Every single day is a perfect replica of the last.
The alarm rings at exactly seven in the morning. She wakes on the first high-pitched beep it emits, but she ignores it until the volume escalates after the fifth one.
She always sleeps on her stomach – she thinks that maybe it’s because even in her sleep she’s trying to burrow away and hide herself from the rest of the world – so she needs to roll around just to hit the button that turns damn thing off. She lays flat on her bed for a long moment after that, staring up at the blank white ceiling and wondering to herself what point there is in facing another day.
When she finally gets off the mattress and pushes the blankets off herself, it’s almost seven thirty. She gets on her feet and stretches once, wishing there was a way to dispel the deep-seated exhaustion from her bones. She doesn’t stumble on her way to the bathroom – no, this is well-worn path that she’s travelled too many times – and she doesn’t slide on the tile floors as she steps into the shower.
The water is colder than it is lukewarm, and it’s almost seven forty-five.
She brushes her hair slowly after blow-drying it. Then she gets dressed in front of the full-length mirror in her bedroom. The underwear barely takes five seconds to get into, the stockings barely ten. The pencil skirt goes next, followed by the crisp white blouse. She latched the silver watch around her wrist before she puts on her blazer, running her hands down her outfit more out of habit than a need to smoothen out non-existent creases.
She has breakfast – a bowl of cereal soaked in too much milk – alone on the solitary rectangular white table in her kitchen. She drinks down a glass of orange juice when she’s done, and brushes her teeth in the sink.
When that’s all over, she slips on her heels and picks up the suitcase by the door. It’s always in the same area, every single time, as though there is a limited space it can occupy. She turns off all the lights and heads out the door.
She lives on the sixteenth floor so she takes the elevator. She watches the little glowing numbers as they count higher and higher – 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10-11-12-13-14-15-16 – before stepping into the tiny space alone. Then she watches as the same numbers decrease – 16-15-14-13-12-11-10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1.
It’s the same every day. It’s been the same every single day for the past two years.
She walks out into the lobby and waves a greeting at the receptionist, Kurt. He’s been there longer than she has, and he never fails to send a charming smile her way when she walks by. But sometimes, if she chooses to look hard enough, she can see the same look in his eyes, the same look she sees every time she looks in the mirror: hard, cold, empty. Dead.
Karofsky, the guard on duty in the mornings, doesn’t seem to fare much better. He tips his hat at her when she walks by, but he never seems to have it in him to fake a smile. Though she notices sometimes that the ones he makes for Kurt show the faintest hints of sincerity.
She gets on the bus by the corner and takes the seat closest to the door. She’s learned to expect a man to walk over after he’s seen her so he can try his luck out – but the most she ever does is make a polite nod and face the other direction. It won’t do anyone any good to pretend that she’s what he wants, or that he’s what she needs in her life.
When she gets to the stop that’s the closest to her building she gets off the bus and walks in a steady pace, the sound of her heels on the pavement a constant beat.
She makes her way into the company building and rides the elevator up to the eighth floor. The people with her almost always look exactly the same as she does – suits, blouses, heels. It would be impossible to tell them apart.
The first sight that greets her is endless row of cubicles. Every single one is equipped with the exact same materials: a monitor, a CPU, a telephone, a stapler, a box of staple wires, a permanent marker, a ream of coupon bond and three sets of black ball pens.
It’s because of their boss, Ms. Pilsbury. She tends to want things in equal distributions, at any place, at any time. Even the objects on their desks are placed in a specific arrangement – disturbing the arrangement, she’s learned, is something that can lead to serious consequences.
She sits down in her own cubicle by the window. She stares blankly at the black screen for a full minute, before reaching forward slowly to switch both CPU and monitor on. She watches it start-up, counts the number of tiny blocks under the Windows XP that represent loading.
When the monitor is finally on, she reaches for the reports that she’d left behind from the previous night – and begins to work.
Sometimes she tries to break the routine by having lunch outside the office.
She walks to this little café about a block away, and orders a sandwich from the mustached man with the nametag ‘Blaine’ from behind the counter. She sits outside, under one of those tables with a big umbrella, and eats slowly, watching the people drift in and out of her field of vision as they go about with their lives.
Sometimes, if she doesn’t feel so drained, she likes to imagine what their lives must be like. How that girl walking her three siberian huskies might have grown up without that many friends – so she chose to surround herself with the most loyal companion on Earth. Or how that mother pushing a stroller down the sidewalk might be alone because her husband is a soldier, far away fighting in a war that the common, day-to-day person didn’t even want to imagine.
She makes up their stories and wonders, briefly, if their lives are like hers – if they feel the same way that she does, if they ever realize that their existences are prisons so complete they don’t even realize they’re locked up.
