After re-reading the message to ensure it was not a dream, Ms V typed a quick and simple reply, 'I'm on my way!' She closed down her computer and shoved a stack of must-do files to the side. Work could wait. This was more important.
But as quickly as she had thought about leaving she realised that it was only 16:55 and her workday was not due to finish until 17:30. Ms V did not like to clock off early/was wary of clocking off early, even at this late hour when nothing productive ever got done. She was still dedicated to her work despite its dull content, and besides, leaving the desk before time was frowned upon.
Again the phone beeped and the all too familiar text icon flashed to tell her a new message had arrived. As she reached to read the message her computer made its goodbye I am shutting down sound (which was loud enough for everybody in the office to hear).
What should she do, leave? Stay? Whilst she contemplated her dilemma the phone let out another sharp bleep; another envelope icon flashed up on the screen. Without giving it another thought, Ms V grabbed her phone and as she read the message, she packed her bag. 'Downstairs,' it read. Nothing more, nothing less. How she hated these one-liners. She wished it would say or reveal more just for once.
Her rustling and shuffling drew the others' attention. They gazed at her with confusion clearly visible in their eyes. She could almost hear the whispers as she made her way past the desks and towards the stairs; they seemed to say 'Is she really leaving early? Must be something important?'
As she reached the lift and pressed the floor button she smiled to herself. Yes, it is important, she thought. You all have no idea how important!
She knew that her life had been on a steady decline these past three years; she had become a shell of the person she used to be. She had conformed to office etiquette but her going-nowhere job promised nothing in return. Ms V always desperately tried to appear productive and never leaving early was one of these pretences.
The lift doors opened and she entered. Ms V was alone inside and this felt strange. Normally, come half-past five she would bundle with her colleagues and be in the middle of the scrum, everyone desperately trying to escape in an orderly fashion.
Ms V took advantage of the new-found space and studied herself in the lift's mirrored sides/walls. She thought of herself as unremarkable: five foot six, average body shape and black hair tied simply into a bun on her head. Her glasses perched on her nose in a sign of mock intelligence, although of course, they made no difference to her IQ.
Behind the lenses, she noticed the days spent at a computer screen had started to take their toll. Her eyes were bloodshot and dry and the fatigue showed through. She took off her glasses, carefully rubbed her eyes and then put them back on. When she looked back into the mirror, she saw something entirely different.
The image of another woman stared back at her through the mirror! Ms V could make out the piercing brown eyes that looked back into her own but the rest was a blur as if seen through frosted glass. Yet even in silhouette, the figure was striking in the extreme. There was something more, too: Ms V sensed a change in the air around her. It became charged, full of something different, as if some spirit was manifesting, surrounding her, enveloping her.
It was with fear and shock that Ms V fell back. When she righted herself and looked again, she was relieved to see the image fading, as though it were smoke leaving a chimney. As it disappeared, she was sure the mysterious figure smiled at her. Was she hallucinating? She rubbed her eyes again, hoping to reanimate whatever had stood before her, but nothing appeared.
With a loud ping, the doors opened, waking Ms V from her daze and bringing her back to reality.
She took a few seconds to compose herself before hurrying out of the lift doors, darting across the lobby and towards the exit which signalled her escape. Doesn't roll as much as it could.
The middle-aged security guard was at his desk, where he was usually stationed when Ms V was leaving.
'Evening, Mr Roberts,' she muttered, not wanting to draw attention to the time.
But he had already noticed, for he was looking at his watch. After tutting, he said wryly, 'Leaving early, Miss?'
Ms V did not look back. She did not reply, she just carried on walking towards the doors and her exit.
As she pushed them open, the first thing to hit her was the air: fresh, crisp and all for her. She loved feeling it brush across her face, especially after eight hours of being in a cramped office. Punctuation
The escape into the real world, the big wide world, was heaven to her. It signalled the end of another day of anonymity, another day of feeling unimportant. It gave her a chance to start another day afresh, maybe making a difference in her life. For the first time in a long time, today felt like that day.
Across the road she saw Sebastian parked in his car, inconspicuous and nondescript. Pulling open the door she glanced at him. She could see the excitement in his eyes and even before she had time to sit, she heard the urgency in his voice. 'Well did you see her?' he asked.
Ms V stopped for a moment and mumbled ‘Yes… no…. maybe… who is she?’
He smiled with relief and started the engine. The car jumped into action and as he pulled out, Sebastian said, 'We are going on a long journey, Ms V. Buckle up and relax.'