Sitting behind the glass panels, I take the slip of paper offered to me through the opening slit by the gentleman just on the other side. Wielding a large mechanical stamp, I press it swiftly onto the paper. Received, the paper now reads with fresh red ink, slightly dulled by a drying ink pad.
My eyes move from the crimson color to the man’s uninterested face. “Next!” I call from the speaker, and he moves on. He slowly walks toward the door, as a similarly disinterested woman steps forward. The paper slips through an opening in the wall as I release it.
Chink! The stamp slams down, pressing another fresh red message. Received.
“Next!” I call again, in the same flat, monotonous voice that momentarily obscures the ruffle of paper as I feed it through the slot to my right.
The morning continues in the same manner. I gather the documents presented to me and feed them through the slot to the next room.
At noon promptly, I lower the blinds to the window. Ignoring sighs and muffled grumbling from the lobby, I gather my personal belongings and leave my small room. Carefully locking the door behind me, I follow the gray walls to the end of the hallway. As I am walking, others join me. Together our footsteps echo through the long hall until we reach a plain room with several tables.
I always sit near Lucy. I offer her a muted smile while I eat my soggy sandwich. She works in the room next to me—the one I submit the stamped documents to. Across from Lucy is Sam. Sam completes his tasks once Lucy is done with her tasks. Nancy also sits at the same table. She is only needed when there is a problem with the paperwork. The others in the dull lunchroom have other assignments that I am unaware of.
Everyone chews in hushed silence. The fluorescent lights buzz slightly and occasionally the light flickers, throwing shadows on the smudged walls. I simply stare ahead at a tattered poster reminding us to leave work at the door while we enjoy our personal time.
Promptly at one o’clock, we gather our things in unison and head toward our stations. A jingle of keys can be heard as each of us unlocks the door to our respective rooms. Pulling the blinds up releases a small cloud of dust, and I immediately call the next in line.
Staring at the slot, no paper slides through.
“I don’t have my papers today,” a mousey young woman whispers. “I’ve lost them.”
My eyes meet hers. I lean slightly to the left and press a button for the intercom. “Nancy, you are needed in the lobby.”
Nancy enters from another door on the opposite side of the lobby. Without a word, she leads the young woman through the door, which slams behind her. The usual muffled noises from the lobby are halted as everyone watches in fear and curiosity until the jarring slam of the door. “Next!”
The day continues in rhythm, and at exactly 4:30 p.m., I gather my belongings once again. The final 30 minutes of my work day are spent wrapping up the day’s work. It’s the part I look forward to most of all because we work as a team to tidy up.
I help Lucy gather her lists of residents and file them away. She marks off the ones that properly submitted their paperwork. She makes note of the ones that filed improperly. Together we go to Sam’s room and help him carry the bags of shredded paper. Small flints of red can still be seen from my stamp amongst the black and white confetti.
Each of us with a bag in hand, we carry them to the incinerator. There we meet Nancy, struggling with her heavier bundle. Offering to help, it takes both of us to roll it into the furnace opening.
From her pocket she reveals a small package. “New ink as you requested yesterday. I was only able to fill the order today.”
I smile and take the liquid filled back to my room. Tomorrow my stamps will be brighter with thick, fresh ink.