I rarely work late on a Friday night, but I know lots of people do. I often wonder if they think it’s worth it in the end.
The afternoon light fades from a clear blue into the hazy blue of evening. Lights, pink and green and yellow, blink on in a coordinated symphony. Office workers, scurry out of buildings on to buses and trains, and into taxis and cars, and on to their bicycles and feet, eager to escape the prison-drudge of their day.
He is the last person to leave, even on a Friday night. He believes in presence, that the act of staying will validate him, make him more worthy. He considers the early birds – anyone who departs their desk before 4.30 to be guilty of treason, to be lesser than he. He watches them, these lesser beings, as they shut down their two-screen machines and gather in bunches to discuss the unfolding evening. Where to go. What to drink. Who’ll be there. Who won’t. Who shouldn’t. How the bunches are getting home. A complex concoction of simple arrangements.
He feels a slight tug of jealousy. A few short years ago, he would have been in that bunch. Now, though, he is separate from them. Apart. Oh, he pretends well enough that he is still one of them, but it’s just a pretense, like playing cowboys and indians as a child. Every one knows it’s a game. Still, he remembers the camaraderie of the bunch well enough to miss the underwelming feeling of belonging to something.
For now he resides in no man’s land. A demilitarized zone, where he neither fits with the upper echelon, nor with the bunches. He suspects that the upper echelon uses him as they see fit, that at some point, he will be discarded. He buries that suspicion deep, refusing to acknowledge its existence. If it doesn’t exist, then it cannot happen.
He hears the bunches leaving, their chatter and banter and laughter fading in tandem with the light. The stragglers file out, one by one, some bid him a See you later and Have a good weekend, others pretend he is invisible – inconsequential – and exit silently, their good-byes and seeyas saved for more worthy colleagues.
He sits, watching and listening, in front of his screen. He continues to type, the tap tap tap of his fingers on the keyboard his solace in the silence of the office. He finds the silence comforting at first, like a favourite blanket thrown over cold legs. As the night draws thick outside, he finds the silence eery, oppressive, and he flinches at a sudden bang bang bang emanating from somewhere deep in the building.
He taps urgent taps on his keyboard and clicks on his mouse, index finger scrolling like a rabid hamster on a wheel. Alone now, his thoughts tumble over themselves in his mind. He boards them up, unhappy with their tornado undertone. He squints up at his screen, closes his document and powers down his machine. He is finished, done. He turns off his office light and slithers into the dark.