We Just Want What You Want…

September 9, 2010

I used to know this guy called Derek who would repeat everything I said back to me, just as I was about to stop talking about it. He used to do this to me and pretty much everyone I knew, and he’d go on for weeks with whatever he picked up on. He always repeated what we said with this weak, kind of expectant smile on his face, like we’d be friends now because he’d said what I or anybody else was thinking. He’d even preface it with things like, “everybody’s thinking it, it’s time…” or “I just want what you want, for… to be…”

So the printer for our floor gets jammed, say. It really doesn’t have to be anything at all; he’d pick up on the most utterly inane things. I’d just be walking up to it to collect a set of forms I’d sent through, and this girl, Kathy, who works two cubicles down from me, would be standing there looking the thing up and down trying to work out why it had just stopped printing.

“It’s just stopped,” she’d say, “I don’t know what’s up with it though. I put paper in it, like, an hour ago. I’m not really good with printers. You?”

I’m not really either. I’d look at our friend, who was in the cubicle across, not doing anything but watching us, and he’d just shake his head dumbly and put out his hands.

I look the printer up and down a couple of times, as if I’m going to find a pen stuck between a pair of rollers or something. I toggle through the few displays I understand on the interface. There’s paper in it, like she said, and the printing cartridges aren’t low, or at least so says the computer.

“I don’t think I know how to fix it,” I admit to her.

“Hmm,” she looks around. “Should we call tech support or do you think we should ask somebody else first?”

“David might know how to fix it,” (I’m actually just assuming this because he’s an otaku, but actually, otakus aren’t necessarily any better than anyone else at anything, unless you really need someone to stay up all night watching television on their computer), “but I’m pretty sure I saw him go out for lunch.”

She looks over her shoulder at the guy who repeats things, but he’s still watching us with his hands out looking dumb. “Yeah, this looks like a problem for the techies,” she says. “Might as well just call them then.”

“Do you want me to do it?” I offer.

“No,” she says, “it’s fine. I can’t really get on with doing anything else until I’ve got the rest of this printing done, so I may as well deal with them. Thanks anyway.”

“It’s okay,” I say, walking off, “thanks.”

“Oh,” she calls out as I’m leaving, “is what you were printing urgent?”

“It’s fine,” I tell her, “I’ll just use the printer downstairs.”

About ten minutes later I’m waiting for the elevator to the printer when our friend shows up next to me. I have no idea what he’s doing there, and he never says anything to explain.

“Hi,” I mumble at him and try to avoid his eyes so he won’t talk to me.

It doesn’t work. He keeps staring really hard into the side of my head and says loudly: “Hello, Peter.”

A pause.

“The printer is still broken Peter.” About a week before I’d walked past his office and saw a self-help book there. It was called How To Be a Strong Communicator to Win Friends and Market-Share. It had a picture of a guy on the cover, who was wearing a surprisingly bad wig considering he was being photographed. Since Derek wasn’t around I flicked through the first few pages. The first chapter was called “Saying People’s Names Will Make Them Think You’re a Strong Communicator and Like You More.” It was a thirty page exegesis on the subject, listing dozens of confusing meta-psychological slogans and example conversations in about fifteen-years out-of-date slang.

“I know the printer is still broken,” I say. Derek.

“It’s what everyone’s saying Peter,” he enunciates with a jarringly rising inflection, “it’s a problem for the techies.”

He says the the techies like it’s a brand name. I just stare at him blankly, mostly because I have no idea how to respond to something so stupid.

“We made the right call,” he assures me.

We?

Whatever.

“Yes Derek,” I tell him as I step into the elevator, “yes we did.”

***

The next day on the train into work he gets on about three stops before our station. He’s never usually there, and I’m pretty sure I can see his car as the train passes by the station carpark.

The train’s crowded in the pre-9am traffic, but he presses his way through a stationary stampede of commuters to stand against my chest in a way that if I’d done it to Kathy I might have found myself having words with the police.

We stand for a time, silently, staring into each others’ eyes.

“I just want what you want,” he whispers just over the hum of the engine and the rustle of newspapers, “for the printer to be fixed.”

He lowers his voice a little and tells me, “we made the right call.”

***

Since he hasn’t got his car with him I assume he’s going to be going home with me on the train. I spend the day thinking about how I’m going to avoid him.

Eventually I hit on the idea of staying and working overtime. I wouldn’t be getting paid for it, and I’m working on a temp contract anyway so I have no prospect of promotion, but I figure avoiding Derek is worth twenty dollars of my time.

I think I knew that this was never going to work.

The time comes and I can smell my co-workers leave. I know Kathy’s gone because I can smell a trace of her perfume pass just before I hear the elevator leave our floor. I know the otaku’s gone because three days of him not having time to shower waft in past my desk.

