After hours.

Every day she comes in around 7 o’ clock.  I sit in my cubicle, staring into the monitor.  Spreadsheets galore.  The endless spiral of numbers come and attack me as I try my best to dodge the sharp edges.  But I lose every time. 

By this time, my eyes are blurry, my bottom is stiff, and my cup is empty.  She comes by and flashes me a great big smile.  Hellllllo!  She exclaims.  I force a smile back.  Hi, Maria.  Maria.  She comes in every night at this hour without fail, and it’s become a routine for us.  Working late tonight, huh?  I nod, trying to stay calm. 

Maria first puts her mp3 player on and puts her ear buds in.  I don’t know what she listens to, but she has a great time.  She hums along as she begins to collect all of the cups on our cubicles, brings them to the sink, and washes them.  Then she goes around and collects all of the garbage  at each desk.  She dusts.  She vacuums.  She polishes.  Thank you very much, I say as she replaces my bin with a new plastic bag.  I missed again today and threw perishables in my trash can.  You’re welcome, my dear.

Maria.  She is the bright spot of my otherwise dreary day.  Sometimes – or most time, if I’m at work alone late into the night, I just start tearing up for no good reason.  I start asking myself why I’m there, what purpose I’m serving.  Is it time well spent.  Tonight when I go to bed, will I regret any part of my day.  Then the tears that graze my eyes usually start streaming down my cheeks, and I am quick to grab a tissue to wipe it off before Maria notices.  I hear her humming along in the distance.

I wrap up my work and I’m rushing to leave.  But I always find Maria to say goodnight.  Goodnight!  See you tomorrow!  She always says this.  It could be Monday or it could be Friday.  It could be a late night, or it could be an early one.  I always say, Okay!   Even though I’m wishing on all the stars of the world at that moment that I will NOT see her tomorrow because I will NOT stay late next time.  But these days, I see her more often than not. 

Then I grab my bag and walk downstairs.  Monday through Wednesday there is a different security guard than Thursday and Friday.  I look forward to walking out the door on Thursdays and Fridays.  I get to say a genuine goodnight to the most kind-hearted man I’ve ever seen – and I have never had a more than 2 sentence conversation with him.  But we know each other well now.  At least, we know that we’ll see each other on Thursday and Friday nights.  I walk by his desk and say a hearty, Hello and goodnight!  

Goodnight, Cate!  He says to me with a big smile.  He knows my name.  But I do not know his.  Maybe I should ask him one time, but I’m always reluctant to stick around longer than I already have.  It’s not a good excuse, but I’m content with our 5 second exchange, and I have a feeling he is too.  I can always rely on him to make me smile as I’m walking out the door each Thursday and Friday night.   And I make sure I put my earbuds in AFTER I walk out that door.

A lot of thoughts swim around in my head as I go home on nights like this.   Usually about the meaning of life, and if I’m living up to the purpose I have been given.

I go to sleep with a lot of questions floating all around.  Then somewhere inside, I find the will to wake up the next morning and go about another day.

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