It was not the alarm that woke me up. Neither was it my cell phone nor the scent of coffee. And it was certainly not a gentle kiss on the lips that Emilia used to give me. It was the dream.
I sighed, relieved it was just a dream, and that it had ended. However, in my mind it had not ended. I could still hear the frantic screaming of my love. Emilia was lying naked and lifeless on a metal table. A man with no face stood beside her. He had forceps and a surgical knife clutched in his hand. Whatever happened next, I didn’t know. And it killed me.
Yes, Emilia was in a tragic condition, glistening red against ashen skin, but seeing her made me love her even more. Putting aside the emotional part, I failed to understand why the dream kept on coming and coming, night after night. It was tormenting me.
A part of me felt like there was a puzzle I had to complete, that Emilia was trying to tell me something. But another part of me felt like I should find a drug so I’d never sleep again…or never wake up.
That is how my day started.
I always considered that my day began from the moment I entered the 26th floor where I worked, greeted by the friendly faces of my coworkers. Today was different though. There was no, ‘morning, James,’ or ‘how are you today?’ I got silence and sideways glances from the office gossips. Honestly, I didn’t know what happened or what I had done. So, I stepped back and put on my innocent face as a cover, ignoring those fools staring at me as if I was the most wanted fugitive in the building.
I reached the most horrible place on the entire floor. Right at the end of the hallway waited a mammoth woman with her fleshy arms folded tightly across her chest. She reminded me of my fat math teacher in middle school. She always folded her arms like that before slapping my hands with a rattan as a punishment for not doing homework. I reflexively wrung my hands together as I walked down to meet her.
Her name was Mrs. Riana Amelia, but she was popularly known as ‘The Queen Bee.’ Whoever dared to give her such a nickname, I don’t know, but he must have been a brave fellow. She was a late fifties widow who had no children, barely smiled, and possessed no sense of humor, whatsoever.
She was the exact picture of an unattractive and unqualified person who bullied their way to the top, which made people like me an easy target. Unfortunately, people like her are everywhere, sitting on powerful seats and operating some sort of engine with power and arrogance as their fuel.
I tried to smile and half-bowed, acting as if I was her loyal servant. She eyeballed me to confirm her cruelty. I dared not look at those sharp eyes, I faced the floor.
“James,” Queen Bee erupted.
My lungs jammed for a second. “Ye…Yes, Ma’am.” I stammered before following her to her office.
“Are you an idiot or what?” She screamed, throwing a document on the table.
She released herself onto her chair. The chair screamed in agony.
“This is the second time in a month!” She continued.
With my lips still sealed, I swallowed a big dose of saliva.
I still had no clue what I had done, but I was shaking.
And my innocent face had switched into Tom Hanks’ idiot face from Forest Gump.
“You have been working here for years now. How could you create such a mess?” She demanded, as she swirled the chair to face her computer and drummed the keyboard with her meaty fingers. “This customer…ring a bell?”
I bent down, squinting. I saw my banking transaction ID popping up on the screen, and I knew exactly what it meant.
“How on earth could you withdraw a two thousand dollar deposit without any confirmation?”
My stomach froze.
I don’t remember this.
I failed to believe that I did such a stupid thing.
“Do you realize how this affects the company?” She asked. “We lost almost ten thousand because of this nonsense. Not to mention that this customer works in a law firm. Now he is suing us for numbers that you don’t even want to know.”
“Em… Eh… I am, I am very sorry.” I managed.
“Sorry, huh? And you think sorry can fix all this mess? You are really something.”
“Um… Is there anything I can do to fix this?”
“You can’t pay the company’s loss, can you? I really don’t know what I am going to do to you.”
My left armpit released a drop of cold sweat. “It won’t happen again. I promise.”
She stare pierced my eyes. “This is your second error this month.”
“I promise, I will do my best.”
“That’s not enough. I need no words. I need a guarantee.”
She turned back to the screen and started typing. “I have to make sure you don’t repeat this error. It’s costly.”
The printer on the table buzzed, and a sheet of paper slid out.
“Sign here. This will be your last warning,” she said.
Warning letter! It was hard to hide the shivering now. The letter also meant that I was not entitled to receive any monthly bonus.
“You have to start thinking of making yourself necessary to this company. Be an asset like me, not a liability. You see, this company needs me. This office would die without me.” She drew closer to my face. “People want to live like me and drive expensive cars, have big houses, and all the fancy stuff, but they don’t want to work hard and smart to get it.”
Honestly, I didn’t know what she was bragging about. Suddenly, I felt sick. Both of my eyes spun around, and a horrible headache started crawling inside my brain. I quickly signed the paper and left her office without saying anything.
I was a living mess for the rest of the night. I couldn’t focus or do anything without being distracted. Later, I asked for permission to take a break.
I was too fed up to deal with anything. I just wanted to get the hell off of the 26th floor. I needed to be alone, and the perfect place was the rooftop. I used it as my emotions management space.
The place was just like any other helipad: city lights, transmitter antennas and the sky, of course. I enjoyed the beautiful sunrise along with the sweet gig of sparrows in the morning. During the day the sun was my comfort. And when the sky was overcast, I watched as dark clouds covered the horizon like an alien invasion. But my favorite was when the sun set on the western horizon and the warm wind blew against my face. I’d watch as flocks of birds flew above, and pierced the clouds in the fading sky.
