A birthday at work

“Hey Jared,” called out the new intern. She was much younger than I, but our work etiquette encouraged us to collaborate on first-name basis. I didn’t care much, because it made me, even only just, feel a little younger.

“Yes, Sharon?” I replied without looking up from my laptop. I had a project I had to submit by the end of the day, and I had just begun to put it together. It had been a hectic week, and I was already looking forward to the close of the day and the week.

Sharon didn’t reply. I typed away unpertubed for a while, but she called out again, louder this time, forcing me to look up, irritation balooning within me but a smile spreading on my fake face. “Sorry, was busy.” I added an extra emphasis on the last word. “What’s up?”

What an easy phrase that was—what’s up. So helpful when you don’t know what to say, yet so casual that it won’t sound like you’re pissed off at the person you’re saying it to—even if you are pissed off.

“It’s Wendy’s birthday on Monday, and we wanted to get her a cake, and also decorate her work place.”

Wonderful. Just what we needed now, a birthday party. As if we don’t have enough distractions already.

“Oh.” I replied, instead, unable to say anything further. As she looked at me expecting I’d say more, I forced myself to do so, “Oh, ok. That sounds cool.”

No it doesn’t. You’ve worked here one week, why would you throw Wendy a party when you don’t even know her that well?

“Great!” Her eyes popped with with excitement. We’ll order a cake and hang back after work today to decorate her place. You’ll help us, won’t you?”

Why should I? It’s Friday!

“Oh ok,” I trailed away. If I had to spend time decorating with the new kids in, then I’d better finish my work fast. I heaved a deep sigh. Just then, my phone lit up with a push note from my bank: my credit card bill had arrived, and I owed more than I could afford this month. Ah, well. More dues; no news.

I continued to type away wishing this project would end, and with it my responsibility in it. It had taken us more than half a year to get the project up and running, and even afterward, our clients came back reporting issues and disappointmnet. The boss and I had been emailing each other for a while now, he trying to get me to fix it, and I trying to explain to him that we don’t have enough resources.

“Hey Jared!” Sharon’s voice jutted into my thoughts again. Masking my frustration, I looked up again, and trying to sound as innocent as I could replied, “Hmm?”

She looked down at the notebook in her hand, biting the end of her pencil. “It’s three dollars each for the cake, two for the decorations, and a five more for the Papier-mâché doll—the present.” She narrated in an even voice, careful not to give away the impression of robbing me. I saw right through it.

Brilliant. Ten dollars down the drain. For a birthday that will only depress Wendy because she’s getting old.

Wendy and I had been colleagues for over two years now, and though she loved the occasional splurge, I knew she wasn’t taking this birthday in her stride. She had complained to me on various occasions about feeling “old timey”.

“Woah, that’s a handful.” I had to protest. These kids would do anything to get a few likes on Instagram and Facebook. After all, they still lived under their parents’ patronage. “Are you sure you want to spend that much?”

It’s almost the end of the month, and I’m running short of cash.

But I couldn’t tell them that.

“Well…” She dragged on trying to figure out a way to convince me. “It is a bit fancy, but it’s Wendy.” She cocked her head to one side, letting a little streak of untied hair fall down to her eyes. She pushed it aside in a sweeping motion. “She’s like a mentor to us,” she turned to the other four new interns who nodded as if their life depended on it, “and we want to thank her.”

Oh, well. Wendy will be happy, but I’ll be the one getting her a cab home from the bar tonight, after she weep-drinks complianing about her age.

I knew better than to judge Wendy. I had been there myself, and she had been there for me.

“Oh, alright then. Let me finish this first, and I’ll pay you after.”

If the kids wanted to thank her, but end up depressing her inspite of it, I’ll be there for Wendy.

And with that, I went back to my email, writing to the boss: “Sure, thing, Daniel. I can pull some strings with the supplier, and see how we can solve our client’s issues. You can count on me.”

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