At quarter past five I strategically make my way to the farthest water-cooler from my cubicle so I can reconnoitre the office.

Naturally Derek sees me.

Fuck.

For a moment he just stares at me. We’re the only people on the floor. It’s silent.

Then, not taking his eyes off me, he presses enter on his keyboard and I hear the sound of a printer struggle into life.

“We made the right call,” he says.

***

Surprisingly he stays at his desk when I leave.

As fucked up as my evening with him was I’m relieved that at least I can go home in peace. The thought even crosses my mind that I was being harsh on Derek, and that maybe he was just staying at the office because he’d gotten up to the chapter of How to be a Strong Communicator to Make Friends and Win Market Share that dealt with proverbially sucking off your boss.

An old woman, who looks kind of like the otaku, is sitting behind me on the train. She must shop in the department store two streets down from my building, because she’s wearing the exact same perfume as Kathy does. I spend the rest of the ride home, and the walk from the station to my apartment, fantasising about how much more seductive I’d be if I could repair office equipment like a real man.

I’d just changed and started to make dinner when I hear a knock on my door. I look through the eyehole in my door and see that it’s Derek. I want to ignore him but he can hear my floorboards creak so I can’t pretend I’m not home.

“It’s what everybody’s thinking,” he says. “Works done. It’s time to go home.”

What the fuck, Derek? “You can’t come into my apartment.”

He doesn’t say anything.

“Go away.”

He doesn’t even move. He just keeps looking up at the eyehole, half-grinning like he’s expecting to sell me something.

Stupidly, and I mean like a real motherfucker of idiot, I feel like I have to start explaining something to him so that he’ll go away. “Derek, go home. We’ll talk tomorrow. I- I don’t want to hang out with anyone tonight. I’m tired and I just want to watch some television or something before I go to sleep. Really, man, I want to be alone. I’ll see you around or something, okay?”

If anything, he leans in a little like he’s paying extra-special attention to get all of this down. When I’ve finished my little speech he keeps standing there. I don’t know what else to do.

I leave the door and just try to pretend he isn’t there. After eight minutes of trying to make dinner in a pointless and unnatural hush that I couldn’t help affecting, I check the door again.

The fucker is sitting cross-legged in front of my apartment, with his ear pressed against the door.

God damn him! I call the police.

“Hello officer, I’d like to make a complaint.”

“What seems to be the problem?”

“My co-worker has stalked me home from our office and is currently barricading my doorway, and eavesdropping on the goings-on of my residence.”

“And?”

And? I think. And what? “And I want you to get rid of him.”

“Why?”

I check the number. Twice.

I have definitely called the police.

“Um,” I begin, “I’m speaking to the police, right?”

“Of course you’re speaking to the police, sir. Please don’t waste our time.”

“Look this guy has been following me around all day, harassing me with asinine and repetitive messages about absurd crap for reasons I can’t understand, and now HE’S SPYING ON ME IN MY HOUSE! How the fuck is this not illegal?”

“Please calm down, sir.”

Pwease-carm down siww.

“Okay, fine, I’m calm. Would you ever so kindly carry out what I understand to be your lawfully defined duty of escorting this man away from my property.”

“You don’t own the corridor, sir.”

I never said anything about a corridor.

“How do you know he’s in the corridor.”

“Cameras sir, they’re for your security.”

Well, that’s news.

“Our system is also telling me to remind you that sodomy is still technically a felony in this jurisdiction.”

I need a moment to take that in.

“To clarify, masturbation is defined as a form of sodomy under state-law.”

What the-?! “Look, are you gonna arrest Derek or not?”

“What he’s doing isn’t harassment?”

“What?”

“It’s not spying either, sir.”

“How is trailing around after me all day repeating weird crap like a bastard answering machine, then following me home and sitting just outside my door, not harassment and spying?”

“Please calm down, sir.”

“GO FUCK YOURSELF!”

“Derek just wants what you want, sir, what everyone wants. To participate in our freedom-loving, pro-market society. He just wants to understand the niche he finds himself in, and communicate his tailored message to it. He just wants to make friends and win market-share. What’s so wrong with that?”

A silence. A fucked-up panic of a silence.

“Please calm down, sir. It’s what everyone’s saying.”

The police hang up on me and I’m back in my apartment, listening to Derek spying on me from the corridor.

I wait, with no idea what to do, my mind uselessly preoccupied with trying to work out where the cameras are.

Derek clears his throat, but now his voice is more confident than it was before, stronger.

It’s time, Peter, you’re tired and you just want to go home. You don’t want to ‘hang out’ with anyone tonight. We understand. We just want what you want: nothing much, to have a quiet meal, maybe watch some television, and go to sleep to be prepared for the coming day. We’ll talk tomorrow Peter, it’s the right call to make…

…and so on, ad infinitum.

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