“Why didn’t you pick it up?” She sat down next to me and smirked at me, she opened up her lunchbox, then stretched herself out over the fountain edge; making her presence unavoidable.
“I don’t know, I just didn’t feel like invading your personal policies I guess?” The sun was in my eyes and the freckles on her blossomed like flowers during springtime. The fountain’s water drizzled itself on to the both of us, insisting our conversation.
“I mean…you were expected to, it’s your job.” She spoke delicately, almost like you’d speak to a kindergartener. I squinted, tightening the grip on my fork, so as not to lose it and seem incompetent. I wanted to impress this girl, I didn’t know why. “You’re the secretary, right?” There was no flirtatious smile or teasing voice.
“Well yeah…but, it was your phone. Your office…” My excuses were primitive but she waited patiently, waited for an apology or for a certainty of security the next time it happens. She was intimidating and suspenseful.
She responded by chuckling, I didn’t understand that. She confused me on a new level, it was like she was too intellectual for anyone to ever be competent enough for her chuckles. I couldn’t quite calculate the positions we stood in during this conversation, who was the superior and who the inferior. Or maybe I was just looking up to her, she was brave seeking me out to address me in public after the debacle. Once she missed the call there was nothing she could do about it, no one could save her after the damage had been done. She was yelled at and ridiculed in an incomparably objectified manner. It wasn’t exclusively her boss but the entire office, like animals staring from their high branches at the lioness being pushed out with shame. I remember glancing at her legs, unmoved but still so fragile, like a china doll about to break.
I pursed my lips to distract her from the silence and instead started playing with my limbs; stretching out my legs and arms, rearranging my posture to seem defensive. She sat completely still, her lunchbox at hand, unmoved. I felt toyed with, like she was playing me. It frustrated me, because I knew she was up for a lecture any minute now, a lecture on how hard it is to be a woman in her position and that my mistakes screw up her career.
She sighed and began picking out her sweet berries from the chocolate box a man at work had gotten her. “What is that?” I asked, able to assess the situation myself. It was probably given to her as a bribe from some old chauvinist from a different company, the sexual symbol of chocolates.
“Oh, my boyfriend gave it to me for my birthday. I don’t really like chocolates, the dried fruit attracts me though. I deserve to be picky after the hell he’s given me.” Dried fruit, how unforgiving. There was something sad about the dried cherries and blueberries. Like a metaphor for her dry relationship, no fertility.
“Something wrong with them?” Her first explanation was inconclusive, and I couldn’t see why she was being so choosy about chocolates, instead of being grateful.
“They’re just sad, like a symbol for every apology any man has ever given me, greasy and synthetic. But the berries come from the heart of the forest, although they’re weak and flaccid, they’re still berries.” The emptiness in her voice almost made me feel like we’d moved beyond the incident. But it now lingered in her chocolates with a guilt picking at me.
I picked up my newspaper, which I had retired from right as she swaggered my way, re-examining my last sentence. I was reading an article on the oil leak by the Gulf of Mexico. Once the oil left the well, it spread throughout the water column, there was a hefty amount of oil.
“Do you think oil drilling is ethical?” She points to my newspaper, her pointer finger was dyed red from what juices were left in her berries. She was slouched over her little box of messy apologies, chocolates still untouched, I noticed her posture was sloppy and unladylike. It made me uncomfortable. I wasn’t a control freak and I didn’t have anything opposed to freedom of comfort, it was just something I was nitpicking. I guess it was a poor reflection of my own obsession with perfection. I was inclined to come to work in a strictly black suit with an orange-blue candy-cane noose that matches the tan on my face, and yet she felt completely authorized strutting about in jeans and a Stanford shirt.
“I don’t know, I don’t try to figure out how the world should be, I think about how it is. It’s not my job to analyze everything, that’s what the newspaper’s for.” I refuse eye-contact; she had annoyed me. I didn’t see how it was her place to question the newspaper, or invade my privacy any longer than necessary.
“I guess you’re right, we should just let them worry about that.“ She added sarcastically. She looked down at her feet, playing with her toes, the sneakers squeaking like an eraser grinding against my head. She put away her fruit box.
I looked up hesitantly, she had been standing over me for a few minutes. She shadowed me blocking out the sun, I shrunk in front of her. There was a bland disruption in her expression. She had understood my resentment’s origin by now, she was a Stanford kid.
“I get it, it’s all right.” Her black hair got inside her mouth as the wind blew, she didn’t mind. She frowned lightly and turned around slowly, preparing herself to walk away. There was a pause, not the judgmental kind, the kind that allows room for an apology and the explanation of why a high school kid who was beaten and harassed by everyone takes his issues out on minorities. I opened my mouth to speak, to at least explain I was exhausted from work and hence made wrong decisions. She seemed more upset now that her gaze was off my face. As if I had betrayed her somehow. Being harassed for my height, my Asian decent and my inability to be anything but friendzoned had caused repression all my life. I felt as though I was risking relapse-repression by helping her. “Okay. Well, this is my cue I guess, thanks for the chat.”
She was kind, her smile was genuine and I liked her suaveness. The dark tone of her skin gave her that extra glimmer when she lashed out an opinion in the conference room, color brave, that’s what she was. She knew her skin color was something people noticed, not resented but simply noticed, and she used it to her advantage. It was smart, she played this corporate business with a wit. I watched her walk away with broad shoulders and a fortified stance.
She strutted away with a sort of pride. I admired her. But I had shown her my spite and didn’t think compromising myself was worth clearing my name.
Something flashed by her making her hair flinch, a man on the vehicle. He had yelled something at her. At first I didn’t quite comprehend why a stranger would yell at her, maybe it was an acquaintance? But why did he dash off so quickly in that case, why didn’t he stay to chat with her for a while like she had stayed with me? I re-evaluated the words he spun at her, Nice Ass. She was neutral, a few seconds later she turned around to catch the sight of the man’s back as he sped out of reach. She knew he had biked past, it didn’t seem to have bothered her but she still stood there staring at him for several minutes. Then she continued to walk. Unmoved.