He made for the coffee as soon as he was released, poured a cup and started his ritual with milk and sugar. He didn’t take sugar in coffee he drank at weekends but since he’d realised that nobody gave much thought to how much time he spent fiddling with sachets, he’d cultivated the most complicated coffee-making ritual he could come up with. The longer he drew it out, the longer he was away from his cubicle.
“Hi, Colin.” The intern spoke from behind him.
He wished he’d seen her coming so he could have made a show of being startled and knocking over his coffee. He could have drawn out the ineffectual dabbing with paper towels for a full ten minutes before starting the coffee-making all over again.
By the time the thought crossed his mind, it was already too late to carry it off. He settled for saying, “hi. Can I make you one?”
The intern looked confused. He was going to have to help her to understand that in this office, an intern’s job was not to make the coffee for the staff but to help the staff procrastinate. If that involved smiling and saying thank you for the gallons of coffee that would be made for her every day, she could either develop an iron bladder or pour it into the pot plants when no one was looking. He favoured her with a smile so amiable that she’d understand that refusal was not an option.
Instead, she said, “Can I ask you… what is it about that colour of shirt you like?”
Colin frowned and looked down. He couldn’t remember which shirt he’d chosen this morning and now he’d looked, he’d have described it as ‘nondescript grey-blue’.
The intern was frowning, which made Colin feel sorry for her. She was trying to strike up a conversation in an office where she didn’t know anyone, and here he was staring at his chest as if he was startled to find himself wearing more than a pair of budgie-smugglers.
He wished he’d been paying attention when her name came up in that meeting. “How do you like your coffee? Or do you prefer tea?”
“Thank you,” she said.
It wasn’t exactly an answer, but making a shy intern feel comfortable was shaping up to be a better excuse to be away from his cubicle than spilling his coffee.
“There must be something about that colour you like,” she said. “You wear it almost every day.”
Colin shrugged. “I got a discount for a bulk buy at a surplus shop. Hang on, how do you know I wear them every day? We’ve only just met.”
“I know. But it was those shirts that brought me here.”
“I saw you on the bus a few months back, and something about the colour of your shirt… it’s hard to forget.”
Having had to remind himself of the colour of the shirt while he was wearing it, Colin didn’t know what to say to that.
“So I took that bus every weekday during the rush hour until I saw your shirt again and followed you to work. When I saw your firm was looking for interns, it had to be a sign.”
Colin took a step back.
“I’ve been looking for the colour of your shirt for weeks. How could I not take the opportunity to work in the same office as it.”
Her hand darted forward to take a pinch of shirt between her fingers, catching a pinch of Colin along with it. He flinched back and knocked his coffee on to the floor.
The intern put her hand over her mouth and giggled.
“Clean that up will you?” Colin waved at the coffee spreading across the floor. “I need to be back at my desk. Right now. Urgent… something very urgent. Must not be disturbed.”
The intern was still giggling.
“Right.” Colin nodded decisively and strode for his desk.