Now here’s a story based on a little something that happened in real life. I once worked at an office where the printer was named for the employee who was seated closest to it. It created some mirthful situations. This however, is fiction. For today’s A to Z Challenge, I give you P is for Printer.
P is for Printer
Prime real estate. That’s what they call locations that are close to desirable things like the sea, an arterial road or a green area in a concrete city. These locations are extra valuable. The reverse should hold true in office spaces. The row closest to the toilet or the cubicle next to the door? Well, it’s not like the people occupying them get to leave earlier. And the 3 second advantage of being able to get to the pot in one of those ‘when you gotta go’ times far outweighs the frequent fragrant reminders of its existence. How often do you gotta go, when you’re chained to a desk job anyway?
Now take me for example. I sit next to the printer. This is probably not as bad as being the toilet’s neighbor. It’s like being close to a very large person prone to noisy, fume-ridden outbursts, that people magically gravitate to. The printer even has my name. If you were to check the network settings of any terminal in this company, under printers, you’d see the following:
Maxima is the managers’ printer, a tiny colour thing that only the cabin crew uses, while us lowly staff get to mill around the black and white, noisy giant who sits next to me. Maxima sits in a position of discreet honour, atop the stationery cupboard, while the other one is relegated to the end of all the rows of cubicles. And management decided real estate being what it was, they had to maximize space. So they bunged in one more seat next to the printer-allotted space and guess who got to occupy it?
So how to identify the two printers on the network? How to keep the minions from actually using the power of colour print afforded to them, via IT services democratic views? Good manners prevents them from giving them the names that they merit – BOSSES ONLY and THE UNIMPORTANT. So, instead, they decided to hijack the name of the guy who sat closest to it. Voila, my electronic doppelganger!
I kept my chair turned away from it, so people wouldn’t try to engage me in conversations while waiting for their prints. But they’d peer over my shoulder, for entertainment then. The whole office feels like Big Brother. Facing the printer meant there was enough room on my table for sticky coffee mugs and unwanted prints to accumulate. Harish and I finally compromised and today we sit side-by-side. Neither friends nor foes but allies, that’s what we are. I am at peace with my namesake now.
It was through Harish that I met her. Lekha, one of the new project execs. She was clean across the floor and I’d never have been introduced to her. Her team is sniffy and snobbish that way. They also wouldn’t bother to help out the new joinee on their team. Lekha spent a good ten minutes wandering around the floor on her first day, looking for the printer that held her pages. She actually came by my place twice. But her prints had gone under the stack and someone else had dumped the accumulated pages into the waste holder below. She finally figured it out of course, and tottered across the floor to pick up her prints before they were hijacked by someone else.
One day, I plucked out a single sheet before Sinha, the accountant shoved the bundle into the dump. I’d seen Lekha running down the corridor. She braked on her high heels, smoothly and with a curse on her lips. I handed the sheet over to her. Sinha was watching the little exchange, his eyes darting back and forth. But the grateful smile she gave me in return was worth it.
I waited a couple of times and let her run the distance and miss, before I tried it again. Even so, the next time I did a miracle save, she looked at me quizzically. How did I know it was hers, her knitted eyebrows seemed to ask. I would have sat down in my chair, such was the force of that look, had I not been seated already. Instead, I settled for knocking my coffee mug across the table. I went back to my computer screen. She went away.
After that, I resolved not to save any more of her pages. But Harish, Harish, that prankish Cupid connived to bring us together again. Sitting next to it for 9 hours a day, I can tell the time by when the humming starts to become buzzing. If it were under my jurisdiction, I’d post an email on the company network at 11:52 asking them to hold their printouts for 10 minutes while Harish took a break. And again at 3:07 to avoid a paper jam. But it’s not my job. So Harish struggles through its day while I struggle through mine. Allies look out for each other, though, it seemed to be saying that day. The paper jam occurred at 1:03.
My eyes flicked to the corner of the screen that very moment. And then immediately up. Lekha’s heels laid their final tap and came to a halt in front of my table. She stared at the empty print tray, puzzled. Then she looked around. The cubicles were empty, their occupants having bolted to lunch (revise my earlier presumption; those closest to the door do get to lunch earlier than the others). Finally she turned to look at me.
I let her stare linger on me for 2 seconds before I returned it. Then, I stood up and walked around my desk to Harish. Getting down on my knees, I lifted the tray and opened the printer door. I’d thought it would be a simple jam but it turned out to be two papers twisted together and caught in the cartridge.
“Have to ask IT to take a look at it.”
“I need that print.”
I urged, with a meaningful look towards the BOSSES printer.
“No…I…I want Harish.”
she said, turning away almost immediately, embarrassed at how that sounded.
I smirked at her back. But I saw her start to turn, I looked back to Harish. What was to be done? I drummed on the side of the printer, pretending to know what I was looking at. At that very moment, there was a terrific screeching of paper and a sheet came crawling through the slit. A horribly crumpled and torn half landed in the print tray. I extricated the other half from inside the machine and laid it next to the one on top. It was a resume.
Then I became conscious of her stare and stepped away. She bit her lip and reached for the two pieces. Crumpling them up in her hand, she walked away. But three steps later, she turned and gave me a rueful grin. She didn’t come back to pick up any printouts for the rest of the day. And she was still there at the end of the week.
The next time I heard the printer hum uncharacteristically, I looked up. Lekha was walking towards me. Walking, not running, a calm expression on her face. Then her eyes met mine and she smiled. I reached a hand out, without standing up and retrieved the paper she had fired. When she came up, I handed it over to her without a word. And she smiled and walked away. I turned to look at the printer.
Harish, you old dog.
*Image (without text) via pakorn on FreeDigitalPhotos.net.