I was annoyed with myself for even considering taking the walk downstairs to the canteen. Past all of the faces expecting me to smile and greet them like I was the host of some elaborate but shit party. I wanted to just stay slouched at my desk, behind the two big monitors I had strategically placed to hide my face. I loved that people had to get on to their tip toes to check if I was there before making the trip down the bank of desks to reach me; at which point I will have had time to psyche myself up to greet them with a massive smile like I was genuinely pleased to see them. Ninety percent of the time I was pleased, the rest of the time I slouched further down, willing them to walk away and not hover over me until I made eye contact. I’ve never looked so intently at graphs before in my life. I still think that if I just stare for a little bit longer they may think I’m really engaged and come back another time, or they will at least allow me a few minutes to compose myself. I decided that a trip downstairs to get food I was almost definitely going to waste was better than having my team, who genuinely care for me, questioning me over what I had to eat that day. It was attention I didn’t want and wouldn’t go away until I submitted and at least looked like I was enjoying the free lunches we were given at work.
After descending the solid and dangerously twisted staircase in the main area of the building, I tried my best to steer myself to the self-service section without looking up from the floor. I was somehow not in control of my body, and did all of this without even thinking about my surroundings. I felt like one of those pixellated characters from old arcade games. You know the ones, where you just had to keep pressing the ‘A’ button to jump and avoid barrels getting thrown at you by the determined bad guy at the top of a series of platforms.
I quickly grabbed the metal tongs from on top of the baking oven; It always reminded me of Her Benny, where they cooked spuds on street stalls. Placing the potato in the white cardboard boxes provided, I took the sharp kitchen knife provided and cut the potato horizontally and then vertically, trying not to cut all the way through the cardboard. The knife appealed to me, and I was desperate to press the blade against my hand to see how sharp it was, but it was suddenly in demand as people moved into the area and started to create their own dinners. I peeled the shiny wrapper of the mini butters that were provided in the fridge next to the potato oven, and I messily prised it away from the metallic wrapper with my fingers and poked it into the centre of the hole I had just made with the beautifully sharp knife. My fingers burnt as I squeezed the potato together to ensure the butter melted. Without looking up, I lifted the lid on one of the four metal serving trays to my right and spooned some cheese on to my creation, which looked as dry as the Sahara but still made my mouth water. With some napkins and the wooden cutlery collected, I hastily made my way back past the people queuing for food and ran up the solid stair case to my floor, praying I didn’t trip and smash my face on the hard surface.
I held my dinner with my right hand and used my left to insert my ear phones back in to their rightful places, griping my phone so both of my hands were full. I could innocently ignore any conversations or avoid eye contact if I looked distracted. I took a deep breath and before pulling open the doors in front of me, and gave myself a little pep talk as I walked past the eighty-odd people who resided in the wing before mine. It was a relief reaching the other end of the building unhindered, although I had been concentrating on my feet so much, I felt like I had staggered past the banks of desks in a drunken daze without really knowing how I got there.
The beauty of my desk, was that it was directly in front of a window, so not only was I constantly exposed to the natural light, but the only people who could possibly creep up on me and pry over my shoulder where the small brown birds that could fly up to my second story window when they wanted a break from playing in the manicured hedges that surrounded our building. There were other birds too, and I saw what I thought was a crow at least once a week; but they and the other birds, who’s breed I had no interest in learning showed very little interest in hovering behind my back, so I liked them for that.
Instead of tidying my desk to make room for my dinner, I shoved all the objects to the sides, and pushed my keyboard back towards my monitors. It was a chaotic collection of stationary and novelty gifts I had collected over the years. I opened the white lid of the box, so it was resting on top of my keyboard. The smell of the butter and part melted cheese made my face react with a look of disgust. I placed my phone on the left-hand side of my desk, removing the corresponding headphone as I did so it dangled down my arm.
The cheese was the only appealing aspect of the lunch I had prepared. The saliva that had built up in my mouth when I was making it was replaced with that warm water that rises from your throat when you are about to be sick. I picked the cheese off the spud with my fingers, taking a small amount each time and dropping it into my mouth. It was impossible to eat with wooden cutlery. I couldn’t get past the woody after taste and the fear that I was going to splinter my tongue. When all the visible cheese was gone, I closed the lid of the box and when I went to move the box to the side with the other rubbish. I cursed myself for not preventing the condensation from the hot potato collecting on my desk.
