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by Juanjo Conti
translated by Eli Nieto
some corrections by Amanda Kendzior
When Alfred heard the pigeon cooing through the window, he stopped staring at the computer screen to look up at it. As he was trying to find an excuse for a little break, he looked at the huge scarlet clock on one of the walls in office C of the 3rd floor. It was almost 2 o’clock. Working time was over, but he had to work overtime that day and he wouldn't be at home until 5.
He looked at the computer again, and kept working. The idea of working late didn’t allure him at all. In fact, seven hours per day were enough for him to meet his obligations, but paid overtime was a hard won labor union victory. Not taking advantage of this right would be an unforgettable affront to the trade union leaders.
Alfred took advantage of his working time to tidy up his stuff; reading the news on-line and chatting to a 26-year-old Puerto Rican girl with springy curly hair (or at least it was that what he thought. There’s a story about a plumber of questionably mental instability that logs onto chat rooms pretending to be a Caribbean woman, but let’s talk about that later).
There were others in the same situation: Charly from the accounting department, Oscar who did the same job as Alfred, and a new guy who hadn’t found his place yet in the huge state bureaucratic machine. His name was Marcos.
"Don’t forget to turn off the coffee machine" said Grace, the secretary, who was the last of the five people working in the morning shift at office C. After the warning and without saying good bye, she clocked out and left.
A smell of burning coffee was hanging in the room’s air, when Marcos went towards the coffee machine and obeyed the secretary’s command. Since he was there already, Marcos took a little plastic glass and poured some black coffee into it.With a steel coffee spoon he took sugar from the sugar pot, which was filled by Grace thanks to the contribution of two dollars per person. And he went on drinking. The beverage color was of a shiny jet-black, almost with the brightness of a glittering ruby, as if it was some nectar of the gods in Marcos’ imagination. It was ideal for that rainy day. But at the moment the liquid reached his throat…
"Yuck!" he cried, and with a contorted expression he forced the liquid, which now looked more like pavement than elixir, down his throat.
"What happened, Marcos?," Oscar shouted from the end of the room. "Isn’t it delicious the coffee that Grace made?" Sniggering, trying to contain a cackling laugh. Oscar had worked there for twenty years and he knew perfectly well from experience the culinary -if I may use the adjective – skills of Grace. A long time ago had she showed not just a little, but very poor, cooking skills. Her first attempt was an English pudding. It was a present for her mother on St Anne’s Feast Day, the day of her Saint. Nobody can assert confidently whether the pudding was tasty or not, but from the moment the pudding was in the family, it became the best door stop that Grace’s family ever had.
Once recovered from the sensory experience, and flushing the coffee down the toilet, Marcos pronounced the words that would initiate an important change in the office:
"All that is gold does not glitter."
He nodded in agreement with himself, moving his head up and down as if it were bouncing in the air. The other men in the office put what they were doing aside to look at him. They did not notice at first that they were looking at the same thing. In their eyes there was the same glitter and, in their lips, the same question. Alfred, determined to know the answer, stood up, cleared his throat and enunciated:
"Not all those who wander are lost."
Trying hard to dominate his body, Charly stood up on his 260 pounds, raised his head with a grizzled beard and absent hair, and said:
"Deep roots are not reached by the frost. The old that is strong does not wither."
Suddenly, Oscar who was looking at the others with wide open eyes as if he were seeing ghosts, put out his cigarette and said with some kind of shame:
"From the ashes a fire shall be woken. The crown-less again shall be king."
Could it be true what the three of them were thinking of? Oscar, Charly and Alfred stared at Marcos, little Marcos.
Marcos, who still had the little plastic glass in his hands, was hypnotised by watching the sudden movements and poetic manifestations. He didn’t know what to do. Steadily, he dropped the glass onto his desk and he even thought of going round and leaving slowly, as Grace had done. But he had to work overtime too.
Then, taking off the mask with which he had been going to the office, he raised a smile and shouted:
"Renewed shall be blade that was broken!"
The office turned into an avalanche of shouts and shrieks, celebration and joy. Yells and screams were heard, like those of a crowd of Hobbits coming down a meadow in The Hill after some mischief-making. The three workmates got closer to Marcos, and they welcomed him with a warm handshake, as if this were his first day at the office. They laughed joyously together, happy to have found themselves in the office world.
From that day on, overtime in the office C from the 3rd floor has never been the same. Alfred, Charly, Oscar and Marcos play their favourite role-playing game while the office transforms itself into the Middle Earth.