I had been working with Hannah on a project; she was in the digital team and effortlessly cool. I was in HR and therefore indelibly square. Nevertheless, in my role I had always tried to convey a certain rugged charm, as if I were some rake who had merely chanced upon the corporate world.
At one time I had served in the Royal Navy – inevitably, I seized on every opportunity to mention this to female colleagues. This allusion to a former seafaring life was the perfect counter-balance to my sober existence as an office worker.
I was at my desk when the phone rang. Hannah’s name flashed on the display.
“Hey,” I said, “what’s going down?”
“Hi, I’m calling about the project.”
I switched to a business-like tone:
“Of course, the project. Let’s get up to speed.”
“Well, we only met yesterday so I think we’re ok.”
“Sure, I’m on board with that.”
I shifted in my seat.
Hannah said, “The thing is, I’m not sure I can make it on Thursday. My boyfriend and I have ordered a new fridge and he needs to be at home when they deliver it. I just don’t want to leave him in the house on his own for too long.”
I twirled a pen with my fingers.
“Why? Will he start to destroy the furniture?”
From my office window I could see the Thames. A rusty tug cruised by, laden down with refuse.
“I’ve got to go,” Hannah said.
“Sure, we can reschedule Thursday.”
“Let’s do that.”
I said goodbye but I think she might have hung up.
Outside I watched the tug’s skipper lean out of his cabin and light a cigarette. The afternoon sun glistened on the river, and I thought of the ocean swell off the Bay of Biscay. Not such a bad job, I thought.