On my way back from a lunch break, I bumped into Jane standing still in front of the turnstile leading to our elevator lobby.
People were passing through two turnstile aisles that remained vacant, trying not to disturb her.
“And how is your day going?” Jane asked me, in a trembling voice.
“It’s terrible, isn’t it?” Jane whispered. “On our floor, five people were let go since the morning. Amelia just goes from cube to cube with the list from the HR, and tells people to gather their belongings. A lady from finance cried. A gentleman from compliance threw a hole puncher at Amelia, but she dodged, and after security arrived, he apologized. She does the firing because she received budget cuts for the next year, doesn’t she? Just before the holidays and bonus time. And it’s not over yet, oh, God.”
“Did you forget your badge?” I guessed.
“No, I didn’t,” Jane showed me the badge. “Nothing bad can happen to me today, right? I’m in the middle of the very good period of my life. Just got married. We bought a nice condo in Ridgewood, New Jersey. I got promoted to the Communication Officer. Amelia is an awesome boss, so devoted to the teamwork and processes improvements. The team is great and supportive, and fun, too. We have a pioneering project on utilizing Big Data. Everything is so great, and I love my job so much!”
Jane looked at her badge with fear.
“I just can’t force myself to swipe,” She confessed. “What if the turnstile won’t turn for me? What if it’s all over?”
“Don’t be silly,” I hesitated for a second – and swiped my badge on the vacant aisle. “See? It works just fine. You are not going to stand here all day, c’mon!”
Jane nodded, swiped the badge and hit a turnstile handle with her thigh gently.
The handle didn’t move.
Jane pushed a little stronger, but the turnstile remained still.
“Oh, no!” Jane gasped. “I knew it! I can’t believe it!”
She pressed against the handle with all her force, and then swiped again.
The turnstile didn’t budge.
“Well, it is probably just a glitch,” I mumbled. “Let’s go to the security station and get your access fixed.”
Jane, petrified, looked at me with horror.
“They have a schedule to shut fired people off from the security system,” she whispered. “Amelia just couldn’t find me in my cube because I was hiding from her in the cafeteria all morning. This is over!”
“You don’t know that. Let’s check with security guys!”
Jane stepped back and started crying.
I went to the security station in the middle of the lobby.
“Hey, Jane Bloomfield’s badge didn’t work, can you please get her a temporary pass? We’re from thirty third floor.”
A security girl twirled on her high chair and clicked on the keyboard.
“I can’t find this person in the system,” he shrugged. “I’m sorry.”
I looked at the senior security officer, and he checked on the computer, too.
“No such name,” he confirmed, with a sigh, “on any floor.”
I returned to Jane.
“Damn, this can’t happen to me!” She brushed a tear away from her eye lashes.
“It can still be a glitch,” I said. “Nobody told you anything yet, right?”
“Don’t be a baby, what other proof do you need? “ Jane whispered, her eyes fixed on the turnstile. “My career is over. My life is over. Wait, why it should be. In a way, I have to be happy that this is happening. Yes! Fudge Amelia! Otherwise, I’d be stuck at this damn place forever!”
“You just told me how everything was great at work,” I reminded.
“Honestly, it’s a GULAG here. Amelia is a sadistic character who tortures me and calls it tutoring. All day long she mingles with executives, and I have to be on guard and send her whatever numbers she needs within a minute. At five o’clock, when it’s time to go home to my husband, she is back to her office, and starts actually working. She needs new numbers, then they are all not what she asked for, and I am up to lecturing and threats. She rarely leaves the office before ten, and if I dare to go home before her, I get “Where are you?” message in the Lync the moment I step out of the building, and a new urgent assignment in the Outlook. If I get home before her, I have to work there anyway. The team is a snake pit, and she loves it this way. Everybody snitches on everybody. Our group produces paperwork crap nobody needs. And our co-called pioneering project on Big Data is a sham! Nobody in the team even knows what Big Data is! The salary, by the way, is ridiculous. I don’t know why I spend my life here, pretending that I do something meaningful while feeling trapped and miserable.”
Jane kicked the turnstile:
“Thank you for not turning over for me, finally! Otherwise, I’d never get the strength to unglue myself from this garbage can and do something decent with my life! I’m actually so happy now! What was wrong with me? What is the evil magic of these places that pay you shit and treat you as shit, and yet you still don’t have guts to quit and get in charge of your life? ”
At this moment, a yawing building handyman emerged from the basement
“Excuse me, miss, could you please step on a side a little?” He asked, getting down on his knees and opening his toolbox. “This turnstile is stuck since morning. I was told to fix it.”
Jane and I looked at each other.
“What are you saying, it’s… just malfunctioning?” Jane whispered incredulously.
“Use another aisle,” The handyman advised.
Jane gulped and swiped her badge on the next turnstile. It let her through with a usual light squeak.
“I can’t believe it!” She winced. “Hold on, what was the last name that you just mentioned on the security station?”
“Bloomfield, of course!” I said. “C’mon, Jane, we know each other for, like, five years, do you think I don’t know your last name?”
“It’s Summers now!” She exclaimed. “Bloomfield is my maiden name! I changed it a month ago. You and this turnstile put me through such a hell, and for what? For nothing! It looks like I’m still not fired!”
We approached an elevator calling screen and pressed on our floor number (the elevators used to be so slow that they were upgraded recently, and didn’t have buttons anymore, only screens in the elevator lobbies).
When an elevator arrived, Jane looked inside hesitantly – and let it pass.
I stayed put as well, just in case, only pressed the floor on the screen again.
Form the next arriving elevator, Amelia emerged. She looked, as always, very collected and determined.
“Where have you been?” She asked Jane, in a displeased voice. “I was looking for you all over! I need projected savings numbers on the Big Data initiative right away!”
“Hi!” Jane smiled at her, her eyes wide open.
Then she paused a little.
“What?” Amelia frowned. “Is there a problem? Did you want to say something?”
Jane looked at her, slouched and reported readily:
“No, Amelia, of course, everything is fine, even perfect! And the numbers – they will be on your desk in a few minutes!”