It was early and bright and sunny and finally everyone was allowed back out. The queues stretched out the door and down the street and he was worried about how many people seemed to have heard of him already.
He walked past them like it wasn’t his office but the game was up as soon as his keys came out of his pocket and all their frustrated voices became one and started asking, before they should, for his help.
Tight lips had once been a condition of his services but he expected that on the first day back he would find this harder to maintain. 8.47am and he wasn’t in the door yet and he already had.
The office stood between two carparks, preserved by carefully legislated conservation measures across the city, orange and square, angling in at the sides one each of the three floors. His office was on the third, his desk backlit by the round iron window that bled sunlight in until 11am and then his front sunned by a smaller, more functional square window on the opposite side that seemed to always frame his face — or the back of a client’s head.
And it was into this office that he slipped through the door ajar, enough for him and no one of the shoving queue, up the stairs as part of his light daily exercise, and to his desk. He laid out his laptop, plugged it into his work charger, and set his notebook and pen upon the desk.
Today, he couldn’t help but look out the round window to see the line – and more people still joining it. His was a slow job and he was unsure he’d get through everyone before he left for the day. He wondered if the line would stay and if this waiting would be added to his reimbursements. He would see.
So he brewed a strong coffee and sat at his desk to finish it right in time for 8.59am and open doors, which he did with a light touch and a small slit and one at a time.
She was a lonely, unhappy mother and she was asking for a refund of the time she had to spend stuck in the house with her husband while he refused to love her and she couldn’t escape into the parts of the world where she was valued.
She only asked for 47 days.
“How long have you been married?” He asked, just filling out the forms he would later sign and scan and send.
“Twenty-one years,” she said.
“And you’re just asking for the quarantine?”
“It’s the only time he really had the chance to push my buttons.” She shrugged. “So to speak.”
He smiled and made a note and couldn’t help but enquire further.
“Was there anything in particular that he said or did?”
Probing was neither encouraged nor discouraged but it had lent him some space to evaluate his own, upcoming marriage.
“Just the way he would generally make us share the space.”
“Uncertainly, all the time.”
“Have you spoken about this?”
“We did for 19 years and then I stopped when our daughter moved out.” She leaned over the desk. “You’re not writing this down.”
“Are you married?”
“Thank you. Have all 47 days been since the period of the lockdown or are you claiming on old wounds?”
“Old wounds?! I’m… – just the lockdown.”
He scribbled a note at this. A line through the four.
“How about 27 days?”
“You just add them on at the end, right? I don’t get any vim or vigour back?”
“And will I know when I’m in my final 27 days?”
“There’s no fanfare.”
“How about 32 days?”
He turned the paper around fast and straight and gestured to another pen that he cleaned between sessions and at the end of every day.
As she took it and signed with it he wondered exactly how long it had been since it’d been cleaned. He wondered if he would have to pay out of his life for whatever extra time she may now be entitled…
He decided he would cross that bridge when he arrived at it. He suspected that she, like most of his other clients, would find something intangible in their meeting that helped them plan their days better.
Not that he knew this for sure. Just a professional sense.
“Thank you,” he told her as he showed her the door. “You’ll he notified by mail within 10 business days.”
“If my husband reads the letter first?”
“He’ll not be able to.”
She stepped through the threshold.
“Have you considered leaving?” He asked and overstepped but not through the door.
She shrugged. “This way, he’s all I have to worry about.”
He caught himself in a curious nod.
“Please shepherd whoever’s next in line inside. And watch out for the door. It’s heavy.”