Thursday, November 18, 2010

Three Arrivals, Always in the Morning #1

Every weekday we'd drive to the parking lot of the obscure company and stand on the pvement, eating take-out breakfasts and making awkward conversation in the cold. The sun would come up and melt the frost in the wasteland of scrub and river around and below. When conversation faltered I'd watch that big empty space while we shivered and waited for Oscar to come out of his office.

Oscar relished our days together because we were young idealists and he was a wise, no-nonsense populist with extreme ideas. He'd bring us fresh coffee and reveal inklings of a generalized xenophobic hated. When he'd finished venting and the sun was up we'd drive our rickety vans a hundred kilometres, avoiding the weigh station with a long detour through undeveloped hills and farms, returning to the highway just in time to rendezvous again at the bankrupt company building.

The building was the only one in sight, otherwise just cars and trees and a lone microwave tower that I never got to visit. Oscar would unlock the front gate and then lock it again behind us, and for the rest of the day we'd be imprisoned, doing something that was probably illegal, protected only by our presumed innocence and the big steel fences.

Oscar gave us clipboards, then he'd disappear to prepare the vans and do his own mysterious paperwork. We, the employees randomly drawn from a temporary student labour force, picked an area within the building and systematically dismantled it. In the garage where the gardening tools for the bankrupt company were stored, we'd disregard safety regulations and hang from high shelves, dropping picks and shovels into the hands of fellow workers who would load them into Oscars' trucks.

Oscar was not innocent, he was informed and guilty and cheerful about his job. He told us to remove everything but the paint on the fresh new walls. In the bathrooms we'd unscrew soap dispensers and lighting fixtures and toilet paper rolls. In the meeting rooms we'd take down corkboards and put all the push-pins into the drawers of desks that we'd also move downstairs, out the door, into the vans. Then we'd go back up and remove the carpets, piece by piece.

One day, while we were on our lunch break, a black car arrived and a man in a suit approached the fence. He tried to give us a piece of paper. "Just take it and hand it to your supervisor," he kept saying, pushing the rolled-up paper through the fence, and the three of us stood back, afraid he'd grab us and take us to jail. We said no, no, no. Oscar had told us never to take papers from anybody. The man smiled at us and drove away, and when Oscar heard about it he was proud.

We drove the vans back the same way we'd come, even more careful to avoid the government weigh stations. The vans were old and not meant to hold a company's entire assets. They were sluggish and creaking and they rode low to the road with wide gaps in their carriages, and it was a relief to return to our starting point and unload the contents into storage sheds.

Desks, tools, carpets, fax machines, and paper documetation...everything was pushed into the sheds and locked up, hidden away from everybody who wanted it. Oscar was very happy at the end of every day, standing under a sky that had become warm and lazy, watching us spray water into the vans that leaked rusty mud out of every crevice. Every day he'd say "See you tomorrow, kids!" until the last day, when we were finished, and we handed in our clipboards and he said "You never did any of this." We forgot everything we'd done, like he'd cast a magic spell.

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