The blue light of my computer lock screen suddenly flashed up on my monitor, and I realised that I had placed the container on top of my mouse quite haphazardly. I used the handful of napkins I had grabbed to wipe up the watery evidence of my meal, and lay them flat, resting the white and now damp container on top of them. I stared at the box in front of me for a moment. It was the most ordinary box you could ever put your lunch in. The lid sprung open like a jack in the box was about to appear, exposing the food I was unable to stomach. I pushed the lip of the lid though the small slit on the based of the box, securing it down as I had originally intended. I took my black biro pen and began vandalising the lid, letting my pen glide effortlessly round the embossed edges creating what looked like a frame. I dug my pen in harder each time, until I eventually had carved a massive opening down one edge of the frame. There is something satisfying about inflicting damage; it makes me want to destroy more things.
I refused to look at the blue screen which still shone its light on my face, politely asking me for my password. ‘you can’t make me’, I thought. I began to stab the box with the tip of my pen. The condensation had made the whole box some what soggy, and every time I tried to piece the box, the whole lid seemed to be on the verge of ripping open with the force. When I realised stabbing wouldn’t work, I started pressing the pen in slightly, so a small dent was made in the box, then I made circular motions with the pen forcing the ink to penetrate the box before ripping though it. Before I knew it, the circular motion had become so violent, that half of the lid was covered in black dots and tiny holes. It resembled a pointillist piece of art, albeit it a cheap and not very artistic imitation. My team gradually made their way back to their desks in dribs and drabs, each of them checking that there was some evidence of a lunch on my desk. The white box seemed to satisfy their requirements and they all returned to their busy diaries and increasing workloads.
“Tea or coffee?”
I looked up, weary eyed to see Sean holding my cup up to my face waiting for a response. “Coffee please Seany.” I smiled. He collected all of the team’s cups and placed them in the make shift, Christmas tree coloured bucket we used to carry multiple cups back and forth from the kitchen. Before I knew what had happened, he had grabbed my pointillist art work and had gone to place it in the tray, kindly offering to put it in the bin for me. I saw his wrist give way slightly as he picked it up, realising the box was still full but clearly finished with.
“You haven’t eaten much.” He stated in such a way that told me that he clearly wanted an answer from me, and seeing my blank expression he followed up with, “have you eaten any of it?”. I hated lying to people, but I was not in the right frame of mind to get a lecture. I stuttered something incomprehensible and tried to take the box back, but he had already placed it in the tray with the cups. I was disgusted with myself as I rambled on about the big breakfast I had had, and how I had put so much tuna on it I had filled myself up too much. Sean said nothing but gave me a disappointed look that screamed ‘LIAR!’ at me. He took the food away anyway, and dropped it into the general waste bin on his way past. The meal gave off a loud thud as it hit the bottom of the recently emptied bin, and I felt like the thud was a warning from the universe that lying would not be tolerated.
A few minutes passed as he made his brew round, and I suddenly spotted a can of Fizzy Vimto on my desk. It has been there since nine o’clock that morning, and was at room temperature now; the perfect temperature for me and my sensitive teeth. I felt like the current state of the drink reflected my mood – lukewarm and uninterested. I pulled the ring on the can gently, watching as it created a hole on top that would allow me to drink. I always wondered why fizzy drink companies made us drink out of this opening, with the sharp edges created by the ring tearing a whole in it. One slip and you could slice a hole right through your lip – although I imagine this was a rare occurrence.
As I waited for my caffeine fix, I gently pressed my thumb against the edge of the opening, avoiding touching the content of the can by millimetres, the feeling instantly made me nauseous. As I remembered quite vividly, being seventeen years old and siting in a house party in my friend’s small flat, staring blankly into a can of warm larger that I had been nursing for an hour. I had run each finger across the sharp opening of the can, pressing each one on to the edge as hard as I possibly could so that I was left with deep cuts that looked like smiles. I don’t know why I did it and I don’t know how no one noticed, but I did it anyway without any thought what so ever. I will never forget the sound I heard each time the tin cut through my skin. It was like somebody scraping a fork down a dinner plate. Occasionally the noise would stop as my skin resisted, but I would just push harder until the cutting motion resumed. I think I made the noise up, but it made me more uncomfortable than the pain in each of my fingers when I tried to use the phone or pull my jeans up the next day. As I said, I don’t know why I did it. I don’t know why I do a lot of the things I do.
My flashback was interrupted by a cup of coffee being placed gently on the coaster on my desk, and I could see Sean assessing me to see if I was ok. I thanked him for my drink and smiled and shrugged my shoulders like a little girl who was grateful for a gift. I put the one dangling head phone back in my ear, and begrudgingly gave my blue screen the password it had been asking for, for the past fifteen minutes.
I don’t think I’m very well.