“The Cubicle” – A Short-Story

The Cubicle

by: A.R. Minhas

          Aadam is trying to enter his workplace, and his card doesn’t work. He feels foolish, looking through the glass-paneled door.  He hopes no one notices that he was being denied entry. He knows that he’s only swiped it once. You can’t say it’s not working if you’ve only done it once, he thought to himself.

  A shot of relief exploding from his brain carries the weight of its pulsation across his whole body—they might be firing me!  Oh, god, Yes! Finally free from this misery, and then he thought about his never-ending bills, his crushing debt, and all that relief evaporates. The life of a worker is always about choices, and none of those choices are ever any good. Say yes to starvation or torture? He makes the only choice that is possible: Chance. Chance was the only hope that things might get better.

 He holds the card to his face. He can barely recognize the man pictured on his key card from six years ago. The Aadam with the bright smile, skinny frame, and sharp eyes is no more. He is now a man with thinning hair, eye bags from lack of sleep, and a protruding belly-button due to poor eating habits. The thing that upsets him, though, is that he doesn’t care anymore. He doesn’t care about how he looks.  He’s wearing the same white collared shirt and black dress pants from yesterday. He doesn’t care about anything. He’s ambivalent about whether the card will allow him in or keep him out of his job. It doesn’t matter anymore. It’s all just— chance.

          He uses his blood-red tie to rub the edges on the barcode, pressing it against the scanner. The zttt of a green light glow of acceptance. He can enter, and he feels everything droop, like a weight returning to his back. He opens the door with hesitation, stepping on a slight incline of the newly carpeted call center that still smells like a sawdust mill. There’s less friction; he’s one step away from slipping. He knew it was busy because the whining phone calls overlap the babble of softly-toned voices. It was a deluge of conversations overflowing and coming to devour him.  Alienated individuals working as a singular organism, and their voices coalesced into a large dream mouth as he enters its belly.

Cries of digital voices escape from the sea of cubicles on the floor. A sense of anxiety infects his body. A build-up of stomach acid. He walks in the little opening in the row, toward his cubicle. 

“You’re late again.” Nadine, his manager, points to her watch. She’s got a short haircut, and her citrusy perfume floats up his nose – he always thought about saying something about her scent but couldn’t organize the words in the right way and express them in a way that wouldn’t make it sound like a personal attack. He also noticed that she was wearing her bright-green blouse again. He knows it was the second time this week she wore it– things are miserable for everyone, he thought.

 “I’m sorry the bus was late again…” He whispers, trying to avoid eye contact.

“It’s okay, Mister. You now just owe me four more sales.” She laughs, thinking it will lighten the mood, but he knows she’s not kidding.

“Sure.” He said, resigned to his fate, he continues the journey to find his cubicle.

 The cubicles were all indistinguishable from each other.  He can only find his because his name card sits above the parting wall: A prisoner finding his jail-cell. Once he finds his place, he collapses on his chair.

 He looks up at the white fluorescent lights. The soundproof panels up-above that were meant to contain the gaggle of voices that emanate from the floor.  Before he starts his work, he likes to close his eyes and imagine he’s somewhere else. However, today it was too heavy to escape. His cubicle is dull. It’s not decorated with any form of sentimentality. He had become almost enthusiastic about the lack of his presence in the workplace. He didn’t want to be noticed. Could you imagine being a part of the cosmos now being contained within a Cube? He laughed.  

“Hey, how’s it going?” Jacob asked.

“It’s not going anywhere.” He replied like he was delivering a prepared response. Jacob was in the adjacent cubicle to him. His babyface staring at him, while absent-mindedly dipping his green tea-bag in and out of his mug. Aadam was making a conscious effort to avoid his unfettered positivity and his submission to the will-of-the-management. He was always overdressed. He’s wearing a coral suit today. It was meant to differentiate himself but still conforming to the management’s expectation of looking professional. He was nauseating, Aadam thought to himself.

“Well, I hope you did the digital course we were supposed to do. The ‘Big Boss’ was talking about it in the meeting.” He said smugly.

