She tossed and turned all during the night. At 5:20 a.m. she got up to use the bathroom for the second time. Worried feelings buzzed around in her head. She took a Sleepydryl pill in hopes of catching a few solid winks, and at the same time clear up any impending sinus problems upon awakening tomorrow.
* * *
Adrienne seated herself at her workstation at what seemed like the start of a normal day as she quickly logged into her email. There were 35 new messages since yesterday alone. Most were garbage, a few Katrina jokes; only 3 or 4 were the real deal – work and status requests.
As she got into the hum of the day, a strange black man came walking along the corridor in front of her cubicle. She noticed he looked confounded, a little upset and sweaty. He slowly strolled towards her, glancing about from left to right, surveying the area. Many of her white co-workers looked at him for a brief second and then went into the seclusion of their offices, shutting, and sometimes slamming the door behind them.
It seemed to Adrienne as if there was no one there but she and this guy – this stranger. His footsteps finally came to rest at the front of her cube. She knew then she would have to face him for certain. Trying to look normal she turned her chin up towards him with a hearty ― “May I help you?”
“I said, may I help you” she mustered with timidity in her voice.
“Idunno; can you tell me what’s goin’ on?”
“I’m sorry, Adrienne offered, I don’t quite understand your question?” As he took a momentary pause to get his thoughts together, Adrienne noticed how smooth and chocolate his skin was, that it almost had a velvety look to it, and that he was wearing only a white sleeveless t-shirt and blue jean pants – in an office – this perplexed her. Where was the traditional messenger’s uniform with large emblems on the shirt that generally greeted her office world from such foreign black visitors? Hmm. She certainly couldn’t figure this one out.
“Lady, I was on ‘da rooftop for two days and then I was in the ‘vention center, and now I’m here—can you please tell me what’s happenin’?”
Adrienne pinched herself to see if she was dreaming. Although she couldn’t feel it, she was certain this was real.
“I don’t know what to tell you” she replied as she let her guard down, recognizing this man was lost. She had been so worried about the folks in New Orleans for close to a week now, and this guy shows up? “You, uh, you,” she stuttered, “you explain to me where you are coming from please?”
“See, I know that I was in ‘Nawlins and now I’m here – and where is this?” he gushed out, as frustration got the best of him and he began to nervously rub his head.
“You’re in an office building in downtown Chicago. Don’t you remember how you got here?”
“If I did, I wouldn’t be askin’ you?” he sarcastically responded.
Adrienne then stood up and peered closer into his eyes and found that the room had become permeated with the stench of this man’s supposed ordeal. A foul odor that she had never experienced before. As she examined his broad shoulders and large biceps, she noticed how thoroughly tanned, even sunburned he seemed to be, how dirty his clothing was, and that his gym shoes were a mismatch covered in black caked on mud. Yeah, there was no mistaking this man had been through some kind of ordeal, but it made no sense that he was now somehow in the safety of her office.
“Could I please trouble you for some water and sumthin’ to eat, and then I’d sho’ like to use your phone if I could?”
Nodding yes, Adrienne immediately shuffled him into hiding in the safety of the nearby staff kitchen. He followed her slowly at first, and then picked up the pace as he spotted the refrigerator ahead bursting with water bottles that overflowed, so much so, that extra cases were stacked on the top of it, and other shelving nearby was loaded with soda, juice, and a pop machine.
Before she could serve him a cold bottle of water from the fridge, he began to shake the pop machine and it frightened her. “Ssssh” she motioned to him. “We don’t want the others to know you’re here--I’ll take care of you, trust me.”
He nodded at her in reluctant comfort, but felt she was his only immediate hope to regain a sense of self.
As she got 3 juices out of the fridge, she quickly popped someone with the initials “FKU’s” Lean Cuisine Chicken Teriyaki into the microwave and handed the thirsty stranger 2 bottles of water. His thirst seemed endless, so she quickly filled a pitcher full of mineral water and ice so he could pour at will.
At one point his breathing became harder, as he gobbled down the dinner in large chunks, only stopping to gasp for air and then he began to cough.
Adrienne slowly approached him from behind and gave him a gentle thump on the back to relieve his congestion.
“Slow down brotha,” she offered, there’s plenty more. “Now that you’ve had something to eat, how do you feel?”
