A New Perspective

Woman smiling sitting at computer, looking thoughtful

Will Amanda make the most of her special day to catch up on her work – or will she get sidetracked as usual?

I must have been invisible from the moment I woke up, but it wasn’t until I arrived at work that I realised it.

My bus journey had been jostly as usual and I assumed it was just rudeness when someone stood on my foot and didn’t apologise. But when I arrived at the office and no one said hello, I finally realised the truth.

“I can’t believe she actually did it,” I said aloud. “She made me invisible.”

No one at the coffee machine turned.

I went to my cubicle. As usual, my heart sank at the amount of work on my desk: telephone messages, a full email inbox, client files stacked in my in-tray.

This was exactly why she’d done it.

“It’s all under control,” I’d bluffed yesterday when my supervisor visited. “Yes, I know I’m a bit behind, but I know exactly what needs to be done. All it requires is some concentrated attention…”

We’d been interrupted by Nathan from Accounts.

“Amanda, have you got a second? Oh –” He spied that I wasn’t alone. “Sorry, Jasmine. I’ll come back later…”

“I’ve been helping Nathan fill in his personal assessment forms,” I explained.

Jasmine fixed her steely gaze on me.

It was true I spent a lot of time talking, but was it wasn’t really my fault.

How can you tell someone you haven’t the time to hear about their son’s exam results, or tell the girl crying on your shoulder in the toilets that your coffee break is over?

“You have a lot of attributes we value here at Crabdale and Solstice,” Jasmine said, “but maybe there’s something I can do to make better use of your abilities.”

Her words sounded oddly foreboding, as if she was about to demote me to a filing clerk so I could show off my skills of alphabetising and collating.

“Really, I can catch up in no time…”

“Maybe I should make you invisible for a day. Then you’d have no distractions.”

“Haha, yes.” I laughed nervously. “That would be nice.”

Who knew she would actually do it?

I mean, there were rumours about upper management and how they maintained our position as the best recruitment agency in the country.

There was a story I’d heard about a girl in Marketing who’d always had trouble voicing her opinion, but was suddenly uncharacteristically unable to stop talking. And then there were rumours of some kind of time manipulation when an impossible tendering deadline was miraculously met… I’d dismissed it as gossip.

Now I made my way to Jasmine’s office, careful not to bump into anyone. Before I got there, Jasmine stepped out. Without seeing me, she managed to subtly avoid the spot where I was standing.

Strange, powerful creature.

“Staff meeting,” Jasmine called.

“Amanda’s not here yet,” Tom said.

Though nearly old enough to be my dad, Tom was one of my closest friends here. He was as soft as old slippers.

“Amanda’s working off site today,” Jasmine said. Tom looked disappointed.

“I spoke to her yesterday and she was perfectly fine about trying something new,” Jasmine went on.

It was true – technically. But I hadn’t known what I was letting myself in for.

The best thing to do, I decided, was take this opportunity to catch up on my work and prove to Jasmine I could be responsible. Then hopefully she’d let me get back to normal.

I left them to their staff meeting and returned to my desk.

“Right, Amanda,” I said, liking the way I could talk to myself as if I were in my own kitchen, “concentrate.”

Oh, but it was hard. Because suddenly the most humongously irresistible temptation came along and started pulling on my ears and toes and sleeves: couldn’t I just… you know… loiter about a bit and… eavesdrop?

No, no, no. Terrible, despicable behaviour.

With great force of will I made myself stay in my chair and worked solidly for an hour, sending emails, reading files, and just occasionally fixing people up with their ideal employment. But eventually I had to move.

I needed a drink; needed to stretch my legs; needed to fetch more sticky notes from the copier room.

Carefully I edged past Clara, the office assistant, who was collating thousands of welcome packs – gosh, that girl was meticulous.

There was no one in the copier room except Lindsay, a senior consultant, so I waited. I didn’t want to freak her out by making office supplies levitate.

As I waited, Tom came in with a stack of papers. Lindsay looked up.

“I’ll come back,” Tom said quickly, vanishing again.

Tom was relatively new to the office. He’d been a telephone engineer, and I knew he sometimes felt out of place.

Lindsay finished her work. Tom was lingering outside.

“It’s all yours,” she said with a smile.

Tom seemed relieved as he came into the (he thought) empty room and put his papers into the copier. He programmed for fifty copies and pressed “start”.

Immediately everything went haywire, the copier ferociously spitting out one gigantically enlarged page after another on an endless stream of pink paper.

Tom thrust his hands into his hair and froze in horror.

I stepped in, subtly pressing “cancel”.

Slowly, Tom calmed down. He came forward, and tentatively pressed a few buttons. The wrong ones. I swiftly cancelled again.

Tom stared at the machine, perplexed.

“Idiot,” he said. “How hard it is to use a copier? You can’t do anything right.”

I had no idea he’d been struggling so much. He sounded in total despair.

