The glass doors of the call-centre building whooshed open as she approached them, seemingly enthusiastic to bring her into the building. Beyond them a worried looking woman was biting her nails. When the doors opened she looked visibly relieved and bolted through them, nearly colliding with Rosa.
“Oh, I’m so sorry!” she said putting her hands out and touching Rosa’s coat. Rosa stepped back, pulling away. “I couldn’t get the doors to open,” she continued, stepping forwards, her hands still reaching for Rosa. “I thought I was going to be trapped there.”
Rosa side-stepped neatly and circled the woman slightly to get away from her grasp. The woman stopped moving at last, and Rosa forced a smile to her face.
“Yes,” she said. “They do seem to prefer letting people in to letting them out.” She didn’t mention that if Larry and Ted were on the security desk then they’d probably turned the interior sensor off so that they could laugh at the silly woman caught in the doors.
“Oh, I’m so glad you understand,” said the woman. “I was getting quite nervous in there.” She looked over her shoulder at the building; the doors were still open, detecting the two women were close enough to perhaps intend to go inside. “He’s in there again.”
Rosa might not know this woman, but she knew who she meant instantly. For the last week and a half a tall, blonde-haired man had been hanging around the lobby of the building. Neither Larry nor Ted paid any attention to him, acting almost as though he were invisible, and the man seemed to be doing nothing more than sitting there waiting for someone. Sometimes he was playing with his phone, other times he was tapping his feet impatiently and staring at everyone who walked past, but he’d never accosted anyone. She pulled her coat tight around her ample figure and looked at the doors. She couldn’t see past the second pair to see him at the moment, but the thought of him made her skin crawl.
“Thanks for the warning,” she said. The other woman looked distracted, and then she patted her pockets, producing a packet of cigarettes and a lighter after a moment’s fumbling. She opened the packet – Rosa saw the unpleasant picture on the side of a black and red cancerous throat tumour intended to discourage people from smoking – and took out one of three remaining cigarettes. She lit it and inhaled deeply, and for a moment she seemed to relax a little. Then she looked at Rosa again and her eyes narrowed.
“Do you smoke?” she said, not offering the packet. Her tone of voice was clear enough; she was saying the words out of politeness only, and the sub-text was Don’t ask me for one of my cigarettes.
“No,” said Rosa. She didn’t have time for a cigarette anyway, she needed to get in and be sat at her desk before the clock on the wall in the call-centre read three o’clock. The supervisors were vicious people with no love left in their souls and would happily dock her a half-hour for being a minute late. “I need to hurry, sorry.”
The woman waved a hand in her direction, not caring now that the potential loss of a cigarette had been averted, and Rosa walked inside. The second set of doors whooshed open as enthusiastically as the first and Rosa saw that it was Larry manning the security desk today. She forced the smile back to her face and approached his desk, watching the man sat in the lobby out of the corner of her eye as she did so. Larry smiled back when he saw her, and his was genuine if a little lecherous. She leaned across the desk and kissed his cheek, her lips barely scratching over his stubble. She hated herself a little for doing it, but it kept him sweet and stopped him from playing games with the doors and the lifts with her.
“I’m running a little late, Larry,” she said, fluttering her eyelashes. She wondered, not for the first time, if this was how becoming a whore started. Did you start off just trying to get a little extra, trying to get people to stand up and do their jobs, and then gradually, in tiny increments that ate away at your soul like a squirrel nibbling at a nut, you put out more and more until suddenly you’d put out everything but your dignity, and that only came down to no-one having met your price yet? “You couldn’t put my lift straight to floor 4 for me could you?”
She turned her head, sure that something had moved in the corner of her vision, but the tall blonde man who’d been hanging around so much lately was sitting still on the easy-chair in the lobby, staring at the screen of his phone.
“Sure thing,” said Larry. He twisted a key in a control panel behind his desk, and waved her towards the row of three lifts that served the ten floors of the building. “Lift 3, Rosa. It’s a pleasure!”