So, there I was, alienated and deep in misery.
I lit up a cigarette and sat on the concrete, holding both knees and staring at the sky. Millions of glowing dots gave me company. The honking cars below honked a good rhythm. After sometime, footsteps from the entrance disturbed my spinning mind.
“Figured you might be here.”
I knew it was Richard. He was the only person who knew the place. We sometimes called it The Chamber of Secrets.
“Nobody is perfect. People screw up once in a while,” he said sitting next to me.
He gazed at me with sorry eyes. “So, warning letter?”
“You had to remind me of that?”
Richard smoked with his distinctive style, creating bubbles of rings from the smoke. “Well, you deserved it.”
“Gee, thanks a lot.”
“Just saying you need to be more focused on paper, and try to take your current responsibilities more seriously.”
“Shit, man! You sound like The Queen Bee now.”
“Listen, nothing that I say will make you feel any better. This thing is gonna suck for a while, and then you will be fine. But for what it’s worth, I am sorry this is happening to you, man.”
“At least I’m not getting fired.”
“You could ask for some nice cash to walk away if you are…”
I gave him a glance of an eagle. “Shit! That’s gonna screw everything up.”
“Welcome to your life. So, tell me, what happened?”
“Just having one of those days.”
“I wasn’t talking about work. But, dude, come on, what’s really happening to you, mentally?”
I snorted. “You’re even worse than the fat lady down there.”
“I know you aren’t dumb enough to make the same mistake twice in the same month. You’re one of the best bankers here, and you know it. We both know what this is really about.”
“Well, tell me, what is this all about? You seem to know better than I do.”
“It’s her. It’s always about her, nothing else,” Richard said.
“This has nothing to do with anyone, okay?”
He gave me a disappointed stare. “Ah, come on. Stop doing that.”
“This denial thing.”
“I am telling you. This is something else.”
“Yeah, like what?”
“I don’t know, man. I feel like…like a bit off track these days. Something is bothering me, and I don’t know what it is. But it is definitely not about her.”
“I don’t wanna be rude. I am just gonna be honest with you cause there’s a lot on the line here. You’re being a pussy. You don’t have the guts to admit your own mess.”
“When you met Jen, I really thought you were finally gonna stop whining about Emilia and start being happy,” he continued. “Instead, you’re giving Jen a hard time. How can you possibly manage the relationship you have with her? How could you be in a relationship while you are incapable of being happy? Hmm?”
“You’re saying my relationship is falling apart and my job is on the line, because I am not happy?”
“There’s no walking out on this. You must stop running. For once in your life, stop running, James.”
“What the fuck is that supposed to mean?”
“Life doesn’t always turn out exactly like how you planned it. So many things that you thought were the most important in the world, they turn out not to be. But, sometimes it turns out to be even better. It’s just that you don’t realize it yet. You know… there is a reason why Jen came along. She’s the one who will help you get through this.”
“I am thinking of leaving her.”
Richard gave me a mad gaze. “What? Are you nuts?” It was still dark but I knew exactly the look on his face.
“Hey, I need some space, alright? It’s not like Jen and I are going somewhere.”
“You think? Shit, man! If you think you need some time off with her, just say so. I am sure she will understand.”
“I stopped calling her.”
“Dude! Come on, that’s fucked up. You can’t leave a girl hanging on the line like that. This shit is gonna come back on you.”
“Yeah? How’s that?”
“Until you are right to her, everything you even think about is gonna fail.”
“I told her I have some projects to deal with and was not gonna be available for a while.”
“And what’s this project again? Tell me, how long has it been since you told her all that bullshit?”
“A week now.”
“A week? Jesus! Did she try to contact you?” he asked. “Oh yeah, of course, you ignored her, right? Sent you a text—delete! Left you a voicemail—delete! You got mail—delete! You’re a smug, dumb ass. You’ve found yourself a great girl who loves you. Fuck, if I know why? She supports your work, puts up with your sorry ass, bullshit schedule, and you fuck her up like that?”
“It’s not like I dumped her already.” I argued.
“You owe Jen an explanation and an apology,” he said. “You know what? This Emilia issue is dragging you down, man, and you’re taking Jen along. This is exactly why I was asking you to see a shrink.”
“Ah, here we go.”
“You need some serious help from someone who is an expert on this sort of thing.”
“And you think talking to a psychiatrist will put everything back on track?”
“At least you will get a picture of what has caused this in the first place,” he said already rising. “I hate seeing you like this, and as a friend, I beg you, please see a shrink.”
“I am on a tight budget now, in case you forgot. I can’t afford the counseling.” I said, searching for excuses.
He looked down at me. “Just so you know, my brother in law is a shrink. I can hook you up with him. Just sleep on it before you say no.”
“I will think about it, okay?”
“Okay, that’s a start. But promise me first thing in the morning, you call Jen and apologize, man.”
“Oh no, man. Just —”
Richard sprang up, dropped the cigarette, and stared at me with blazing eyes. “I’m just wasting my time here.” Then he walked away.
“Rich. Rich,” James called, but Richard didn’t respond or look back.
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