The rumble of the air conditioner is the backdrop to all my office days, in the very same way the rustling leaves are.
But today, the absence of clicking sounds, of fingers tapping furiously at keyboards is the guiltiest noise. The coffee machine does not guzzle, is silent, the water in the dispenser has not changed levels since half the day. Not a ring of the phone, not a knock on the door. Stillness grows like moss in our office.
We all sit complicit in the lie of productivity, hiding behind computer screens that shield our ennui. We’re scouring the ocean floor of social media for depth, on the lookout for fresh news, like a young colourful fish darting in a bareland, an over-exploited area. We drown in shallow waters, racking up skeletal remains of news of interest. Like sand scooped in our palm that is washed away by the currents, and grabbed again, washed away again and again and again.
All of us, bosses and employees alike, forced into unspoken norms, bound by contracts we owe ourselves and each other. If only I could just walk out that door. But I have to be doing nothing much in this specific 25 squared meters of space.
I wonder why any one of us stays. Because we “have” to. Do we, though? Will the world really miss us for a day? Will it not keep on spinning if we are not in that office, not occupying that exact point on the world map?
Years back, I found a video in some forgotten corner of the internet. In it, a man driving a taxi (sponsored by some company) drove around a city packed with commuters, winding between the routines and everyday lives of millions of people. When the taxi was hailed, the driver would ask the people one question, something along the lines of :
“Do you want to get out of here? If you want, we could go on an adventure or I can take you to work.”
At this point, with all the cameras rolling, it had become clear it was no joke, no threat. Yet so many people said no. Perfectly sensible reasons, excuses spilled from their lips (“But I have to go to work”, “Not today, sorry”), regret shone in some of their eyes, and the man drove them to work. And then there were the few who said yes, who, throwing caution to the wind, jumped in. There were no have-to’s, all expectations had been deemed irrelevant.
And the man drove them to the ocean, to the deserts. Arms flailed in joy from the open roof of the taxi, people squealed at the scenery, quietly texting away that they were sick and could not come in to work.
I am not trying to turn this into an absolute. I do not think that the people who turned out the offer were wrong. Not all of them, I’m sure. Some must really have had important projects to deliver, people counting on them to do their work. But some people were just sticking to their routines. To the idea that they have to do any one thing. That they are bound, imprisoned by contracts.
All these years, I silently promised myself that I should not become that kind of a person. I always have a choice. I do not have to stay. I do not have to live a life of convenience and have-to’s. I do not have to give in. I am free to leave, though the price may be high. But in no way will I allow myself to think that I have sold my freedom. I do not have to, I do not have to. I choose to. I always have a choice, though the price to pay for it may be high, exorbitant for some, too much for others.
But it’s always there.
Today I choose to stay. I choose to write instead of scrolling, scrolling, scrolling on social media. I do not feel bad about it, because I chose it. With all the consequences attached to that choice, I take responsibility for the way I live my time. No one has a greater claim on it than I do.
Note : A few times out of a month or two, there will be slow days at work. Days when I have completed my work in advance and stretch the few tasks I have left over several hours. In between, I fill the gaps with some writing, discovering new music, delving into old feelings. It’s a world of its own.