Joe was five foot six inches. He had brown hair and bright, piercing blue eyes. Freckles were scattered across his face as if someone had flicked a wet paint brush in his direction. He was handsome, nevertheless, and he knew it. He carried himself with confidence and appeared at ease at all times. It was a trait of his that unsettled others. No one can be that calm, they thought. But Joe was. He was born that way.
He worked in a tall office block, almost identical to the other tall office blocks strewn across New York City. His office was more like the size of a cubicle. In fact, it was a cubicle – a haphazardly constructed makeshift room within a much larger room. When he worked during the day, this pint-sized space was shared with Becky, a slim brunette four years his senior. At night, it was Mark, a bearded fellow he avoided as much as physically possible.
The company he worked for wasn’t important. His boss, however, was. Joe had worked there for five years and throughout that entire time, Joan had been his boss. He wasn’t so keen on Joan. They’d never hit it off. Joe remembered making an inappropriate comment at the most recent Christmas party that had soured their relationship even further. It had something to do with jellyfish. He’d suppressed it that much that that’s all he could remember.
See, Joe was an introvert. He found social situations hard, particularly those that involved alcohol and large rooms full of domineering, loud-mouthed people. And that’s what his office block was made up of – domineering, loud-mouthed people. He lived alone, and so only mixed with people at his choosing. But everyone needed to earn a living – Joe, included. It was the one time where he had to mix with people even at the times when he really, really, really didn’t want to.
And today was one of those days. Joe awoke around 6am, a few minutes later than he usually does. To anyone else, it wouldn’t have been a problem. But to Joe, it threw him off. For the past five years, he’d awoken at exactly 6am, following the same routine everyday, even when his schedule didn’t require it. At 6:03am, he sprung out of bed, crashing through his morning chores in the hopes of making up time. But it was already too late, and his day was now ruined. It was something he knew deep down inside of him.
He left for work on time. His apartment was located within a large block of studio apartments. His was No. 23. He had neighbours on both sides, above and below. He shared his apartment with a cat he’d named Maggie. As he pulled his door to a close, he realised he’d left the key inside. It was too late to do anything about it now, he thought as he dashed outside into the cold New York City air.
Usually, he’d walk the 2 miles to work. But not today. He hailed a cab, dove in and spouted out the address of his office in a crazy rush. Minutes later, he rushed into the bustling foyer. There was people everywhere – something that made Joe incredibly nervous. He made it to his desk without a minute to spare. It seemed like his late start to the day would be a minor inconvenience, so he began to relax.
Within minutes though, Joe had moved from his cubicle to his boss’ office, which was made up of real walls rather than the fake ones that lined Joe’s. He sat opposite Joan and listened as she told him that she needed to let him go. She used the term “company restructuring”, which meant absolutely nothing to him. He stayed silent the entire time he was there, which was 5 minutes and 49 seconds to be exact. He left, packed up his belongings and exited the building.
It was on the wet sidewalk of the office block that Joe had worked in for the past five years that he stood, shivering, his arms sore from carrying the box containing his things. He stood for what seemed like hours, but was actually more like minutes. He was flabbergasted, speechless. Questions whirled around his head and he felt dizzy. In a daze, her put the laid the box down and started to walk. He had no idea where he was going, but walking is exactly what he wanted to do.
He walked for hours. He walked through Central Park and towards Brooklyn Bridge. His mind had switched itself off. He’d automatically forged the connection between getting up late and getting fired and he couldn’t forgive himself. He was the reason he was now walking when he should be at work. No one else was to blame. Cars whizzed past him and people had to divert themselves around him because he was so focused, so unmovable in his tracks.
It took him a while to get to the bridge, but that wasn’t any concern to him. He was there. He’d reached the end point he’d set himself in those minutes he’d stood clueless outside his former workplace and he was now more relieved. For him, it had been a way for him to process the news. It was the only thing he knew. Walking was to him like heroine was for other people. It helped him relax, gain perspective and learn to process new information.
Walking had helped him through being bullied at school, the difficulty of moving out of his parents’ home after their sudden death and now his recent unemployment. He knew how all those people felt about walking who’d written the travel books he loved to consume. It made him feel human. No matter what problems Joe had, walking was the way to set them right, at least in his mind. And now, as he stood still staring towards the bridge, he felt okay. And that okay was as a feeling Joe had become familiar with.