’t translate well.
One can practically hear the old English usage, the Germanic roots that feel so folksy and earthy. So much meaning wrapped up in a tiny poetic statement consisting of only a few phonemes. He has learned the Thai and Filipino equivalents, but somehow, they just don’t seem to do it justice.
Magdumi… S̄kprk… Just not the same.
The endorphin rush from the mad dash he made getting to his desk seems to have triggered another episode of temporary lucidity. But right now, its swimming upstream against the Purple Haze. He hits the power button on the monitor and calls up his last task. His fingers begin to navigate code, one keystroke at a time.
“Hey,” Rohit says from behind him. “Didn’t hear you sneak in.”
“Are we married now?”
“There’s a list up on the break room wall. You should take a look.”
“What is it?” Prad asks, turning around.
“Schedule for interviews.”
“Interviews? For what?”
Rohit raises his hand from behind the cubicle, revealing a cup of coffee he had stashed there. He sips from it slowly and shakes his head, his lips formed in a tight grimace.
“You got a short memory, don’t you? I told you the other day.”
Prad looks at him cockeyed. Rohit leans in closer and whispers it to him.
“When you were bragging to me about that ‘thing’ you did?” he uses his fingers to make quotation marks. Prad’s memory kicks in. The parts that make it through the haze come back to him. Rohit was muttering something about HR and how they all have to explain why they need to keep their jobs. He remembers Rohit being pretty bitter about it, or maybe that was him. And wasn’t there something about bosses, unions and the industrialization of work time? No, that was definitely him, and that was only a few minutes ago! Damn, Prad thinks. He needs to stop getting messed up on weeknights. In any case, he considers the partial recall sufficient and nods.
“Anyway, it’s on the wall in the break room. People need to sign up and most of the good spots are taken.”
“Mainly late night, Tuesday and Friday.”
Prad jumps to his feet and runs to the break room. Sure enough, a sign up sheet is on the bulletin board with a permanent marker hanging by a string next to it. Someone is in the process of signing it. Prad joins them to get a better look, also because he feels like he has to stop them. Sure enough, and Rohit really wasn’t kidding there, just about every time slot and every day of the week have been spoken for. Tuesday, morning and afternoon, are gone, much the same is true about Friday. Some late comers have taken the later afternoon slots, lengthening their stay to after five o’clock. But as of now, Prad has to decide between an interview that will waste a Friday evening or one that will compromise his next meeting with the Society.
He turns around and sees Rohit standing there in the doorway, coffee cup in hand.
“When did this go up? This morning?”
“Yep.” Rohit puts his cup to his mouth with an air of smug self-satisfaction. Prad sees why a second later. Rohit’s John Hancock is in the prime location, Monday morning of next week, second timeslot (which is scheduled for ten o’clock). This ensures that he can get his out of the way early but he doesn’t have to go first. It also means he can take his time getting ready for it in the morning. As time slots go, it’s almost ideal. Prad, on the other hand, is screwed no matter what slot he takes. All the remaining interviews will be held late, but not late enough that he can go home and come back. Either night, he’ll have to stay several extra hours and then have to go through the demeaning interview process. Angrily, Prad takes the marker and sacrifices a few hours out of his Friday night rather than mess with Tuesday meeting of the Society.
Yamal Pradchaphet, he writes, in the 7:00 pm slot.
He recaps the pen and flicks it away in a motion that leaves no doubt as to how little he cares for this arrangement.
“Early bird gets the worm. Besides, the time slot isn’t exactly what you should be worrying about. If I were you, I’d be working on what I’m going to tell the panel.”
“Panel? There’s a panel?”
“Yes,” Rohit says, slamming his cup down and fetching another dose of coffee. “As I’m sure I explained already.”
“Nope,” Prad says, searching his memory, which for the first time that day seems pretty clear. “Nothing about a panel. So who’s on it?”
“Your HR rep, your supervisor, some of the execs. Basically, you got five people all looking to nail you and you need to be able to tell them why they shouldn’t.”
“They can suck my ball sack. They need me!”
“Sure they do.”
“If they knew half of what I could do, they’d be begging me to stay.”
“Really?” Rohit says disbelievingly, taking another sip as nonchalantly as he can manage. Prad is now following him back to his cubicle, like a little runt dog barking after the bigger one that doesn’t want to pay attention to him. He knows a brush-off when he sees it, and it’s pissing him off.
“I’m serious man!” he says persistently. “People like me need to stay hired by companies like this, otherwise we’d be shoving viruses up their asses.”
They are almost to Rohit’s cubicle now. Prad is not about to follow him all the way there and bark at him while he gets back to work. It would just look so undignified. He has one final salvo to throw at Rohit, something to turn the tables on him a little, even though it’s a little used.
