No-one else noticed it; the change in him, that something was happening. He was always quiet, reserved someone said, and kept himself to himself.
He was good at his job, reliable and diligent. The window above his desk looked out across the roof of the adjoining warehouse and he worked with his back toward the rest of the office. We did talk to him a little, receiving and passing on work-related information but we had long since stopped trying to involve him in our conversations. We didn’t ask him if he had seen a particular TV show or if he liked this or that, or what he was doing at the weekend. He had made it clear that he didn’t wish to share and so yes, we let him be and for the most part we forgot he was even there.
But one day, looking up from my computer, I noticed him sitting and staring through the window above his desk. At the roof of the warehouse, or the sky – I’m not sure which, possibly both.
It struck me that I hadn’t seen him like this before; simply sitting and staring into space and lost in thought. He was usually so focused and full of purpose, intent on this or that task. And I realised that the man we knew, or more accurately the man they had stopped noticing, who sat hunched over his computer screen and worked hard – that wasn’t who he really was. It was a mask, a disguise and now he was letting it slip, letting down his guard because no-one, he thought, was watching, no-one was looking at him.
To make oneself invisible is quite a feat and to all intents and purposes this is what he had achieved. Everyone else at the office was ignoring him, and unseen he moved amongst us but I was watching and I watched closely, intrigued and a little anxious as to how he would use his invisibility, about what he might do.
He started turning in to work a little later each day, leaving a little earlier and, intermittently, throughout the course of the day he abandoned his desk. Just for twenty minutes or so and I supposed that he was visiting the cafeteria or stepping outside for a breath of fresh air.
Albeit in isolation, he was acting more like us – bored and unengaged he didn’t want to be there. I was disappointed but also concerned. There was something about him, something desperate. It was plain to see, well at least I could see it. I wondered if he was ready at last to interact with us, if all he craved was simply a little camaraderie and I did think about approaching him but I didn’t. I put it off and put it off until one day I realised he was away from his desk much more often than not. He wasn’t just popping out for a coffee and his behaviour no longer resembled our own, that desperate something had now taken a hold.
He rarely came to the office and only for the briefest of periods and when he did he just sat and stared into space or through the window above his desk, at the warehouse roof. The others hadn’t noticed him when he was there and they hadn’t yet realised that for the most part he wasn’t. But his invisibility wouldn’t save him and I wondered would he still be around when the alarm began to sound.
His disappearing was an impressive act and only I could see it. I saw him and also what was happening and it was as if someone had taken a giant marker pen and drawn around him. A thick and jagged line that separated him from everything and everyone else and this line was getting bigger and bolder whilst within it he was slowly diminishing.
When he wasn’t there I watched and waited for him. Unable to concentrate I wandered aimlessly around the office, making my way to the windows at the far end, time and again. Gazing down at the busy street below, searching and failing to find him amongst the passers-by.
And suddenly he would reappear. I would glance across at his desk and there he would be, sitting in his chair as
if set in stone.
It crossed my mind on more than one occasion that he had been there all along, that he hadn’t moved and like all the others I just hadn’t been able to see him.
One afternoon as I watched him I began to consider seriously that this might be possible and I decided when he next moved, if indeed he did move again, that I would follow him; find out where he went and what he did.
I became aware that there was a flurry of activity over at his desk and he was at its centre. He had one of the drawers open and, delving in, he pulled something out and lay it on top.
For a moment I thought he was readying for work and once again I was disappointed. But why? What exactly had I been expecting him to do? Well, evidently it wasn’t that I expected him to start afresh, to simply come back as if nothing had happened.
But he wasn’t beginning again and now everyone was watching him, witnessing the disruption of his desk as he removed everything from inside and placed it on the outside.
I moved a little closer and could see most of these items. And they were an almost perfect mirror image of the contents of my own.
He is absconding, leaving the office for the last time and his departure couldn’t have been more dramatic. I had intended to follow, to learn more, but despite wanting to, I found myself rooted to the spot, unable to move. I don’t want to be pulled into it, to become a part of the drama. I suppose it is because that, unlike him, I have to come back.
The others are gathering in front of his desk. The desk he has turned inside out. I join them and together we gaze down at the debris; at all he has left behind and most of the items are work related. Folders, files, biros, a stapler, a phone and a couple of chargers. And there are lots of letters scattered here, there and everywhere. I notice that most of the envelopes are still sealed, that he hasn’t bothered to open them. And there is a picture frame, the glass is cracked and the photograph behind it has faded. I wonder for how long it had languished in one of the drawers, untouched until today.
I push my way forward, needing to get a proper look at it and I notice the ledger. It is big and cumbersome and I vaguely remember these books. But the information in them, all the facts and figures had been downloaded onto the computer system more than a decade ago. I reach for it. The cover is scuffed and its spine cracked.
Clearing a space I slide the ledger into the centre of the desk.
‘It’s been a while since I saw one of those,’ someone says behind me.
I open the book. It is empty. All of its pages are blank and, as I leaf through it, the others begin to talk.
Image by Christine Renney