Of course, usually he’d come and ask me for help. I willed him to ask someone else, but either from insecurity or shyness, he wouldn’t.

Now I realised that I was the only one he’d made any connection with. I’d made the effort to get to know him, and hadn’t noticed that I was the only one he really spoke to.

“You can do this,” I said firmly. “It’s just a matter of confidence.”

He frowned at the copier. Then, hesitantly, he reprogrammed his request.

The copier whirred, and gave him exactly what he wanted.

Tom beamed with pride. Never had I wanted to hug someone so much.

When he’d finished, I grabbed my sticky notes and followed him out.

Lindsay was outside, talking to two others. She smiled at Tom as he passed by, but Tom didn’t stop. The back of his neck reddened as he looked down.

Busyness pervaded the office because of an important meeting happening later. A junior crossed the office with a trolley loaded with cups.

Clara swiftly kicked someone’s handbag out of the way before he ran over it and all the china cups came tumbling down. The junior carried on obliviously.

At my desk I sank back into my chair, tapping my fingers thoughtfully. Not thinking about work – but about Tom.

To test if I was still invisible the next day, I said good morning to everyone I passed on the street. One person answered me, which I took as proof that life was back to normal.

How long it would last I wasn’t sure, since it was likely Jasmine would be disappointed in yesterday’s lack of productivity.

I wondered if there was a sliding scale of measures to deal with staff like me; they started by making you invisible, and ended up giving you a twenty-eight-hour work day.

Still, I walked into the office with purpose, carrying my secret weapon.

I greeted everyone. Their curious gazes followed the box in my hands.

I stopped at Tom’s desk.

“Morning, Tom. This is for you.”

Carefully he lifted the lid.

“What’s this for?” he said, touched.

“Don’t you know what today is? It’s your one-month anniversary.”

He was bemused.

“Does everyone get a cake?”

“No, just you. I wanted to let you know…” I felt self-conscious suddenly and blushed, but it was important, so I went on, “I think you’re pretty fantastic. You make my job easier, and you’re a joy to work with. You brighten my day.”

Had I gone too far? He was possibly even pinker than I was.

“Excuse me, am I interrupting?”

I turned to Jasmine. “Oh, I was just…”

Talking when I was supposed to be working. Again.

“Tom’s been here a month and I was just saying how much he’s appreciated…”

Jasmine slowly turned from me to Tom. She ran the end of her silk scarf through her fingers.

“A month? Congratulations, Tom. Amanda’s right, you’re a valuable member of the team. We’re delighted with your work.”

I was thrilled – she couldn’t have said anything more perfect.

“Ooh, cake!” Nathan said, joining us.

“It’s Tom’s one-month anniversary.”

“Congratulations, Tom!”

Lured by the promise of cake, soon the whole office was crowding around with friendly words.

Tom’s face grew steadily pinker but his smile grew too, until he looked pleased and embarrassed in equal measure.

I made sure everyone was included, and handed Lindsay the cake slice.

“Would you help Tom with the cake? He’s a bit shy.”

“Of course!” She stood beside Tom, and gradually his nervous glances turned into easy conversation.

“Funny,” Jasmine murmured at my elbow, “I thought Tom had been here longer than a month.”

Sheepishly I glanced at her.

“No one’s counting.”

“My office, please, Amanda.”

I followed her in. She closed the door.

“So,” she said. “Our experiment yesterday. I’d like to know what you learned from it.”

“I learned…” Pausing, I took a breath. “I learned that Rona’s getting overwhelmed by her end-of-month tasks, and that Brian needs lessons on the new accounts system.

“Also I realised that I wasn’t the only one invisible yesterday – Clara averted disaster more than once and I don’t think anyone noticed. She deserves more recognition.

“And,” I said, “I learned that Tom needed a confidence boost and to be included more.” I sighed. “But I didn’t get as much work done as I’d hoped…”

She sat down and gestured for me to take the seat opposite.

“As I said, we’ve always appreciated your skills here. You’re excellent with people, and an imaginative problem-solver.” She almost smiled. “You did well, Amanda.”

I blinked. “You mean…”

“There were a few unhappy auras around the office. I think it’s going to be a happier place because of you.”

She leaned back. “We’d like to offer you a promotion, into management.”

I was struck dumb. This was just about the opposite of what I’d expected, but it was very much what I wanted.

“Do I get any special powers?”

She did smile then. “We’ll see.”

You’d think that would be the best part of my day, and it almost was. But as I was leaving, I saw something great.

Tom was with Lindsay, crouched by her bicycle.

“There you go,” he said, standing and putting his Swiss army knife away. “Nothing serious – just needed a few adjustments.”

Lindsay got onto the saddle and pedalled in a small circle.

“That’s so much better! It’s been bothering me for months. You’re a genius!”

Tom’s whole posture changed. He looked six inches taller.

“So,” she said, smiling, “are you coming to the pub?”

He grinned. “That would be nice.”

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