The monotony is loathsome. I slather it on my dry toast each morning and swallow it down with a wash of bitter coffee. I’m down to rationing one measly teaspoon of sugar per cup and it doesn’t make the morning any sweeter.
I don’t even really know what day of the week it is but I know that if I’m late again, I’ll be out of a job. Out of a paycheck and out on my ass. So I need to be on time.
I pull on a crumpled shirt, my brown trousers without the hole and a faded blue tie. I comb my hair with my fingers while holding the last mouthful of toast between my teeth. Shrugging my bag onto my shoulder, I check my reflection in the hall mirror and give myself a red-eyed wink. Looking good, Jakey boy, I think to myself before emerging from my tiny apartment and locking the door with a clack.
Out on the street, I see a bus go past. Shit. It’s the one I’m supposed to be on. The on time bus. The one that if I miss, I’ll be out on my ass bus. So now it’s time to run. I shift my bag onto my back and start to sprint. Acidic coffee sloshes in my stomach as soon as I start pumping my legs. My sluggish lungs quickly run out of breath, even though my mouth is hanging wide open, and the concrete pavement sends painful jolts up into my knee caps.
Glancing ahead I see the bus pull into the curb. A shuffling line of commuters lumber themselves forward, ready for boarding.
“Hey! Hold the bus!” I shout, waving an arm to and fro.
A woman at the end of the line turns and looks at me. She’s middle aged, wearing a tidy skirt and has square-toed sensible shoes. Her mouth presses into a thin line when she sees me and I silently plead her to peel it open. Split it down the middle to reveal her pearly white teeth and pink tongue. Open wide and ask the driver to hold on. To wait just for a minute so I can be on the on time bus.
“Hold. The. Bus!” I shout again between gasps, my bag thumping into my spine.
But the middle-aged woman’s lips remain firmly closed. She doesn’t open wide. She doesn’t raise her voice to stop the driver. No. She ignores me, turns her back on me and shuffles forward in the queue. Bitch.
So I keep sprinting. Like a kid in the one hundred metre school dash, I put my head down and pump my arms as fast as they’ll go. Hot air pushes out of my nostrils and I can feel my heart hammering in my chest. But the woman is stepping up onto the bus. She’s crossing the finish line and I’m still too far behind. The glass door is hissing closed and I know I won’t make it, even though I have to make it. The wheels start to turn and pull the bus forward.
“Wait!” I yell again as I come up alongside its cold grey hull.
Banging my fist on the side of it, I yell again. I plead for it to stop. I even pray for it to stop. But it’s pulling away from me. Faceless passengers stare down at me from the seats aboard and more hard lined mouths stay closed. No one raises their voice on my behalf and so the bus keeps moving. The cold metal slides away faster and faster under my fingers, like a slippery eel. I can’t keep up and the on time bus pulls away into the river of morning traffic. It leaves me standing at the curbside shore with my chest heaving. Shit. I fucking missed it.
I stand there, cursing at the woman who didn’t open her mouth while I take gulps of air with my own. I run my hand through my hair and wait for the not on time bus to arrive, but I wonder if it’s worth waiting for. I wonder if instead, I should go home, turn off my phone and crack a beer. But when it pulls up to the curb, I’m the first one on board. I take a seat down the back and stare moodily out the window. I’ve got to at least try save my job.
I skulk into the office block. The clock on the wall jeers at me, it’s hands pointing out with glee that I’m fifteen minutes late. I cross the floor with my head down and step into the elevator, jabbing the button for the sixteenth floor. When the elevator doors reopen, I slink down the floor. Cautiously passing cubicle after cubicle until I reach my own assigned square-foot box.
I slip into my desk, hastily pull out my things, and log onto the computer. As far as I can tell, no one has noticed my late arrival. The worker bees are all too absorbed with their own menial tasks to care what I’m doing. Stooped over and clacking away at their keyboards, each one tapping a staccato instrumental, to prove their productivity for tasks they’ve been convinced are important. A sigh escapes my lips and my shoulders loosen. You made it Jakey-boy, I think to myself and I settle in to join the other worker bees.
Then I hear it. The tell-tale sign of a woman in middle-management walking across a tiled floor. Her heels clack, clack, clack towards me. The hair on the back of my neck stands to attention and my fingers curl tightly into my palms.
“Jacob,” a clipped voice behind me says.
I wince and try to stretch my lips into a smile before swivelling in my chair to face her.
“Yes, Marion?” I ask.
“You’re late again,” she states with a stony face, “I’m afraid I need to speak with you in my office. Now.”
This is it. Despite my best efforts, I’m out of a job and out on my ass.
I rub my temple and begin to stand. My eyes drop from Marion’s thinned lined mouth and, as she starts to walk away from me, I notice what she’s wearing: a tidy skirt and sensible square-toed shoes.
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