There was no other day like May 15th in B’s life. It wasn’t that he got rich or his fantasies about Pamela Anderson had been fulfilled. Or that, overnight, he grew hair on his bald head, or something terrible happened. Or that he woke up that morning with a full understanding of his life, as he often wondered.
In fact, he was an ordinary man with only ordinary expectations.
Nothing disturbed his morning routine. He had his coffee, got washed and dressed, and packed his lunch. Even his shower thoughts were the same except for an ambiguous feeling that he should have called his mother. Her surgery last year, at the age of 78, threw a bigger responsibility on his shoulders. While the water was running over his somewhat heavy body, he made a mental note to give her a call.
Walking down the alley toward the office building, he saw Pete driving around the corner. He thought he caught a glimpse of Mandy’s hair on the passenger seat. A sharp contraction hit his stomach, even though their relationship was now an old story. The girl he had known since college, with her wild laughter and insatiable lust for life, was now a tamed lady under Pete’s lacquered shoe. But Mandy was already sitting at her desk when he got up to the second floor. He had been closer to the building, so she couldn’t have been in Pete’s car. He found this a comforting thought as he passed her desk, greeting her. Mandy didn’t move her curly head and did not respond. Bent over her makeup kit, she was graciously lining her sparkly green eyes. Besides, the TV in the lunch room was on; maybe she didn’t hear him.
A phone was ringing somewhere. On his way to the fridge, he realized the sound came from his desk, so he ran to pick up the phone. There was Boss, his supervisor. A small, dark haired man with a mean, demanding voice. Nobody liked him.
Boss was looking for the Johnson J. project. Nope…wrong person. Johnson J. was Pete’s. Yep, Pete’s. Before hanging up, Boss told him to stop by his office after lunch.
For a few seconds B stood up, looking at the empty walls of his cubicle. Should he put some of the old pictures back? Maybe he should wear his coat for the meeting. Boss didn’t even wear a tie all the time.
Things went quiet for a while, and he got to concentrate on his pile of crap. Outside, the day grew brighter. The clouds were chased away by the wind, then the wind died down, and the Sun came out shiny and hot on a deep blue sky. At 10 o’clock period, the sprinklers pumped up clear water over the lawn.
The nature was in its own world, watching over the neighborhood
B felt like a fat insect trapped in a match box. But things needed to get done by noon so Boss wouldn’t say again that he was working too slow. For the next two hours, he concentrated on his screen, trying to ignore the small talk around him. Once he was done, it was 12 PM and the sprinklers were silent.
It was lunch time. B remembered that he had dropped his lunch bag by the desk in the morning when answering the phone. The food was spoiled now. He would not dare to eat it and have a miserable afternoon. There was a mall just across the street. He could drive there to grab a sandwich or a hamburger. Maybe he would even get an ice-cream on the way back. And so, he quietly left his office.
B just needed to make it back in time for the meeting and show Boss his draft, then maybe the little man would leave him alone for a while. “Why would he call me for the Johnson J?” he questioned himself. Everybody knew that Pete got the best projects because his supervisor was very receptive to public admiration, and loved the way Pete was always kissing his posterior about how good of a leader he was and how great his ideas were.
B got chicken crisps with fries and skipped the Coke. While waiting for his order, he spotted a quiet, out-of-the-way place to sit. That would give him a panoramic view of the whole food court. It wasn’t that he disliked being in the middle where the action was, but he rather enjoyed watching people. The whole crowd was a wonderful view for his isolated eyes. Rushing to his spotted table, he almost knocked down an older couple while trying to avoid a stroller.
He was half way through the meal when a boy passed by. Tall and slim, no older then 16 or 17, he wore a sport top, shorts and white tennis shoes. With his head up and a spring step, the boy passed B’s table, looking straight ahead, knowing who he was and where he was going.
B only saw him for a few seconds, a little from the profile and more from the back. At first, he got startled and stopped chewing his food. Then, as he watched the boy disappearing into the crowd like a ghost that was getting away with B’s life, forgotten memories crushed into his mind in a split second with the power of an earthquake; about his own youth, about his own dreams of growing up and his life having finally started. Or maybe it was his soul that collapsed. “That boy,” he later remembered saying, “that boy was me 30 years ago.” At his corner table, he sat motionless. Years, decades, were spinning back, back to the beginning, then forth and back again, till all the memories, everything, all of that was well blended, till nothing was getting any better and nobody could separate the future from the past, anymore.
He sat still for a long time. Around him, people were coming, eating, talking, laughing, leaving, in accordance with their destiny.
When he got up, it was already thirty minutes past his lunch time. Even though he looked at his watch out in the parking lot, he decided to go back and get that ice cream, anyway.
Back in his cubicle, B grabbed his coat. Before knocking at Boss’ door, he stopped at the bathroom to wash his hands, trying to avoid the mirror, with it’s shiny, spotless glare. B turned on the cold water first, then the hot water… For a few seconds, he let the jet run through his fingers, making sure the water was not too hot, not too cold, just mild the way he liked it.
He soaped his hands all the way up to the wrists, enveloping them with white, soft, slippery foam.
Picking at his fingernails, he cleaned each finger, then the whole hand, scrubbing one after another many times until he got exhausted and thought that his skin was going to peel off. Finally, his hands reached for the water under the jet, exposing themselves, long and narrow, with a subtle firmness around the knuckles, naughty enough to sneak and find “the pleasure spots,” as Mandy put it the night they decided to move in together. He never understood her words or her obsession with his hands or why she fell in love with him in the first place.
She liked to hold hands in public, and sometimes she would get his arm and wrap it around her waist, with his long palm resting on her belly. But he couldn’t stand holding hands in public, he found it almost undignified to bump into people and their belongings because he was attached to another body. Yes, that was it… He could not handle it with dignity, and he was right; even if he lost Mandy, he was still right: “Holding hands in public wasn’t a good idea,” he whispered to himself, raising his eyes to confront the mirror… And there he was, pathetic and useless, keeping his hand for himself forever.
Suddenly, B stopped the running water as he heard noises on the hall. There were running steps, which was weird because usually nobody ran on the hallway. There went one, then another, then a door was slammed open, and this time there were heavy footsteps rushing down. He couldn’t tell where they were stopping, but thought that people were hurrying in the opposite direction of his cubicle, towards Boss’. He grabbed some paper towels while rushing out of the bathroom. B didn’t run, he stood, a little confused, leaning against the wall, watching the crowd gathered in front of Boss’ office. It looked like nobody was getting inside, but everybody was trying to see something. Slowly, B moved forward. Around him, people were whispering incredible things one should never even think about. Even Mandy was there, on the right side of the door, squeezing Pete’s hand hard and too close to her chest, as far as B was concerned.
Not really aware of what was going on, B aimed at Boss’ door, sliding his large body through the mob, gently pushing people left and right, continuously muttering “excuse me!” “Is he dead?” a timid voice asked out loud, and everybody froze. B kept walking till the last two persons standing by the open door made room to let him in. And there was Boss, lying on the floor, with his head on a bunch of yellow folders and his right arm folded over his chest, without a tie, shirt unbuttoned uncovering his hairy chest, as B always suspected. The man was sick and furious. He looked B in the eyes and said: “Where the f*** have you been?” B thought for a moment. “I was at lunch,” he replied, but what he really wanted to say was: “I’m sorry.”