The Accent, The Hair And The Skirt

She had started working there a few weeks ago. Three, he guessed, but that was a period he always snatched at, in his mind, when he hadn’t been paying proper attention and didn’t really know how long something had been going on for. About three weeks meant relatively recent but not a couple of days. She might have been working there for six weeks or seven, but probably not eight. That didn’t sound right.

When she started he had barely noticed her. An interview with her supervisor, in the supervisor’s office, and there are so many people in and out of there all day that it can be hard to tell the difference between an employee and a guest, and after that brief chat – it was a chat basically, brief and friendly, because that’s the kind of guy the supervisor was – she arrived a few days later and was introduced to people. The accent was South African and the voice soft. It sounded intriguing and gentle, or that’s the way he was remembering it now. At the time he wondered why she wouldn’t speak up. You just say hello and shake hands, or don’t shake hands if you’re a woman and don’t feel comfortable doing that. There’s not much in that verbal exchange to make obscure and uncertain and try to hide, but she seemed non-committal or as if she wasn’t interested, which pretty much meant the same thing to him.

So the initial introduction was underwhelming and if there was one thing that stuck out it was that she did hellos strangely and possibly there were other things strange about her too. But the subject closed when the supervisor moved off with the new South African girl to meet the next employee. She would be working in a different part of the floor to him, and they would barely even be colleagues. It could even be that they would have nothing further to say to each other, and this suited him fine. No relationship is better than an awkward one and there was no point forcing friendliness out of another person who has no real need to be in that sort of contact with you. And he was pathetic at small talk anyway, so it was a largely academic question. As they moved off, he noticed that the new girl, the South African with the soft voice and the tumbling golden hair, was wearing a very short skirt. In fact you could see buttock connecting to upper thigh, as the skirt moved with each stride, only just, but you could see it, and he wasn’t trying to look, it was just there – he wasn’t leaning down or anything.

Within a few days the girl with the soft South African accent and the short skirt and the blonde hair like fine gold threads was very popular among the employees in the office. She drank a lot of coffee, which meant that she was in the kitchen at the coffee machine a lot, and that meant that she encountered other people in there and spoke to them in her husky, quiet voice that drew you in and made you stand close to listen. And she had many conversations which involved questions about where her accent was from and did she like rugby and I used to be a good footy player when I was younger and I’m still pretty strong – yes, these conversations were with men. Female staff members didn’t warm to Chelsea (for that was her name), as her skirts were too short and she seemed aloof and was often seen to be doing things other than work on company time, and they wondered why she was allowed to get away with that when they had to work hard at boring jobs all day long and didn’t have the men in the office drooling as they walked past. Actually the stuff about the drooling and the skirt may have been in his mind, not the female colleagues’ minds – they just thought she was a lazy stuck up bitch. She had been there at least three weeks, they said to each other, and it was past time now for someone to tell her to pull her bloody finger out and do some work.

(The problem was that she may have needed the idiom of finger extracting explained and that would have necessitated a man leaning over her as he gave a derivation and a definition, and she would giggle softly, and possibly twist some hair with her finger, and the explanation would be over and there would be no increase in Chelsea’s productivity and no change in her status as a protected species in that office.)

She began to say hello to him and he said hello back, but it wasn’t much of a relationship they had going. All the men seemed to be her friend, he thought. It didn’t bother him. He was busy with other things. Busy with work.

Sometimes she was away from the office, sick. There would be symptoms on the day before, he noticed, and then the absence the next day, and much sniffing and coughing on the day after, when she returned to work, and occasionally she would go home early on that day too. Her working hours were irregular, despite what she had been told, and she would start late and leave early, promising to make up the time later, which didn’t happen enough. There were days when she would start early, before anyone else, to make up time, and there was a suspicion that she wasn’t working when she was in the office all by herself in the morning. The phone bill showed long distance calls had been made on these occasions.

And he had formed a bad opinion of her, which wasn’t just overhearing what the women in the office said or what he thought they said, it was his own opinion, and so he asked her very politely to leave. He made it sound as if she had the option to stay, and so she tried to talk her way out of the situation in her delicate South African voice, but he meant that she had to go: he was telling her to go. So she went. He was the boss and that was the kind of thing that bosses did.

Published in: on March 18, 2014 at 7:30 pm  Leave a Comment  

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