Alexandra’s favorite time of day was after everybody had left the office, and she was all by herself. Only her office lights would remain fighting against the emerging darkness, sending off light and productivity into the world like a lighthouse. Sometimes colleagues would work longer hours as well, and she would feel a strange form of solidarity with them, which always seemed stronger in the evenings than in the blinding, busy daylight.
Once again, Alexandra was by herself, on the fifth floor, surrounded by print outs of spreadsheets, tax law codices and used coffee cups. Her desk was close to the window facing the inner courtyard of her office building, but she could only see her own reflection in the glass as most of the other windows on the opposite side were dark. Of course they were, it was 9 p.m. and everybody on the marketing agency side was at home. Well, there was one lit window on the other side. It was a tiny printing room, and a man stood in front of the printer, scanning piles of documents. Although nothing about this situation was extraordinary, she frowned because it was the third week in a row that she was not the only night owl who felt more comfortable in her office than her apartment.
Did he have some crazy assignment or project? Why would somebody stay in the office so late to scan documents? At first, Alexandra had thought the man to be an intern. Nobody else would let themselves be treated like this. Or would they? After watching him discreetly for a few evenings, she had come to the conlcusion that he was young, but too old to be an intern. His dark beard made him look older, and his hair looked dishevelled, but it could be on purpose. His jeans and knitted sweaters revealed that he was definitely not a manager. He never seemed to enjoy himself, so it was more likely to be a punishment than a voluntary extra mile. Looking across the courtyard into the printing room occasionally over the past weeks, Alexandra had grown fond of this handsome, troubled man. This evening she leaned across the table to take a better look and watch him move to and fro. He turned towards the window, hands in his pockets and waiting for the next scan to finish, and caught her staring at him with her mouth open. Shit! Alexandra quickly straightened up and started typing on her computer. She was acutely aware of him looking at her, from the corner of her eye, but she didn’t dare look back for the next ten minutes. When she did look out her window again, he was leaning against the wall opposite the window, with his hands in his pockets and his eyes closed. She dared to look a few seconds longer. Her heart started pounding in her chest, and she was sure it had to be more than her coffee intake. When he opened his eyes and looked towards her window again, she didn’t move. What an odd pull he had on her. Almost like a complicated spreadsheet. She was intrigued to find out how this one worked.
Alexandra took a blank piece of paper out of her printer and wrote “Sisyphus?“ on it as large as she could. He was still looking at her when she held the paper to the window glass. He stepped closer to the window to decipher it with squinted eyes, and a second later she saw him laugh. When he did, his shoulders loosened up visibly and his back straightened. He took out an A3 sized sheet of paper from the printer and wrote with a thick pen something quite long. Alexandra was beginning to feel giddy. Strange as it was, she wondered whether he found her attractive as well? Silly woman, only you can turn an office situation into a romantic scene in your head, she scolded herself.
When he held the paper against his window, he grinned, because it read “Perpetually rolling that stone!“
Alexandra laughed and wrote on the back of her paper Punishment or Pleasure?
He turned away and fed the scanner-printer with another load of documents. Then he wrote something on the back of his paper, and held it to the window glass. It said, Punishment.
Alexandra mouthed an apologetic gesture, and the man answered with a waving gesture over his shoulder but she didn’t buy it. To her, he seemed upset. An honest, ambitious and hopeful soul that got trapped and crushed between the turning wheels of business and career. She had seen it on many people’s faces before, and she was convinced that she sometimes had the same look about her. Only, she genuinely loved her job.
It could have been the late hour, or the caffeine level in her blood, but she felt as if there was something – something that could connect them.
He was obligingly scanning more piles of documents again, when she held up another sign to the glass and waved to get his attention.
It read Dinner? and she stood there, in her crinkled costume and half-messy bun, a hand in her hip and grinning. The man took her whole appearance in, and smiled. He nodded and made a gesture to meet him downstairs in ten minutes.
Alexandra was excited and nervous, when she hit the elevator button. There was no one else around, all offices were dark, but to her it was like a new day. She saw him through the elevator door before it opened on the ground floor. He was waiting for her, with his jacket in one hand, and a broad smile on his face.
“Have I been saved out of hell?“ he asked her. His voice was a deep bass.
Alexandra laughed heartily. She knew she had hit the right button with the Sisyphus sign.
“Maybe I’m just the hell hound keeping you in check,“ she replied.
He stretched out a hand. “Gabriel, your most enchanted prisoner.“