Yap Shi Quan
Sherry blurted out, addressing the security camera above her; a harmless looking camera fixed onto the ceiling contained in a hemispherical glass container, staring down at her. She returned the stare, chewing on her sandwich. If she stared closely enough, by squinting her eyes, she could almost see herself in a reflection within the glass container. “Almost like a mirror,” she reasoned aloud.
It was almost past her lunch break, but she gave herself some leeway – the entire morning was spent chairing meetings, meeting demanding deadlines and tearing her hair out. The silence in the lounge was inviting – unlike the canteen – when nobody came during lunchtime.
The security camera; a hemispherical world by itself, like Earth cut into half – she wondered who sat behind the lens, behind the electrical cables connecting the camera to the screens; behind the pixelated screens.
“How’s your day?” Sherry asked, not expecting an answer. She didn’t get any. Maybe nobody was watching; everything was just prerecorded. No, that sounds boring, decided Sherry. She imagined somebody sitting and looking at the screen, often nodding off, only leaving the room to get his or her lunch and dinner. After office hours, they would finally leave the office – a world full of computer screens all under their perusal – and prepare for another day of routine.
No, thought Sherry. That would be boring as well. Where’s the tension? The climax? Monotony had no place in stories. She wanted excitement and a break from all the routine in her workplace. What better way to entertain herself than to fantasise? She sat herself upright and pushed her chair towards the table so she could prop her elbows on the table.
She imagined the person to be a man; donning a blue uniform, similar to that of the police, except without the suaveness, without the glory. He would be a security guard specialising in surveillance – the technicalities in detecting trouble, in spotting irregularities. He was assigned to the security camera room – the operation room.
He would have a favourite spot to always look upon, and that would be the lounge. Whoever liked looking at people working or ghostly hallways with people occasionally walking past? Yes, the lounge would be a perfect setting for an event to happen, Sherry thought. He would look at the lounge, see people walking in during office hours and chat with each other over horrible coffee. He wouldn’t know anybody, and nobody would know him. Would he mind being alone? Sherry wondered. No, perhaps he preferred the allure of being unknown but able to oversee everybody. Kind of like a writer, Sherry mused wryly. Except he has no control over his “characters”.
But his imagination was fertile – he would give names to the people in the screens: the woman in a red dress was Anne; the guy with quirky tie designs was Jerome; and so on. He found it entertaining to observe office dynamics and add his own commentary. Percy found Marianne detestable; Quentin was the outcast who tried to fit in when Anne; Marianne and Marcel were talking; Marianne had a father who worked as a Lecturer; Marcel looked like he lost his Grandmother yesterday.
And just like any typical story with a plot, something has to happen to break the routine.
One day, upon coming back from the canteen with his takeaway lunch, he spotted someone. “A person in the lounge during lunch! What a surprise,” he said. He configured the camera to zoom in on her. She had short hair and wore a pencil skirt with a white blouse that clung to her thighs, compatible with the small, red scarf around her neck. He hadn’t seen her before.
He tried to think of a name for her, but he didn’t know her good enough to bestow one, so he observed. How she sat upright while eating her sandwich, how she brushed strands of hair behind her ear gracefully, how she dusted the crumbs off her blouse. Suddenly, she looked up at the camera and stared into it, shocking him. Nobody had ever taken an interest in the cameras. In him. She opened her mouth to say something, but no voice came out; it had no audio capability. He felt a clenching sensation in his stomach – he wanted to find out how her voice was like.
Before he knew it, she had left the lounge and the security guard to his thoughts. He never thought the day would come when somebody would actually be interested in him. The silent, unknown guy. He couldn’t concentrate for the rest of the day, not with the thought of the woman in his mind.
He didn’t want to hope for the woman to come back – hope was the root of all disappointment. What were the chances she would be back again? But he still hoped. True enough, she did come back. Dressed in a red blouse with a black skirt this time, she brought a Tupperware containing salad. The security guard’s gaze was fixated on the lounge screen for the rest of the day.