“Yes, the ‘Big Boss’ does expect a lot from her peasants without paying anything extra.” He laughed.

“Hi!” She pops uptop of his cubicle. The toothy smile so bright and grinning, and it’s also filled with malice and disdain. Aadam is startled and instantly thinks this is the end. The end that comes so suddenly and without any reason. “Looking sharp today, Aadam!”

“Ha-ha,” he laughs nervously. He doesn’t know if she heard what he had said. Half-expecting that she would let him go on the spot.

“Anyway, carry-on, don’t let me disturb you.” She flows away with her red pant-suit and her monarch-like gait: two-arms-behind-the-back-belly-exposed. He takes a large gulp. He’s indifferent to keeping his job, but he also doesn’t want to go like that—  talking ill of the ‘Big Boss.’ It’s not heroic. He wanted to go on his own terms.

“Ooof! That was too close,” Jacob sighed. “Okay, I’m getting back to work.”  He clips on his headset, and he instantly starts talking to a client that came beeping through: “Welcome to AIM Financial. You’re speaking with Jacob.  How can I help you today?”

Aadam takes a deep breath. He hasn’t even turned on his computer yet. The headset resting on his desk like an open chain: waiting to restrain him. He contemplates saying no to his punishment, and then thinking that he has to suffer only two more days – he decides to give his freedom up.

          He turns on his computer, and he’s clogged with e-mails. Some of them are meant to be ignored; some of them may or may not contain important information. And then some e-mails have exclamation marks branded on them. These were the ones given by the compliance department, and they couldn’t be ignored. The e-mails were usually delivered if any of the advisors had fucked up, so you would get an e-mail if you had missed a disclosure, missed filling up a document, and, in some instances, you had fucked up so bad that you had to call the client back. The amount of exclamations made him sick. He’s getting late, and he has to start. They know if he starts late, and he has to follow their schedule.

          He clips the headset on top of his head: the earpiece covering his left-ear and the mic jutting out from the right side. He will be hearing from strangers. He was expected to fulfill their requests, and then using his tongue, create words to sell additional products that satisfy the abstract notion of their needs– he will provide what they think they need. The confluence of technology and human communication interpenetrating and giving birth to itself. Beep! Someone has come through.

“Welcome to AIM Financial, Aadam here, how can I help you today?” He said like a Pavlovian response.

“Hello, I wanted to purchase the First Light All-World Precious Metal fund.” The voice spoke like a threat rather than a request.

“Okay, I have to ask you a couple of security questions–”

“Hurry, I haven’t got all day.” The masculine voice interrupted, dripping with entitlement.

“Okay—can you tell me what products and services you have here at AIM Financial?”

“I have everything.”

“Can you define everything? You have to be specific.” Adam’s voice was rising as this voice was being arrogant for no reason.

“I have everything, okay? Can we continue now?”

“Sir, I’m trying to verify who you are. We can’t proceed if I can’t determine that you are who you say you are.”

“Can you see my profile?! You see how much money I have?!” The voice started cackling like it thought it had won the little game we were playing.

E.G. Gabriel, 32. Senior Manager at Excalibur Materials & Resources. There were over $40 million in his account. No wonder he felt so entitled, he had already won at life, except for the red cross that appeared on-screen right next to his name that showed he wasn’t fully identified.

“I see your profile, Mr. Gabriel, but I still have to verify you, and so far, you haven’t satisfied those requirements.”

“What’s your name?”

“Excuse me; you have to verify yourself first. Are you going to answer my questions or not?” His voice was trembling with rage.

“You realize how much business you will lose if I decide to go elsewhere?”

“Sure, are you going to answer the security questions or not? Or should I just end this call?”

“Hey, don’t you dare cut this call. I will skull-fuck you—you here? I have more money than you will ever make in your life—”

Aadam cut the call. He let out a huge breath. He sat there in his cubicle, and he started to dream about other places. And he smiled, at least he had denied the voice from getting what it wanted.     

© A.R. Minhas 2020

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