“I feel good for now, but I’m confused. I lost my sister in ‘Nawlins when Katrina hit, and haven’t heard from or seen any familiar faces down at the convention center. Down there at the center, it’s ruff you know. E’ry man for himself. I thought after they done rescued me from the rooftop and took me over there, I problee’ get some food, call some family in Mississippi to see what I could, you know, but nuthin’. I had just about given up the ghost when I seent you.”
Stunned in disbelief Adrienne asked, “when did you see me you say?”
“Yeah, I was falling to sleep in the Center on Friday nite, thinkin’ that tomorrow is probably not gonna be no better, so I’m better off just sleeping away -- and then I seent you.”
* * *
Now it was coming back to her, all the worrying and tossing and turning, the feeling that she was not centered. It began on Tuesday, when she got to work. When she sat down at her desk, a Japanese co-worker from IT was checking out the p.c. next to her. Without stopping to say good morning, he told her, “When Sheila gets in tell her I’ve done some changes to her set up, should she have any questions.”
“Sure thing,” she replied. Not skipping a beat, she began to make weather conversation. “Say, BW, it’s too bad New Orleans will be under water – I visited there once and simply loved it. The people are so peaceful and down to earth, why—"
“It’s a stinky and nasty place – I hate it! It’s the worst most funkiest place I’ve ever been to.”
Wow, BW had a way of saying things at times quite alarming. Today, Adrienne was without weapons.
“Well, I’m just saying, it is the motherland of music – all of our African-American Blues’ history and Soul come from New Orleans and it’s just a sha...”
“Oh, please Adrienne, it is a funky ass place.” And like a lightning bolt BW left the area.
I can’t stand that motherfucker sometimes, Adrienne thought. He’s so damn snippy and stupid. I need to remember that the next time, before I say anything to him. About a half hour later when her desk mate Sheila arrived Adrienne told her all about her conversation with BW.
“Yes, he can be quite the ignorant one girl” Sheila said, adding “don’t take him too serious—he can’t relate to it Adrienne. He’s not from that world, and it’s hard for people not from the South to understand the culture and everything.”
“Whatever” Adrienne said. She didn’t buy that excuse for BW’s fuck-you attitude at all. “But it is a shame that that beautiful place will be the new Black Tsunami or Black Atlantis, as it’s already been nicknamed in the ‘hood.”
Sheila chuckled at this. Throughout the day many light-hearted jokes about Katrina and the flooding were passed about in the office.
As luck would have it, when Adrienne arrived at work on Wednesday it was sweltering in the building.
“Unfuck-ing bearable” she said under her breath as she entered the lobby. “What the heck is going on?” she asked the doorman Kevin.
Kevin was a lumbering old guy, and very straightforward as he told Adrienne, “well, the plumbing is broke and the air conditioning is shot – should be fixed by 12 noon possibly, if not, we will be without air until it’s fixed”.
“Hell, if I had of known that I would’ve stayed at home – this is ridiculous, how can we be expected to work!?” Kevin just shrugged his shoulders at her in quiet response.
As just as she stepped off the elevator, the new hottie attorney that she had been flirting with came by her cube.
“You name it—I buy—any coffee, water, whatever you can dream up—name it!” he said, confident she’d bite.
“Hmmm, sounds interesting” she toyed with him.
“Look Adrienne, you don’t get it—no water, no bathroom, no coffee maker, so order up!” Hottie demanded.
“Oh right!” she shouted, realizing that she didn’t understand the brevity of the situation, “Grande, Skim Latté, Decaf, Foamy!”. Whew! What would she do without that morning shot? She didn’t know, and didn’t care really, because help would soon be on the way. “Thank God we still had electricity” she told Sheila. No sooner than she had said it, an urgent email came her way.
URGENT--FROM HUMAN RESOURCES: Payroll will be delayed this week; we are sorry but the timesheets were not sent in on time so all checks will be delayed by one week. We hope this doesn’t cause too much inconvenience.
P.S. Remember, if you need to use the bathroom facilities, our neighbor in the next bank of elevators on the 26TH floor will be happy to accommodate you.
FULLOFIT LAWYERS P.C.
“Ain’t this a bitch” Adrienne said aloud. Sheila just shook her head in disbelief.