He decided not to give her a name. To do that would be to pass judgement, and he didn’t like that. He wanted to know her better; to be acquainted with her. He imagined her to have hobbies like reading or playing the piano with her delicate fingers. She could be sporty, with tennis buddies or friends who loved to play netball. So fixated was he on her that he neglected his duties.
And of course, Sherry decided something had to happen so the two would meet. She could very well spark a fire outbreak in the office and allow the security guard to go to the rescue, but that would be too boring and convenient. Perhaps, something needed to obstruct his way. Maybe a low self-esteem? Maybe he could be like a Phantom of the office – disfigured visage, his expertise in security his only saving point. Sherry giggled – the idea of toying with people’s fate was surprisingly entertaining.
A thought then crept into her mind: what if she was a figment of somebody else’s imagination too? She shook her head. That’s impossible. My own actions are the result of my thinking. But, what if? The thought slithered into her mind like a serpent entering a garden of fervent imagination.
A cold chill ran down her spine and she shivered. She became acutely aware of her loneliness in the lounge. Looking up at the security camera, she imagined the person behind the screen staring down at her, scrutinising her like Big Brother. But I have my own voice, she thought. I have my own past, my own story, and my own voice. Who decided on my insignificance?
If I want the security guard to die now, he shall die; If I want the security guard and the woman to never meet, they shall never meet; If I have the power to weave a narrative, I’m omnipotent as well! She thought, crushing the sandwich wrapper in her hand. “But I won’t do any of that,” she said, exhaling a breath she didn’t know she was holding. She realised she had been sweating considerably even though the lounge was chilly.
Sherry decided to finish her story – it wouldn’t do her characters justice if she left it hanging. She imagined the security guard being enthralled by the nameless woman in his screen but never going down because he felt self-conscious about his status. How could a lowly security guard pursue a middle-class woman? She had a career; relatively exciting prospects. Him? Sitting in the operation room, left to his own devices, always daydreaming.
Suddenly, a subordinate of Sherry’s entered the lounge and broke her train of thoughts. Sherry’s eyes widened when she looked at the clock; five minutes past her lunchtime. She bit her lip, recalling how she had chided her subordinates for returning past their lunchtime. She was distinctly aware of her current position.
I’m almost done, she thought, half-convincing herself to finish her own story. The security guard would notice a fire breaking out in the office area one fateful day, the woman trapped in the lounge by deadly flames. He would rush down to rescue her immediately, crawling through devouring flames – now he’s eyeing me suspiciously, thought Sherry, glancing sideways at her subordinate. She crushed the sandwich wrapper in her hand and walked slowly towards the exit.
He would crawl. Through the flames; nerve-wrecking, life-threatening flames. The whole place would be black. Smoky.
Slow, deliberate steps. To the entrance.
Eventually, he rescues her. How? Carrying? Dragging? Perhaps carrying her on his back would be better. Ahhh, he would then lay her outside – outside the office.
He’s not looking at me, is he?
Everybody was watching. Too lazy to think of spectators.
Almost at the exit.
She would be choking, trying to revive herself helplessly. She would thank the security guard and introduce herself as Sherry with her scratchy voice and – and the security guard would appear childishly shy because he had finally met the girl he had been watching from afar for the longest time. Finally, he would muster the courage to tell her, “My name is –”
“She’s out of range,” the security guard in the room says aloud, sliding back in his chair, eyes still on the screen. He chews on a piece of gum, staring at the now empty lounge. Feeling exhausted from so much mental activity, he manages to crack one last thought.
I wonder how she’s like in real life?
Yap Shi Quan is an aspiring writer/editor currently majoring in English Literature in NTU. His favourite activities include watching cat-dog videos, singing Mandopop in bathrooms, and karaoke. He loves dystopian fiction and hopes to publish a novel of his own one day.