Fire Drill

Greg stalked around the corner, back from his meeting, looking every bit a man ready for action. I watched as he strode past my desk without a second glance. His normal jovial demeanour was gone, replaced with a pursed mouth lurking under his greying ginger beard.

He leaned over Rachel’s cubicle wall and whispered something inaudible to everyone else. She gave an infinitesimal nod of head in acknowledgement, grabbed her wallet and building pass, stood up, and waddled her large frame out the security door leading to the elevator lobby.

I watched as Greg’s shoulders relaxed and his normal half-smile returned to his face. What the hell was going on here? Greg and Rachel were close for work colleagues and I’d go as far to say they were friends. I think they even have hung out in non-work scenarios. So what the hell happened in his meeting just now and what did he tell her that made her get up and leave?

It doesn’t take long for me to find out.

The sudden blaring of the fire alarm warning system helps me solve this mystery.

Rachel is a rather large woman and as such she suffers from some of the standard ailments that accompany a body carrying more weight then it is designed to. Back issues, sore knees, and breathing difficulties top the list. Exactly the kinds of things that would be painful to walk down 18 flights of fire stairs with.

Greg warned her about the alarm so she could skate on out, grab an elevator, and cruise to the assembly point without any physical exertion. This is not right. If anything her portly frame needs the walk down 18 flights of stairs more than I do.

I don’t mind the walk – I’m young, fit and healthy – but what drives me crazy is the endless inane drivel that passes for conversation when you are trapped in a claustrophobia-inducing stairwell with coworkers you normally do your best to avoid talking to.

“I guess at least we’ll get some exercise.” Chortles manager number one.

“15 floors left.” The anal-retentive analyst announces just in case we cannot read the numbers ourselves.

“More people coming in. Let’s take a breather.” Manager number two instigates a rest period to let people from the lower floors in.

“Keep going. 11 floors to go.” Our friendly floor-counter gets us going again. His new nickname in my head will be Count Dracula.

“This goes for so long I should have packed a lunch.” Manager number one attempts a joke but deep down I think he is starting to lose his grip on sanity.

“I’m getting hot. It is so hot in here. Is anyone else hot?” A chubby person from another floor is dripping with sweat which is probably a workplace safety risk. How many people behind us will die from broken necks because this man has never seen the inside of a gym?

“Six floors to go.” I want to scream.

“Wow this is harder than I thought. At least we don’t have to walk back up!” I want to kill myself.

“I’m going to need a drink to cool down.” I want to kill everyone else.

“Last one. We’re nearly there.”

Finally, we exit the artificially-lit dingy stairwell by bursting out to the natural world again, the afternoon sun beating down on our faces reminding us that we are still alive. Despite being an atheist I praise the big man in the clouds for giving me the strength to not kill anyone.

As we plod down the footpath toward the emergency assembly area I reflect on the magnitude of my personal sacrifice. Withstanding that onslaught of pointless conversation without snapping any necks is a tremendous achievement on my part. I am essentially a saint. I deserve a reward.

I spare a glance inside the English-styled pub located next to the assembly area. My line of sight briefly shows the wood paneled bar with a few afternoon-revelers lining up for their dose of liquid courage. I wistfully daydream of not returning to work and spending the afternoon at the pub instead. But I can never drink alone. I’m not that depressed.

Suddenly I notice one of the bar crowd is beckoning to me. I refocus on the situation and realise it is Ryan from work. Ryan, the only work colleague who I could also consider to be a friend. Ryan, another junior analyst who shares my despise for the bureaucratic overlords we call managers. Ryan, the man pointing to two pints of beer he just ordered. Ryan, gesturing for me to join him.

Maybe there is a god after all.

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