I am wearing a red skirt which he calls “the destroyer.” When I walk into the office, he is sitting on his recliner, staring at the wall with a blank bovine expression on his face. I don’t look at him as I stride past.
He writes me emails which he thinks are anonymous, calls me a whore. My boss has failed to grasp the concept of named e-mail accounts. I think he was one of those boys in primary school whose idea of graffiti was spelling their names with smeared shit on latrine walls. He has a yellow-toothed leer.
My desk is to his left. When my skirt rides up my thighs as I sit, he wolfs down the view in fascinated disgust. I don’t say a thing, and this morning he does not berate me for disrespectfully failing to acknowledge him. I imagine he has extracted his mental prayer beads and is calculating how best to fuck me without losing the dignified carriage of his high-horse. I cross my legs and hear a belatedly suppressed gasp. He swallows and pretends not to look at me.
The first time my boss fondled my breasts, he circled my desk like a crazed vulture, his red-rimmed eyes like laser points aimed at my cleavage. I had been softer then, giggled at his non-jokes, eager to please, eager not to be trouble. Then he had dipped his great big paws into my chest and time had stood still. His fingers—rough cigarette stubs—scraped my nipples, made that sound that waves make when they slap across jagged reefs, and I had the overwhelming sensation that time existed only to drag me across this barren desert of middle-aged men bending over my desk, panting, and groping at me.
The hours drag along. Hope is a winged bird in my breast. He has not said a word to me. He grunts when I hand him typed correspondence. His fingers are poised over his keyboard and with his other hand he is rubbing his temple as though in a trance. I suspect he is in the middle of composing one of his sanctimonious, curse-filled emails to me.
“Get me a cup of tea,” he orders. I stand up slowly. I walk to the tea trolley at the corner of the room. There is a loud echo as my flats hit the linoleum floor. The room is a prison. Breathe in, breathe out. I pour milk over tea bags, scoop sugar into cup. All I can hear are the little noises his throat makes when words are choking him. I hand him the obnoxious tiny teacup which his wife brought to the office to mark her territory. He grins.
It begins. He places a claw on my thigh and I cannot walk away, trapped in an impossible zugzwang. The sun dips into angry clouds.
“Zena,” his voice forced through a sewer pipe into open air. Blood congeals then freezes. Don’t hit him. Don’t hit him. Don’t hit him.
“Zena,” he repeats, forcefully, making the veins in my leg scream. I fantasise about kneeing him in the groin. Common sense is a noose around my neck. I dig my fingernails into my palm.
“Sit down.” He pats the space next to him on the recliner seat. It is the shape of a coiled rattler. When I sit down, my skirt rides up and his hands begin ploughing my thigh.
His calloused fingers are doing a strange dance on my legs. I want to bring up my breakfast.
“Please stop.” My voice is steady, my eyes fastened on his which are red, yellow, glazed; so many repulsive colours.
“Zena, why do you dress so indecently?” We have been here before. His moustache twitches up and down. I let him rationalise the beast within. The air is thick. It coils around us in tangled ropes and wrestles on the floor-space surrounding us.
“Sir.” I decide this is a safe statement.
“That skirt…it’s too short. You must not disrespect yourself, distracting men.”
His hand is still on my leg. It makes a rapid ascent up my thigh. I remain quiet. I think of warm food and a roof that doesn’t leak.
There is a point on the ceiling that doesn’t go dark when he pulls the blinds and locks the door. It is a tiny speck of light, hovering over the room, betrayed by tiny holes in the thick office blinds.
Tables take on new meanings when the ridges of my back are pressed against them. When I am forced down by hefty man-bulk, they hold the pain trickling down my thighs. Thick carpets absorb the loud screams that are forced back into my throat by pudgy, garlic-scented fingers.
“Slut” and “whore” are spewed into my ear. I raise my hands to shut them out. My limbs are useless, pinned by an unnameable force, my will whistling away. His inexhaustible driving into the cave of my thighs recedes into a breathless sonata. The sharp report of vibrating violins is an allegro. A cello begins its plaintive undertones. Saxophones are the slam of his body against my body, accompaniment to the drumming of droplets of his sweat onto my face. A crescendo begins; vamped sounds escape, perfunctory raps on black keys; the chorus falls into disharmony; sheets fly everywhere; the audience gasps; lights flicker; instruments screech; his spit dribbles down my neck; his fists, my fists, pound on tables.
A tsunami topples over the ocean inside me. Warm and sticky, it spreads beneath my buttocks.
Extricating oneself from a just-fucked situation: his, the hasty pulling-up of trousers; mine, the mopping-up of bodily fluids; ours, a great terrible silence.
He is slurping up tea which I have reheated. He makes a high-pitched gurgling sound and smacks his lips, a habit which gives me nightmares. The figures on my computer screen blur into one timeless image and I feel a call singing in my blood. I want to cut off my legs, cut away my body from my mind, cut away all the things that are me.
The slurping continues. I try not to look at him. His head hits his desk and the cup shatters on the floor. I am holding my breath. He is frothing at the mouth. He is choking. He is begging. My terror is mirrored in his face.
I pick up my bag. I walk out. I forget about those five minutes. I forget about that horribly stencilled teacup.