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SWC16 - Average Joe

Arisia16 Student Writing Contest - Honorable Mention

 Average Joe

By Alexandra Kouroriez

    Joe was all around average. He had an average intelligence and wasn’t notably tall or short.  He could blend into a crowd if he wanted to; after all, he was just your average Joe.

     Very few things scared Joe, but being punished was something he was scared of.  According to the speakers in the office, everyone was supposed to work equally as hard and dead weight was what damaged society. Dead weight summed up people who didn’t work enough because Joe had heard of people who dozed off and dropped dead with the smell of pennies that followed soon after.

    Efficiency was important to Joe; he was conditioned to think so.  His job was to type what a small voice said through his headphones.  Most of the time it was a mechanical voice that blared seemingly random words. The words were loud and were at unpredictable intervals so that Joe had to be attentive to copy them down because he could not miss a word. He did not allow himself to miss a word in fear he’d die just like the lazy people.

    Joe did not know much about the office he worked in.  He had worked here for years and never had seen the outside.  This much he knew about the office: Everyone is supposed to wear headphones during the day at top volume, being late and inefficient would not be tolerated, the walls were painted yellow, and the office building was quite large.

     Joe was pretty good at his job because he didn’t take breaks. He didn’t need to.  Joe never felt the need to go outside because the office didn’t have windows and was painted a buttery yellow.  He never had a concept of how long he spent working in the office. If he squinted at one of the walls, the yellow almost looked like he was looking into the sun during a weekend picnic—not that he’d know, of course, Joe did not indulge himself in gazing at the sky even if he could because he could use that time for work.  The only break that was acceptable was for food, which was so processed and calculated that each meal looked identical.

     Usually, Joe spent his exactly fifteen-minute break tuning into the headphones but today his meal did not pop up through the slot in the desk.  Must have been a malfunction in the system he thought. This was rare and the instructions from the headphones never mentioned this problem.  Should he alert someone? Joe didn’t know if that would go against some protocol and get him punished. Things rarely went wrong here or at least since Joe had started working at the office.

      If Joe were going to report the problem, whom would he tell it to? It wasn’t like there was an established hierarchy in the office. Joe worked for a standard office with the head remaining nameless to him.  It dawned on Joe that it would be in his best interest to report the problem of the malfunctioning food slot to management, whoever they were. After all, he was making himself a valuable asset to the office by his problem solving.

    He had to get up because the headphones were attached to the monitor. Joe hadn’t left his desk in years; everything he needed was here. His office chair unfolded to a bed and his meals and clothing were delivered to him. Everything in his small office space was thought out and was designed by someone unknown to him. Even the bathroom was designed so that it closed behind filing cabinets when not in use.  Joe’s world revolved around the small cube of office space that was his.

     How many people even worked here? Probably thousands, the office could easily house a great deal of people. How small and insignificant Joe felt. He was just a back of a head in a sea of cubicles. Nothing really distinguished him from the rest besides that his tie was always off center. In all the years he had been working at the office, Joe didn’t bother to look up because things ran smooth enough not to question them. Who had time to look around when there was work to be done? Joe couldn’t afford to look around with the threat of being punished anyway.

    Joe moved the headphones from his ears. He didn’t smell pennies. Echoes of words from the headphones rung in his ears, he still could hear the plain but affirmative voice. It was unsettling to not hear the words dictated by the headphones.  He could hear himself think without distraction and the feeling felt unnatural and odd to him.  People weren’t supposed to experience uninterrupted silence, he thought. 

    In the first time in years, Joe ventured from the safety of his own desk.  He pushed the office chair away and stood up shakily. He craned his neck and looked past the walls of his cubical and saw and the expanse of empty desks and blinking monitors. The chairs were turned over and the headphones were ripped from the chord connecting to the monitor. When he had the time, Joe imagined the office to look neat and orderly like one of the filing cabinets in his own cubical.

    The feeling of how Joe felt now was pale in comparison to the fear of being punished.  Something dropped in Joe’s stomach and he felt sick but he didn’t dare sit back in the office chair again. He looked to the yellow walls to calm his racing mind. Oh, how they promised the sun but never delivered. Who else looked at these walls and thought the same thing? The yellow walls no longer looked cheery and held the promise of picnics. Yellow was the color of lies. The light banks overhead flickered and Joe looked up and followed them with his eyes until they narrowed to a vanishing point on the ceiling.  Joe expected to hear the sound of people typing but he didn’t. He was alone.