Friday, November 25, 2005

Gerald was uncertain how to carry himself for the rest of the day.

It was as if he had witnessed a miracle. It was as if he had been given the chance to be part of a scientific breakthrough that would change the world overnight, then told to pretend it never happened. Though it wasn’t anything like that at all either. Describing the experience was almost impossible for Gerald. And when he tried to explain things to his officemates, they all simply stared at him and blinked as if he had tried to converse with them in a different language.

“You should have seen the looks on those kids’ faces. My God, they were ecstatic! They were just overwhelmed with so much happiness!” Gerald excitedly related the events at the Metro Rail Station to a few officemates.

Blink. Blink.
(Is he speaking in Sudanese?)

“And the people… oh wow! You should have seen it! No one planned it out. No one decided to start doing it. It just happened. People were suddenly all giving something for these three poor kids!”

Blink. Blink. Blink.
(Wait, was that something in German?)

Gerald only realized that relating the events to those he worked with was an attempt that was doomed to fail when one of the two people he was relating with interrupted his excited narrative with an announcement of his own.

“And they were singing! My god, it was embarrassing! It was fun! They were singing the theme song to this old local children’s show called-“

“Guys, before I forget, and pardon me for interrupting you Gerald; I will be having a small get-together after work tonight at the pub across the street. Finally celebrating my thirty-sixth birthday and I was thinking what the hey, let’s have some beers!”

The office was suddenly filled with people cheering and tossing congratulatory remarks towards the birthday celebrator, Jay, who began waving his hand like some strange overweight beauty pageant contestant. Gerald could imagine him too easily wiping way fake tears as he beamed out his perfectly fake smile. For all intents and purposes, Gerald decided that moment to give up trying to reach out to these people who seemed far too obsessed with buying the latest cellular phone model, or spending their money on the nth ipod or palm pilot, and would speak in frightened fear-filled tones when talking about how wifi was still not commonly available in Manila or how a certain new type of Nokia would not be shipped into the country. Gerald decided that there just happened to be different types of people; some who actually lived lives and tried to be more than just an ordinary person. And some who simply knew from the start that they weren’t really people so they spend their lives buying expensive decorations to distract others from seeing that fact.

But if there was one other person at the place where Gerald worked who actually noticed him and gave a damn about what he had to share, that would have to be his boss. Her name was Lilbeth and she was one of the few people whom Gerald truly enjoyed working for. She was a practicing Buddhist and would spend at least two hours each day meditating in one corner of her office. She was not bald, nor did she work in a monk’s robe or walk around with her hands clasped as if in prayer at her chest the whole time. Instead, she had purple dyed hair, loved wearing jeans with practically anything and was a living example of the motto, “Live life to the fullest.”

When Gerald first met her, she was actively training for a cross-country run. She would spend two straight hours in the company gym running on the treadmill and follow it up with a third hour doing crunches. By the fifth month of Gerald’s time at the office, Lilbeth had decided she had enough of running (she had after all ran three marathons, one of which she finished third out of nearly a thousand experienced runners) and had taken a new sport to heart: wall-climbing. Gerald recalled easily those days she’d bid everyone a good bye as she left the office, straps and harness already in place over her jeans and blouse. Today, Gerald sensed she had embraced an entirely new sport, having seen her step out of her office in black long sleeved mini dress – an elegant macramé lace with satin-lined bodice- over a pair of dark blue jeans. Her shoes made interesting clackety sounds as she walked towards him.

“Lilbeth,” Gerald smiled, “What’s this?”

“Hi Gerald,” she smiled, looked him over like a parent checking if a child had done something wrong, then smiled when she found nothing that should have caught her eye, “What’s going on here? Jay having another drinking party?”

“You said it,” Gerald admitted, “And of course the whole room rejoices,” the sarcasm was evidently thick in his voice, “Do you plan to go, Lil?”

“Of course not,” she shook her head so quick that nothing but her head bobbed that moment, “Me be part of a drinking party? That would be something new.”

“True,” he grinned, “Don’t you Buddhists practice some form of abstinence?”

“All do,” she shrugged, “I mean some call it diet. Some call it self-control. Some call it sin. I just happen to be someone who calls it what it really is.”

The two watched as Jay walked to the next row of cubicles and repeated his announcement. More applause and cheering broke the silence that had just started to grow.