Adrienne couldn’t resist a little office humor and shot a reply back to human resources:
“No phone, no light, no motorcar, not a single luxury”
Well boss, you couldn’t have picked a better time to deprive us of money, water, toilet facilities, and air conditioning comfort, because...this could’ve been New Orleans ...
Adrienne didn’t receive a response from this, just a smiling face as the office hottie returned with foamy latté in hand.
“Here you go Miss Lady” as he flashed his wonderfully white teeth at her.
“Thank you, sir,” she replied in her most feminine voice. “By the way, if you need to potty, you’ll have to go downstairs and across to the second bank of elevators and ride up to the 26th floor, so plan early...”
“And often” he chimed in with a phony office sneer.
By 11:00 o’clock a.m. it was so unbearably hot in the office that many of the attorneys, including the hottie, left to go to the private East Bank Club and wait it out with cocktails, massages and maybe a quick work out. The rest of the workers were left behind with just little desk fans blowing around the stiff hot air.
At 2:00 p.m. when the air came back on Adrienne finally got her chance to visit the Red Cross’s donor site for Katrina. What a vivid one it was. She put up her credit card information and filled in the box to give the minimum $5 bucks. There, she felt a little bit better. She spoke with her mother earlier by phone about it, and feared $5 may not help, but her mom had reassured her, “Baby, $5 can do a lot; I’m certain it’ll save one.” Yes, she felt good about doing her part to try and rescue those less fortunate than her.
Just then Adrienne noticed Sheila peeping over at her screen; oh boy, why hadn’t she remembered to turn it away from public viewing. “Now Adrienne, you know that you have a son in college and tons of bills to pay – you need to keep your money and worry about yourself!”
“Uh huh” Adrienne replied as she hit the presto button to send in the money. Blah, blah, blah is all she could determine Sheila was saying at this point, since she was obviously not very concerned about the plight of the flood victims. With that, Adrienne put up a mental wall to contend with her office cohorts for the rest of the entire week. And, although she was privy to, and even took part in numerous Katrina jokes, attended a surprise office-wedding shower for a guy she hated, even toasted to his good health, all the while she silently prayed for the flood victims rescue in New Orleans.
In between work on Thursday she logged onto ABC’s “Chat About It” and fought off as many haters as she could. She bashed the president and the ship he rode in on for being so lame in responding to the crisis in New Orleans, and called people “stupid” and “lame azz”. By phone, her mother and sisters were sharing personal stories of which of the victims on the news made them cry more, and how they each wondered how they’d fare if it had been them in the crisis. Adrienne confessed that she would probably be dead without her medications, and since she was known as the “nice-nasty” family member, she couldn’t stand any filth. The thought of walking through infested murky water with unknown creatures gave her the willies.
By Thursday afternoon, she was exhausted with the news coverage of Katrina, and had moved from sad and concerned to angry as hell. Adrienne worked late again for the extra bucks and to distract her mind with other thoughts than Katrina. But by late Thursday night, watching ABC’s Nightline, she began to shout out loud “Amen-ing” Ted Koppel’s report of Katrina. Alone in her bedroom, with tears streaming down her face, all she could muster were the words “wow” each time Ted would ream FEMA’s ass one more good time, she’d chant it over and over, “wow”.
* * *
Yes, staring at the black stranger, it was all becoming quite clear to her as she turned away from him for a private second to pull it together.
She had been exhausted on Friday night and left the TV on, with its blaring coverage of Katrina disasters. By 4 a.m. she had clicked off the TV, full up of endless tales of sadness for the victims still there. Adrienne realized now that she was still asleep.
As she turned back around to explain this to him, she found nothing there but the empty Lean Cuisine tray, water and juice bottles, and a little dried mud where his shoes had been.
No wonder he never made the phone call. Adrienne went into a deeper sleep, hoping that when the man awakened on Saturday, he would feel refreshed from all of the food and liquids she poured into him and finally be saved.
* * *
Back at the office on Monday morning, Adrienne sat down to another 30 or so email messages. She opened the one marked “Urgent” first:
URGENT--FROM HUMAN RESOURCES: If anyone has seen any strangers walking the halls on Friday, please report it immediately to security—no persons other than employees are allowed on the premises.
Finally, will the person who tracked up the corridor and left mud caked on the floor in the kitchen please refrain from doing so in the future. We like to run a clean office here at Fullofit.
FULLOFIT LAWYERS P.C.
Copyright 2020 @ Faye Renee