The number 32 flashes on the screen of the black telephone sitting at the back corner of the desk. The green light flickers on and off, on and off.
“32, 32, 32 unread messages”, it repeats.
I step over boxes of papers spilling out onto the floor, and around a maze of chairs that are piled high with bags and other mysterious items.
“Let me move that” my former colleague says as she slips on a mask, since I had entered the closet office space and she was no longer alone.
She dumps the bag on the floor amidst piles of papers and sports materials and all kinds of crap I never knew the team owned.
Luckily I’m able to pick my way through my desk, where others had dumped extra supplies and an extra telephone, to find the things I wanted to rescue.
On the wall above my desk, where once hung colorful balloons welcoming me to work, was a mess of red, green, yellow, blue and orange dripping down the wall, dry, as if it was a splatter painting.
I pull out a whole Megillah, a scroll in a metal tube that is read for the Jewish holiday of Purim. I had forgotten that I had still had that. 7 months had passed since the holiday; Purim had been our last hurrah. We went into lockdown the very next day.
It was as if we had dropped everything and ran.
Covid-19 had created a chaos of our lives, of our work, we had left the office suddenly and quickly, taking what we could and leaving the rest behind.
Upon return the place had transformed. It was no longer a clean, safe haven with hallways filled with members greeting each other with smiles and hugs.
The hallways were dark, the lights dim. Members of the Jewish Community Center came in and out, got their temperatures taken, and then hurried to the destination they had in mind.
Our office space was a mess, as if no one knew what to do, where to go, whose job belonged to who. The once crowded, narrow space was mainly dark, except the offices belonging to the three employees who had come in to work at their desks.
“Masks required” a sign on the door said.
I took the pictures off the bulletin board that I once had pinned up so carefully, making my work space my home.
Ruffling through the papers in the file folders, I chose which ones to keep, which ones to throw out. Fliers for events I had planned during the past year, felt like distant memories of a former lifetime.
Walking back out into the lobby, I left the building for the last time, got in the driver’s seat, and sat in my car.
I couldn’t get myself to pull out of the parking lot.
“32 unread messages. 32 unread messages.”
I kept visualizing the phone screen in my head.
That’s someone else’s problem now.