“I’ve always wondered how he pays for all that,” Gerald admitted, “I mean, I thought the company was having financial woes?”

“Well,” Lilbeth sat down on the nearest table and brought her finger up against one another as if she needed them to focus. “Is Jay having a company party or a personal one?”

“A personal one-“

“Then would Jay be using company funds or personal funds?”

”Personal-“

“And there you have it, the reason why he can do this even if the company is reputedly in dire straits. Of course, if what you were thinking of was more under the lines of why wouldn’t the company just slash the salaries of some of the terribly over-paid under worked people in this building, sadly that’s where the labor laws would stand against you,” Lilbeth clapped her fingers against her palm, “One hand clapping,” she muttered suddenly more amused with her little discovery.

“What?” Gerald asked aloud, suddenly lost in the conversation.

“One hand clapping. Remember the koan. The riddle? About whether or not a tree makes a sound if there is no one there to hear it? Or the one about the sound of one hand clapping? Well, I think we’ve just answered one of the two,” Lilbeth looked at Gerald, relishing his even more confused expression. She walked up to him and hugged his face with her hands, “Gerald, you are starting to think too much again. Life’s far too complicated to set down in rules, in what should be and isn’t being done, and in little notations that declare whether or not you’re making things worse than they already are. Stop thinking too much. Stop worrying. Stop over analyzing.”

“Okay, I am duly impressed,” Gerald scoffed, “You have just transformed my search for reasons I hate working here into another discussion about living life to the fullest. Yay Nike! Just do it and all that jazz!”

Lilbeth raised both of her empty hands in mock surrender and headed back to her office. Just before closing the door, she gave Gerald one last piece of advice. “Look at it this way; if you want to try to fix the world and make it a better place, decide first what makes you someone who can decide what makes it better. On the other hand, you can let the world be the world and focus more on living your life. Frankly, I know that some people out there truly believe they have a responsibility to make the world a better place. And I say more power to them. Now if you want to try being one of them, go for it! But let’s be honest, moping about how other people who are paid more than you even if you work your ass more than them… that’s not going to save the hungry children in whatever Unicef sponsored movement you want to help.”

“Lilbeth, did anyone ever tell you how sexy you are when you’re that assertive?” Gerald called out before she closed her door. Though Gerald didn’t really mean it, he knew Lilbeth liked the intention of giving a compliment. “Rare as real reality television shows, she says.”

* *

Across the street, Patricia busily looked through the eight page e-mail which the client sent as a list of revisions on the logo she was working on for the old spinster named Miss Glenda Lee. Her two rascal children, Jeriel and Hamz, were busying themselves with the playstation 2 that Glenda Lee had recently purchased for them. Amidst the mechanically replicated sounds of punching and kicking, Patricia’s eyes glanced back towards the playstation and took note of something she had suspected; the playstation 2 was a new purchase, considering the price tag was still stuck to the box of the machine. And the box was still under the playstation as a makeshift table.

This revelation annoyed Patricia. She had been waiting for weeks for her latest paycheck, a check which Glenda Lee claimed would be delayed due to the client having failed to have the money sent in time. Somehow, Patricia suspected the reasons were far more… commercial in nature.

Glenda Lee walked back into the room with a metal tray in hand; a glass of orange juice and a plate with a few biscuits were on the tray. Patricia kept herself from looking up as she perused the printed e-mail message and carefully considered her choice of words. The e-mail was asking for a total rehash of the logo design. And this was a decision they decided upon after the seventh revision on the existing design.

”It just wasn’t working out, they said,” Glenda Lee spoke up, perhaps sensing what Patricia was already tossing back and forth in her head, “I know that last week they were just finalizing the colors, but now they realize that they wanted something much more artistic and stylized.”

“I don’t get it,” Patricia sighed audibly and allowed her hair to cover her face, “How could they suddenly change their mind about this? I thought we finally found what they wanted.”

“Maybe they realized they wanted something else. You know these clients. They can be very fickle. You’re mad, aren’t you?”

“Die! Die! Die! I’m gonna kill you!” Jeriel screamed as he mashed on the controller so hard, he started to stand on his knees and grit his teeth.

“Understatement of the century,” Patricia offered Glenda Lee a smile even if deep down she had half the mind to scream, to kick and to call out many four-letter and five letter words that the two children would probably best never learn to say.

