A Pint of Shandy
It was the same every Friday. At exactly five o’clock, the six of us switched off our computers, put on our coats, left our desks and walked to the pub round the corner. We sat at the table by the window and two of went to get the drinks in. The order seldom changed: white wine for Claire; bitter for Chris, Olly, Anna and me; a pint of shandy for Natasha. Matthew used to drink tomato juice because he was tee total, but he left a few months ago. We never really found out why. One morning he didn’t turn up, and that was that. Never seen again. There was lots of whispering of course, lots of rumours, but nobody dared raise their voice on the matter. Where we work, you don’t ask questions. You just keep your head down and get on with it.
I’ve been at the company three years now. I work on the second floor, in the same office as Chris and Anna. Olly and Claire are on the third floor, and Natasha is on the fourth, where Matthew used to work. The building has five floors, although I’ve never been up to the fifth. You need some sort of pass up there. I think you get one when you move up to fourth, which will take me at least another three years, maybe four. But hopefully I won’t be there that long.
Last Friday I got to the pub late because I had some work to finish. The others would usually just leave it until Monday if they had stuff to finish, but I couldn’t enjoy the weekend if I knew I would have catching up to do. It might have seemed like dedication, but the truth was I just worried a lot, about anything and everything. If I got my work done it would be one less thing keeping me awake at night. So I got to the pub late that day. There was a pint of bitter waiting for me, and an untouched pint of shandy next to it.
‘Where’s Natasha?’ asked one of the others, I can’t remember who. ‘We thought she was coming over with you.’
‘I thought she left with you,’ I said. ‘I haven’t seen her.’ Come to think of it, I hadn’t seen Natasha all day.
‘I saw her as I was leaving yesterday,’ said Claire. ‘I didn’t ask her if she was coming to the pub. I just assumed she was.’
‘Of course she was,’ said Olly. ‘She always comes to the pub. It’s Friday.’
By the time we had finished out first and then our second round of drinks, it became clear that she probably was not coming to the pub.
‘I’m going for a smoke,’ I announced, standing up. I glanced around. Besides me, Natasha was the only other smoker in the group.
I stood outside, staring up at the building in which we all spent our days. All the lights were off now, apart from one on the fifth floor. Probably the cleaners. I finished my cigarette and went back inside. The others were discussing the pint of shandy.
‘Not really keen, myself.’
‘Don’t mind it.’
‘No point letting a drink go to waste.’
‘It’ll be warm now.’
I ended up sharing it with Claire, who said she might switch to shandy on the next round, although she still went ahead and ordered a white wine.
We inevitably always ended up talking about work, even though we said we went to the pub to get away from the office.
Perhaps it was more that we went to the pub to put off going home. We worked side by side, day by day, but how much did we really know about one another?
I knew that Claire took a lot of time off sick, but I didn’t know why. I knew Olly and Chris were both married, but I had never met their wives. I was fairly certain that Anna was in love with Olly, but I had never asked her. And Natasha? What did I know about her? I knew that she smoked. I knew that she liked salt and vinegar crisps, and drank shandy. And I knew she was lonely, like me.
It’s Friday today. Natasha has not been into work this week. We heard on Monday that she got another job, but we don’t know where. A girl from the third floor has taken over from her. I’ve never met her although apparently she’s been at the company for six years. Her name is Sarah. Maybe later I’ll go and talk to her, ask her about herself. I’ll even invite her to the pub. After all, it’s Friday.