Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Flashback VI.

November 10, 2009.

All about a Belgian sandwich. [Fire drills.]

When I came to work yesterday and turned on the laptop, it logged itself onto Skype, as usual. Here, most junior researchers (PhDs, postdocs and the likes) and even some senior academics use Skype as an unofficial internal communication system. Lunch at 12:30, who's in? Coffee in five minutes? Meet near the lift to go to Latin aerobics in 20? That sort of things. Yesterday morning, it was, "Don't come into uni this morning - there's a fire drill."

My immediate decision, probably motivated by laziness, was to hide in my office. When the fire alarm started to screech, I grabbed my coat. Painful as it was to evacuate by stairs from the eighth floor, I wasn't going to listen to that ear-blasting noise for ten minutes straight. Geluck cheered me up a little by telling me that we could go to down the fire escape instead. Of course, I should have realized that a fire escape was just like a flight of stairs, but outdoor. He was surprised by the fact that my Australian math department didn't have a fire escape. It took me some good ten seconds before the answer occurred to me: we only had one floor. [...]

The moment the very last person walked out of the building, we were told to get back inside again. The fire drill was over. Except for the lifts, which were still turned off, as either a residual effect of the fire drill, or just a bad joke. If I didn't look forward to climbing down from the eight floor, climbing up to the eighth floor was not one of my favourite things, either. [Ed: How things have changed. These days I take the stairs to work! Actually, come to think about it, that still does not make climbing stairs one of my favourite things. It just means that I take stairs to work.] These stairs were designed as if we were running out of space, which was a kinda ironic thought as our building was situated inside some sort of mini-forest with plenty of towering trees and mini hills. If you put two skinniest persons (like, J. and J.) side by side in the stairs, with their arms pressed down against their bodies, they would just fit and there would no wiggling room whatsoever. So, we all got back to our respective offices about five hours after the fire drill.

As I was sitting down at my desk, S. walked past my office. It appeared that he just got into uni then, completely bypassing the fire drill. S. is a postdoc, whose office is literally next to mine. Despite going in and out of office at least four times a day (at least three times to the coffee machine and once for lunch) I had never met S. in my first four weeks being at my new workplace, until last week, when we went out twice in one weekend. One was going to a hilarious stand-up show with a few other people*, and another was a home-dinner together with three postgraduates. 

*[Ed: Again, how things have changed. Back then, in my sixth week in Brussels, those people were "a few other people"; now one of them is a very good friend of mine, after almost two years of Maastrichting, Parising, BBQ-ing, Berlining, etc. Also, it says something about Brussels, or, more accurately, about our clique being so small and incestuous, that over less than one and a half years, in four of those "a few other people" there have been three couples, almost the maximum number of pairings considering that all said participants, as far as I know, are straight.]

Having socialized outside, we are now at the saying-hi-to-each-other stage at uni. So, S. stopped at my office, and said hi.

"You missed the fire drill!!" I cheerfully pointed out.
"Uhm, okay...When was it?"
"About five minutes ago." I estimated. "It was very exciting!"
"Did you all... go downstairs?" S. asked, in a hesitating way that should have given me a signal, but I didn't see it.
"Yeah. And, then we all went upstairs," I added. "Like I said, it was very exciting." I concluded convincingly.
"Oh, er, uhm, okay. Maybe next year?" Then he left.

For four weeks, my office-neighbor didn't know I existed. For the next 23 months, he's going to think I'm the girl who likes fire drills.

Today, out of the corner of my eye, I could see S. walk past, on the way to his office. After the split second when I was imagining what he was thinking ("Don't make eye contact. Don't say hi to the fire drill lover."), S. doubled back and said hi. ("Fire drill loving or not, she's seen me.") I was all determined and consumed in my will to erase any bad impression yesterday and to act like a normal person, that his next sentence didn't immediately register in my head. "It's a lot hotter here than outside!"

A normal person, at this point, would have realized that my room was set at around 26 degrees and the outdoor weather was hovering at seven degrees, complete with fog everywhere, so yes, it was a lot hotter in my office than it was outside. I, on the other hand, was thinking Me no like fire drills me no like fire drills and by the time I snapped out of it and understood what he said, S. has decided to continue the conversation himself. "No? Okay, then." Then he left.

I was wrong yesterday. For the next 23 months, my office-neighbor is going to think I'm the girl who likes fire drills and can't feel the weather.

Good thing it is a public holiday tomorrow. The fact that I am not coming into uni tomorrow means my image cannot possibly get worse. Five bucks say he's not stopping to say hi the day after, though.