A man once walked into my office at work. I was in the middle of doing something. He said to me: “Don’t you think you went too far?”
I did not know that man. In fact, I hardly knew any of my fellow workers, since I was new in that organization. They treated me fairly and with respect — I have to admit — but there were only a few people whom I knew by name. I was too busy getting acquainted with my new job and I couldn’t spare enough time to get familiar with them all.
I wasn’t sure whether that guy was a part of our organization, or was he just a guest, kind of supplier or customer or government officer. I had never met that guy before.
For a second I thought he had crossed-eyes, which meant that he was probably addressing someone else rather than me, but I was alone in my room. I kept silent.
He repeated what he had said, now emphasizing the question mark: “Don’t you think you went too far?”
To be honest, there was something in his question. There are days where I am deeply concerned, endlessly checking whether I was exaggerating or not. But today wasn’t one of those days. I looked at him, without saying a word. The old lady, the one who cleans our offices, passed through the corridor, whistling a tune from a famous commercial. That was the sign that six o’clock had arrived and that our working day has just come to its end. The man looked at me, waiting for an answer. I returned him an indifferent look. I decided not to answer.
I believe that the man himself felt that the end of the day was coming, and that if we went on staring at each other like that, it might never end. He addressed me again: “I am not asking for an explanation, neither for an apology of some sort. There is only one thing that I demand. Just one: that you answer my question, by merely saying ‘yes’ or ‘no’”.
That man’s detailed request now made everything much easier. From all possibilities, which had been infinite, that man reduced it in a very significant measure, leaving me with just two options: yes or no. I thought about ‘no’, just a non-calculated preference of mine, but I remained silent. By now the cleaning lady was far down the corridor, she never bothered to clean rooms which were locked, and the silence was back again. That was in favor of the man whom I didn’t know.
My room was quite large. It was located at the north corner of the building, where persons who wished to go to the side yard, mainly for smoking but also for other reasons, could pass through my room. It wasn’t the only way to exit into the yard; however, it was a natural choice of some of my fellow workers. That was how I got to know them. But now the day was already over and there would be no people heading to the side yard or pass by my office for such purpose. There were no employees remaining at the premises. Now it was clear that only the two of us, the man and myself, were left in here.
Suddenly a thought crossed my mind: perhaps that guy is the new general manager, the one described in the newspapers without disclosing his name? I quickly abolished the idea. The guy didn’t look like a general manager, though, if I picture how general managers look, it is quite difficult to determine how a general manager should look. All general managers are different from one another. But this man was different in a different way.
He moved a little and made a face of ‘wait, soon you’ll hear from me’. I happen to have met such faces throughout the course of my life, during my army time and even before, and I must admit: there’s something to such faces. The man almost succeeded with that face; however, he couldn’t hide the expression of being sure I was going to obey. The guy probably counted on the natural authority reflected from people like him. He was wearing a poker face, but I managed to identify there a premature pride of victory. So I told myself: ‘I shall go on keeping silent, whatever happens. And I am not going to ask the person for his name’.
Besides, from where I come, asking someone ‘who are you’ doesn’t sound good. The regular version, ‘who are you?’ is bad as it is, not to mention the aggressive version of ‘why, who the hell are you?’ Some people tend to misinterpret such question. I felt that I was close to making a mistake, since I really wanted to ask the guy who he was, but I kept holding myself.
The guy didn’t give up. It was already dark and none of us bothered to turn the lights on. The offices were fully deserted by now, same with the manufacturing lines and the storage areas. Everything was closed and locked, except for the two of us standing in my room. We stood quietly, in the deep dark. I was closer to the wall, so I could lean myself and feel a little more comfortable, but the time passed on us both at the very same pace.
Suddenly, a phone rang two or three rooms down the corridor, and the man didn’t miss the opportunity. He said calmly, right after the phone desperately stopped: “Maybe you know the consequences of what’s happening. That could well be the case. I am not a person to intrude or dig inside one’s veins. I never breach people’s privacy. Oh no, not me. But I am still waiting for an answer: Have you gone too far, as far as you could know, or not?”
The moment of truth has arrived. The time was late, too late, and I already knew that my dinner wouldn’t be waiting for me at home. Not just that, but I shouldn’t expect a smile nor sympathy. It was well understood, that if I had to stay at work, which could happen, I should have phoned home. And the fact is that I DIDN’T phone home. On the other hand, I kept thinking while the man was awaiting my answer, if anyone at home was truly concerned about me, why didn’t they call? I started counting all the ones dear to me, my friends and relatives, who just proved now that they did not really care about me or my whereabouts.
The whole day through, I thought, forgetting the man who was standing still right in front of me, people that I know never stop bothering me. But now, when the day was over and some major delay was inflicted upon me, they ignore. I started feeling a little angry and bitter, until I couldn’t decide who was worse: my relatives and friends, or the unknown man in my room. Why don’t they call? Perhaps something bad has happened to me? In fact, something DID happen to me. You can ask that man, whom I don’t know.
I did not make a move but the man kept consistent: “I, Greenberg, am waiting for an answer”. Now I became even more confused. I didn’t get his last words: did he mean to say “I Greenberg”, as if declaring that his name was Greenberg, or did he address ME as being Greenberg?
Knowing myself, I knew that obviously I wasn’t Greenberg; however, I wasn’t sure whether that man was Greenberg or not. I didn’t know the guy, and probably neither did he know me. Perhaps he thought that my name was Greenberg, or that we were both called Greenberg, and as me, being me-and-not-him Greenberg, I went too far or something like that. Things were now turning too complicated. We both fell into a trap with no way out.
In the morning they found us asleep, standing in my room. The CEO, who usually comes first in the morning, entered my room on his way to the side yard, and when he saw us he almost fainted in shock. He cried: “Greenberg, don’t you think you went too far?”
We both looked at him without saying a word.