Once or twice she’ll see some pretty girl. She could be blonde, brunette or red-haired – it doesn’t really matter. Sometimes she’ll even manage to make eye contact. And on good days, she might even go for a smile.
But the moments are always too brief, too fleeting, too quick to mean anything.
When the lunch hour is over, she trudges back to her office like a defeated soldier.
The end of the day is usually the worst time for her.
It’s six in the evening, so there are more people on the streets. Some people apologize hastily after brushing against her, but most just hurry on, as if colliding with other people is all part of the circle of life. She doesn’t mind, though. Not anymore.
When she gets back to her apartment, the suitcase goes down first. Then the heels are kicked off, and she pads over to her answering machine and checks for any messages.
There’s usually only one.
“Mija!” Her mother’s voice will boom through the silence. The sound of people in the background almost threatens to drown her out. “How are you? Life in the city must be so fun! We miss you here, Mija. When will you be able to visit?” There’s a pause when someone makes a loud exclamation in Spanish. “That was your father, he’s having a blast. Well, I’ve got to go, but better call me when you get this. I love you!”
She stares for a minute longer, as though looking will be enough to conjure the people she hears on the message into her apartment. Sometimes she almost makes the call demanded of her, but she never does. She doesn’t have anything worth saying. Not anymore.
Dinner is always microwaved. She watches her food spin slowly for two minutes, until the machine turns off. She opens the microwave and reaches into it, taking out her food and carrying it to the kitchen table. She eats in the silence.
She brushes her teeth when she’s done, then takes off all her clothes and folds them neatly into the basket for laundry. Then she slips on cotton pajamas and sets the alarm for seven in the morning.
She crawls under the sheets, and buries her face into her pillows.
The morning comes again, the same as always.
It doesn’t take long before she’s seated on her chair, staring blankly at the monitor in front of her. She’s going crazy, she thinks to herself. After all, there’s nothing more insane than going through the same motions over and over again, even with the knowledge that there will be no different outcome whatsoever.
She looks out the window and stares at the street far down below. The people look like tiny ants crawling across the pavement, easy to squash to death with a single crushing movement. The thought makes her feel slightly sick so she lifts her gaze to the building across the street, the one directly parallel with hers.
It’s an art school of some sort, she knows. She’s never looked before, but she does so now, trailing her eyes over the different levels and imagining to herself what each one must be for. None of them look particularly interesting, until her eyes land on the floor below hers. The external walls are made of glass, so it’s easy to look in. It must be a dance studio, based on the ceiling-high mirrors lining the walls.
There are a small group of children all moving to a constant beat she wishes she could hear. The children execute flawed but enthusiastic movements, laughing amongst themselves as they dance together. It feels surreal, to see that kind of childlike happiness from faraway. She can’t remember what it feels like.
It takes a while, but the children finally stop moving. Another figure comes into view, a woman with long and golden hair. The children congregate around the newcomer, their mouths open in soundless squeals. She must be their instructor.
The children embrace her. One by one, they leave. Finally the instructor is left all alone in the studio, and she stretches once before leaning across the glass and staring out the building.
She watches the blonde woman look into the city, taken aback by how singularly beautiful she is. For a moment she just stares, before the blonde suddenly lifts her head and looks right back at her.
She freezes for a moment. Even from across the street, she can see the shades of blue that makes the blonde’s eyes sparkle like water in the setting sun.
She looks away quickly, forcing her eyes back on the screen. She encodes several nonsensical words hastily, before the urge to look back becomes too strong to resist.
The blonde is still looking at her, a perfectly plucked eyebrow rising slightly.
It makes her look away in embarrassment. She tells herself not to look any more, but from the corner of her eye she can see the blonde making motions with her arms.
She looks back again, feeling slightly stupid. She’s faintly surprised to see the blonde holding a sheet of paper in her hands, the words TAKE A PHOTO written neatly across it.
She can feel the heat on her cheeks. She turns to look away again – never to look back into that studio – when the paper is replaced by another.
She feels relief surge in her body. She cracks the tiniest smile and wonders if the blonde woman across the street can see her. The woman holds up one finger and bends down to pick up another sheet off the floor. She writes something down and lifts it up.
She feels her jaw drop in surprise. She didn’t think she was going to get an introduction. She holds one finger up and searches madly for a sheet of paper and the permanent marker.
I’M SANTANA, she writes quickly, before holding it up for the other woman to see. The other woman makes a thumbs-up, then takes another piece of paper.
IT’S NICE 2 MEET U.
Santana swallows. IT’S NICE 2 MEET U 2.