“You don’t believe me, huh?” he says with a forceful whisper, loud enough to get through but not to so loud the other employees can him over the din of work. “Maybe you should ask Congressman Dangle what he thinks of my skills.”
“Jeez, that again!” Rohit says with obvious annoyance. “You know, you keep bringing up that name, but we both know you’re not about to explain that one, so why not just let it go?”
“Fine,” Prad says angrily. He lowers his voice again to a forced whisper. “Then check in with the FBI. I’m sure they’ve got something on their website.”
Prad turns around before Rohit can answer. He’s sure he can feel his eyes boring into his own back. Maybe he hasn’t heard the news yet, but it’ll hit him in a few. At worst, he’s probably going back to his desk where he can Google it from. Then he’ll see!
Ah, but fuck it all. Now he’s really breached protocol with that little act of self-gratification. Protocol about the Society is, you do not talk about the Society, or what it does. You mention them as friends should they come in conversation, maybe; but never what you do with them. Only the DeePs are such dishonourable scourges as to brag openly. One may have bragging rights, but one does not use them around third parties. It’s just common sense. And in mentioning the FBI, he’s really been way too open. Why didn’t he just write Felon on his head with a big, black permanent marker? It’s a lucky coincidence for him that no one else from the Society works there. Otherwise, he’d have a lot to answer for.
He’s back at his desk for less than ten minutes before the grime becomes intolerable. He needs more coffee too now that he thinks about it. But his bladder needs to be emptied before he fills it up again. Getting to his feet, he makes his way to the floor’s bathroom for a quick pee break and a touch up. Voiding his bladder, he takes his time at the sink to spruce up his facial situation. His eyes are bloodshot and his hair speaks of poor maintenance. Several handfuls of cool water feel good on his unshaven, unwashed cheeks. The quick burst of adrenaline from the sudden shock of cold is also nice, the dribbling water washing the oily, stale feeling away temporarily. He runs a few spare handfuls over his head too, just to get at the main source of discomfort. No matter how many times he washes his whiskers, grime from the top of his head seems to seep down and dirty them again. He knows this from experience. Always need to get the hair too.
Washed up, he grabs a handful of towels and runs them through his hair to partially dry it. The remaining droplets need to air dry, thus dissolving the grime and taking it away with them. It’s a practiced ritual, he’s found, the daily fight against the grime. One imagines if it can ever be truly won, or if it’s like trying to hold back a flood with a broom. How strangely enlightened a thought this seems right about now. How many lucid moments does that make for him today?
His taste of enlightenment is abruptly ended when he spots O’Malley walking into a stall behind him. Pausing to notice Prad standing there, looking into the mirror, he fires off a quick salvo.
“Forget to wash up this morning, Prad? Or did they shut off your water?” he says with a derisive laugh.
“Must have, Brad,” he replies with a fake smile. “Why else would I be washing out of a sink?”
He tries his best to say O’Malley’s name in a way that makes it sound offensive. Brad. Braaaad. Well, it sounds bad to him. Hoping to justify the hate with which Prad views him, O’Malley goes on.
“Must not be used to bathing every day where you’re from, huh?”
“That’s funny O’Malley. You fuck your mother with that mouth?”
“Asshole,” O’Malley scoffs, shoving the door shut.
“Dickhead,” Prad fires at the stall door and O’Malley’s shoes. At least he didn’t make a toilet paper joke. Then Prad would be forced to bring up O’Malley’s questionable hick ancestry. He doesn’t like that, he knows. O’Malley insists he’s from New York, umpteenth generation Irish stock. But he knows he’s a racist prick, so the inbred hillbilly references are all good.
Prad tosses the wet bundle of towels into the wastebasket and makes his way to the break room. Freshly washed cups are hard to come by in the cupboard. The sign on the front urging people to wash their own dishes apparently has not made a dent. Here too, the war on grime is being lost, the kind that invades chinaware and glass. Taking the least shmutzy one, he gives it a quick rinse, ignoring the brown line at the bottom, then fills it with coffee from the dispenser. He’s surprised that Rohit is not at his desk when he returns. He is sure that by now he’s had a looky loo on the web and found the story: the one about one asshole Senator and some photos that surfaced about him from the FBI’s own surveillance database. Lo and behold, he’s still at his desk. His back is busy typing away on his machine and he appears to be working.
Oh well, Prad thinks. Just as well, let him find out about it in time. Alternately, maybe he’ll forget Prad said anything and his little breach of protocol will never be revealed. One can always hope, but damn he wants to see the look on Rohit’s face when he realizes he’s been in the presence of a veritable cybergod for months.