“Fuck it, Moooom!” Hamz complained as Jeriel began blocking Hamz line of sight by placing his buttocks in between his sister and the television set.

“Hamz, don’t curse,” Glenda Lee called back without even turning to face them. Patricia felt cheated. Maybe she should have started yelling her own cuss words.

“But mooooom!” Hamz called out again, “Jeriel is standing in front of the teevee!”

Glenda Lee closed her eyes in frustration and motioned to Patricia to wait. Patricia, hiding her smile under a façade of continued frustration, nodded and focused on the printed letter instead. Patricia could hear the two children breaking into an argument as children were wont to be. Spoiled children all the more.

“But Mommy, Kuya is being unfair!”

“I am not being unfair! It is not my fault I am better than you!”

“You are not!”

“Are too!”

“Kids, enough! Can’t you see your mommy is having a meeting right now?”

“Aww… he started it!”

”Mommy, you know she did! Hamz always starts the fights just because she is older than me!”

“Stop fighting with your brother, Hamz!”

Hamz squealed in anger for having been pinpointed as the cause of the trouble. Patricia saw earlier how Jeriel was actually the one at fault, annoying his older sister by blocking her line of sight when she started playing good enough to beat him at the computer game they were playing. She felt the urge to step in. To tell Glenda Lee what she knew was the truth. But she wasn’t sure if it was her place to interfere with a family argument. She wasn’t even a relative of theirs.

Jeriel was making a fuss, kicking and grunting while he continued to play with the computer. Hamz was being forced to stand up by her mother, an act which she obviously did not want to do. Jeriel snuck a peek and slipped out a self-satisfied grin as Glenda Lee spanked Hamz in the buttocks for misbehaving. When Hamz protested, Glenda Lee struck her a second time.

“Miss Glenda Lee,” Patricia called out, wanting to distract her somehow and save Hamz for more undeserved punishment, “I was thinking, maybe we can show them the whole thread of messages about how far we’ve gotten on the logo design?”

“Patricia,” Glenda Lee called out from the other room with a weeping Hamz being dragged behind her, “Can you give me a minute… ”

“Maybe we can forward to them a reminder about how we stipulated in the contract that unfinished projects would still require them to pay the minimum amount-“

“Mommy, I did not start the fight!” Hamz pleaded but Glenda Lee would hear none of it. She spanked her again but this time her hand slipped and struck instead Hamz’ left thigh. Hamz yelped out in pain, her thigh not having the same fatty cushioning that her buttocks had. Jeriel began to snicker mischievously as he continued to play with the playstation 2. Patricia felt her own rage beginning to rise. It was not fair. It was not right.

“What if I just-“ Patricia was running out of things to say. In hopes of finding an idea or a tidbit of information to use and grab Glenda Lee’s attention, she sat down beside the computer and turned on the software Glenda Lee used for sending e-mails. A soft chime sounded as Patricia clicked on the Inbox button. Glenda Lee suddenly gasped in the distance and from the sound of things, struggled to make her way to the computer as fast as possible. The screen flickered to life faster than Glenda Lee could move and what Patricia saw on the screen was something she was thankful but very very unhappy to have seen.

The screen showed a logo design very much like what Patricia had made, only the colors were different and the background was given a much more detailed finish. The e-mail subject heading read: Finished Logo design. Patricia was able to read part of the first paragraph before Glenda Lee landed beside her and flipped the monitor off.

“I regret to inform you that miss Patrica… that I quit?” Patricia stared at Glenda Lee with a renewed sense of anger rising inside her chest. She was still more shocked and in a state of disbelief however that someone whom she trusted to work with without any paper work or contract would do this to her. In front of her two kids, nonetheless. She felt her pulse begin to race. Her hands shook with contained anger. She wanted to ask Glenda Lee what had happened. What this was all about. But the only words she could form in her lips that moment were:

”Quit?!?!”

“I… I can explain,” Glenda Lee quickly muttered beneath a struggling smile, “This is not what it looks like, I promise you. This is just some kind of misunderstanding!”

“One between them and you, it seems,” Patricia stared at Glenda Lee with a dagger-sharp gaze. If looks could kill, Glenda Lee would already be dead. Thankfully, even for someone as psychic as Patricia, merely looking was not enough to do that.

Wishing for it, on the other hand, might be!

Word Count = 2,735
Previous Count = 25,848
Total Count = 28,583 of 50,000

1 Comments:

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