The switch is flipped. Gears begin grinding.
Rami wakes up an hour earlier than his alarm. The sun is peeking through the 40th story window. There’s a pounding outside; a construction crew is furiously drilling through the pavement. TutTutTut TutTutTut “All night long,” Rami mutters into his pillow, “What a rhythm.” He falls back asleep. TutTutTut TutTutTut TutTutTut, outside.
“Sir, Ren called in sick today.” Jacob hands Rami his coffee mug carefully, worried how his boss will take the news. “She’s having another migraine.”
Rami, hands laced together across his lips as he sits at his desk, considers for a second. “My older brother had migraines,” he says slowly. “Whole days in bed; there was nothing we could do for him. Thank you, Jacob. I’ll call you in if I need you.” Jacob brightens immediately and returns to his desk outside the open doors of Rami’s office.
The cubicle farm is silent. The frantic typing of morning emails has been replaced by hunger pangs and daydreams about lunch. In stark contrast, there’s a cacophony of high-pitched squawks coming from outside Rami’s window. Something is bothering the usually peaceful birds in the office park below the window. Scraaak Scraak Scraaak Scraaaaak. The birds are roaring. Leaving his desk to peer out the window, Rami notices patchwork flocks flying high above the buildings. All are flying the same direction: northeast- the most direct route out of the city. The trees below are abuzz with motion and sound as the birds prepare to join the fleeing flock. Scraaak Scraak Scraak Scraaak. Rami pushes a button on his phone. A robotic voice asks how it can help. Rami says, “Remind me to look up early summer migration patterns of Mid-Western birds after work.” The phone replies that a reminder has set been for that evening.
Jacob nervously steps into Rami’s office. “Sir, I’m very sorry. Sam will not be returning after lunch. Something about a headache.”
“And sir, the general of the Peace and Security Bureau is on line 2.”
“I see, thank you.” His assistant lingers at the door. “Is there something else, Jacob?”
“Didn’t we finish the defense project for the Bureau several months ago, sir?”
“That will be all, Jacob.” Jacob shuffles out.
A fire engine flies by, followed by two more, sirens blaring, at 16:20 and 16:27. An ambulance follows six minutes later. Rami listens as the sirens fade into the distance. He is confident the trucks were headed towards the southern residential center. He pushes a button on his desk, “Jacob, a minute please.”
“Yes sir, there are reports on social media of a fire in the Great World Residential Complex. It’s spreading rapidly, and emergency units from all over the city have been called in.”
“Thank you, Jacob. You may go home early.”
Over the nightly news the cause of the fire is confirmed: it started in a small apartment’s kitchen; first responder crews were spread thin due to an unusually large number of traffic accidents throughout the day, giving it time to engulf much of the surrounding buildings. In another browser tab, Rami confirms that it is abnormal for birds to mass-migrate at this time of year. He closes his laptop, swallows a small pill, and stretches out on the couch. TutTutTut. TutTutTut. TutTutTut. He sighs. The road crew continues working through the night; Rami does not sleep.
Jacob creeps through the wide open door of Rami’s office. He’s holding the same mug of coffee as yesterday. He’s visibly nervous as he says, “Sir!” and it is clear that Rami has not noticed him enter. “I have some bad news, sir. There’s an unusually large number of traffic jams this morning; it seems that quite a few of the employees are—”
“Jacob, please tell the remaining employees that they may go home for the day. No one will be deducted a sick day.”
“That will be all, thank you.”
Rami looks over the email before he hits send. The last line:
TEST 02- MIXED SUCCESS- Retrieve equipment and begin preparations for future testing.
The switch is flipped. Gears grind to a halt.
Alexander Prestia lives in Shanghai, China.