Sunday, 2 September 2012

28. On this occasion, our milk had run out

It is ten past four on Friday afternoon and I am in a little-used meeting room on the fifth floor with Martin from the Boring Department. We have put papers on the table and if anyone walks in we will be having a meeting, but in fact both of us are hiding from everyone until it's a reasonable time to go home.

Martin works in the office next to mine. He does something admin-y, something that involves shuffling paper. He doesn't meet customers, so he doesn't wear a suit and tie. Instead he wears worn-in denim and leather and cotton in blues and browns and blacks, T-shirts he’s had for years washed till they are as soft as felt. He has shaggy black hair. No-one cares what he looks like.

He doesn't say much until you know him well. If you talk to him, he mumbles and looks at the ground. A lot of people interpret this as stupidity or inarticulateness but it is, in fact, deep shyness. 

He has brought in his copy of Pan's Labyrinth to lend me because I've never seen it. He thinks I'll like it.

We've been friends - work friends, I have no idea what he does in his free time or who with - for nearly nine months. We have bonded over a shared desire for everyone to leave us alone, in particular Martin's boss Patty.

Patty micromanages everything Martin does and makes it clear she believes him to be incompetent. She hates me.

She does have a reason to hate me, and it goes like this. On each floor of the building there is one kitchen with one fridge. Each fridge contains various items belonging to people working in each office on the floor, in particular milk. On this occasion, our milk had run out and I was making a cup of tea.

Patty came in just in time to see me stealing some milk from the bottle which she had (naturally) clearly marked with her name and the name of her department (I have since found out from Martin that milk is only bought by Patty, and is rationed).

However, Patty prefers manipulation to directness. Instead of saying "I would like you to stop using our milk, please," she gave a special not-at-all-amused laugh and said: "If you need some more milk, I'm sure I can pick some up for you next time I go."

I'm not sure why I did what I did next. I think it was partly because I respond badly to people who try and manipulate me emotionally, and partly because I did not want to admit I was in the wrong. But instead of apologising - as she clearly expected - I found myself saying: "Thank you, that would be helpful. I'll let you know when we need more," replacing her bottle in the fridge and walking out with my tea.

I'm ashamed of this incident. I should not have been drinking her milk, the correct thing to do would have been to apologise, and the truth is I behaved badly. However, it is all very well feeling like that but it is far too late to mend my relationship with Patty.

These days she likes to take every opportunity she can to contradict, obstruct or otherwise undermine me; since she has little power and is not generally liked or listened to, this doesn't bother me in the slightest. But it does bother me sometimes that I deliberately baited her. It conflicts with my hope that, at heart, I'm basically a good person. If I have a right to live my life in my own preferred way unbothered by other people, then Patty has a right to live hers. The fact that I don't understand or like her does not mean I can treat her with disrespect.

Martin slides a hip flask out of his bag and offers me a sip. It's whisky.

"Happy Friday," he says, and I laugh.

I stand on a chair and lean my forehead against the window. Outside it is sunny. There is a view across the park and I can see people sitting on the grass. A group of them have beer cans and dogs and a man with red dreadlocks is playing the guitar. I wonder what it's like to live like that. It probably has its downsides, but from a distance it sometimes looks like it might be fun.

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