The New Girl in Our Office
by Deepti Nalavade Mahule
The New Girl in Our Office arrives for the first time one rainy morning with glistening raindrops splattered like stars on the lenses of her glasses. She is without an umbrella or raincoat. This indicates that she is clumsy, but it could also mean that she’s very excited to start her first day at work.
Her manager introduces her to all of us. She shakes all of our hands in turn and furrows her brow in concentration as we tell her our names.
Although not exactly a beauty, she has the rosiness of youth and a face that many might label “moderately cute”. She smells of lemon and lavender, a mix of two commonplace fragrances, which suits her personality just fine.
The New Girl sets up her desk on her first day. Among her personal items, there’s a picture frame of her green-eyed tabby cat and two palm-sized red dice with white dots on them.
The New Girl asks many questions about her job responsibilities but during lunchtime banter, she is mostly silent and only answers when asked a question. Because she keeps her mouth shut for so long, it emanates a slightly unpleasant odor when she opens it to talk.
She’s fresh out of college and has touched down onto this bustling city as if she were a fledgling landing after its first flight from its nest. However, even after weeks in office have passed, with her sitting among different groups of people during lunch hours, she doesn’t seem to be part of any particular flock. When we talk to her, we cannot help but look away from the loneliness in her eyes staring back at us unabashedly.
On most evenings, when we’re leaving for the day, the New Girl is still at her desk. She barely looks up from her computer as she murmurs a “good night”. Sometimes, she’s not there with us at lunch. We find her later, devouring an apple in the break room while she scrolls through work emails on her phone. She does not interrupt others in meetings, but after everyone else has gone silent, she offers creative solutions to most problems. The New Girl’s earnestness in applying herself to her given tasks grates on our nerves and makes us question our own efforts.
At a team dinner one night, which she’s forced to attend, as the alcohol flows freely and tongues loosen, someone pesters her during a game of Truth or Dare to share the purpose of the dice on her desk. She finally discloses that they are containers to hold her antidepressant medication.
Months pass and the New Girl is fading into Just Another Go-Getter Girl at our office when hushed whispers are heard at the end of one workweek. Words like “New Girl”, “New Girl’s boss’s boss”, “sexual misconduct” are thrown around, followed by “brushed under the carpet”, “consensual”, “too ambitious” and “The Girl of Questionable Character”.
On Monday, the New Girl calls in sick and does not show up for work. She is absent for the rest of the week and at the end of Friday, we learn that she was last seen at dusk the previous evening by her landlord. She was standing on the bridge overlooking the rushing waters of the river that runs through our city. She’d already given her notice of resignation at the office and had probably stopped by at our workplace in the early hours of the previous morning to gather her things from her desk. Having cleared out her belongings from her rented apartment as well, she was presumably planning to be on her way back to her hometown.
The Monday of the next workweek comes and goes, and it is confirmed that The New Girl will no longer be with us. Gone from her desk are her dice. One of our colleagues who has a cousin in the police force tells us what he’s heard. He says that two red dice — one of them with four dots and the other one with two dots on the sides facing up — were found when they plummeted from the top of the bridge and landed in the bushes near the river bank instead of on the rocks jutting out in the middle of the surging downward current of the river. It’s surprising how much detailed information the colleague has about the position and location of the dice and yet he doesn’t know if they were thrown down first by the girl or came down with her.
We rack our brains about the four and two on the dice and talk excitedly among ourselves theorizing about the meanings that they might have tried to convey. In the end, we give up and look away from the blank space that they’ve left on her desk and talk about her cat instead. In our minds, we convince ourselves that the New Girl in Our Office has gone on to a higher paying job at an ideal workplace and that her dice-like containers are sitting on her new desk with nothing but breath mints inside them.
One of Deepti Nalavade Mahule’s short stories was highly commended in the Commonwealth Short Story Competition in 1999 and others have appeared in Daily Flash Fiction Magazine, 101 words, Kitaab, Aphelion webzine, Women’s Web and elsewhere.
Originally from India, Deepti currently lives in California, where she spends time developing software, reading aloud to her five-year-old daughter, submitting short fiction and fretting about what to put in her author’s bio.
Her website is: https://deeptiwriting.wordpress.com/