She was coming in on the Tuesday.
On Monday afternoon, I heard my boss on the phone: “You’re so funny,” she cackled.
I’d been at work for two months and had barely reached the trying-to-make-a-joke point.
The following morning, just before her arrival, I heard someone say to the boss: “I’ll get her a cup of tea and make her feel nice and welcome”.
“Oh, don’t worry about that, she’ll be fine. She’s a feisty one”.
Within an hour of her arriving, she had spoken more to the two boys sat next to her than I ever had. She hurt her ribs in the marathon at the weekend, she said. She talked about her running group, and I concluded that being on the mailing list for a book club I’d never actually been to was almost the same thing.
The way she was talking, I thought she already knew everyone. But she didn’t.
As the week went by, we started working together. One quiet, mid-week morning, she gave me some advice, and as I walked home later, I thought about how she hadn’t made me feel like I’d been doing anything wrong, or that I'd not been putting enough effort in – but I felt sufficiently motivated to do better, as if it was my own idea.
She didn’t point anything out, patronise me or make me act defensively. In fact, I'd been completely honest with her about what had been holding me back, irrational assumptions I had made and problems I was facing. This was new. People giving me advice usually just made me uncomfortable.
I learnt that she’d worked around the world, but it was nice to back home in London, she said. I liked hearing that even those who are way more exciting than I am still have a longing for the familiar. Maybe we had some things in common, after all.
Her weekend was going to be full of various forms of exercise.
She found out she had a friend working in an office nearby. As she went off to see him on her lunch break, I did my usual walk to the fridge and back to my desk.
The furthest I’d ever gone at lunch was to the nearest bench, and straight back again because it was hot. Not worth the bother, I decided. Plus, there was nothing exciting that was close enough to get to in a lunch hour.
She came bouncing down the stairs an hour later.
“Where have you been?” asked the boys.
“I’ve been picking some blackberries from a bush just down the path. They're delicious”
I closed the plastic box of my Co-op sushi and squinted towards the light of the door.
Just when I thought we could be friends.