Is it the end of term yet?

Ajay picked up his desk-top tidy. “I really must empty this, Martin.”

Martin was in mid-rant. He looked up, puzzled. It was possible that he’d forgotten that Ajay was even there.

Ajay hurried out. His desk-top tidy actually only had an apple core in it, but he couldn’t stand listening to Martin for a moment longer. He needed to concentrate. He was replacing Bob for the full academic year, and all of the modules he was teaching were new to him. He had a lot to do.

The bins were at one end of the long corridor. Apparently this distance was intentional, to give staff a chance to stretch their legs regularly. ‘Green-ness and Well-ness’, as the Environmental Enhancement Manager liked to say. Martin thought it was so that they could cut down on cleaning staff, but he only usually repeated this particular proposition when he was emptying his own tidy, which wasn’t very often. There was often a slightly musty smell in the office. Ajay opened the windows when Martin wasn’t in. They were on Martin’s side of the office. If Martin came back in and found them open, he sighed heavily and closed them with a clatter.

Sometimes Ajay emptied Martin’s tidy at the same time, and let Martin think that the cleaners had done it. Martin thought that there had been a small victory for common sense and radicalism, if the cleaners were spontaneously emptying the bins when they weren’t allowed to. It seemed to make him happy.

Walking back towards his office, Ajay could see an unusual amount of activity at the opposite end of the corridor, where the multi-function device was. Impromptu staff meeting? He couldn’t resist having a look. He had to push slightly to get through the last fire door. The cluster of people standing round the machine shifted slightly to let him through. They were mostly holding out their ID cards, and there was a buzz of angry complaints. He stood for a moment, trying to pick out sentences.

“I’ve got class in five minutes”

“I told them…” (told them what? Ajay felt cheated of the detail)

“…if we had printers in our offices…”

“I’ve been downstairs to try theirs and it doesn’t work either.”

The lift doors opened and one of their colleagues emerged, balancing a large pile of handouts. There was a slight surge towards her.

“Look what Jamila’s got!”

“Where did you get those copied?”

“Is it just ours which isn’t working?”

Jamila stepped back. She looked bewildered. “Get what? What’s working?”

“Your handouts.”

“The printer.”

She looked at the pile of papers to which they were pointing. “I’ve just picked them up from Repro. They’re my handouts for next week’s corporate course. Why? What’s going on?”

“Printer’s not working.”

The crowd turned away slightly, back towards the non-functioning device. Jamila pushed her way through to the fire doors and continued back to her office.

One of the lecturers swiped his card through the reader again. “Still not working.” he reported back.

Ajay took out his phone and dialled IT services.

“If you are calling about a printing problem, please note that there is a campus-wide problem with printing at the moment. Our engineers are trying to solve the problem now. There is no need to log a fault with the service.”

Ajay hung up. “Um. Everyone. There’s a campus-wide problem with printing.”

The crowd turned towards him.

“Fucking typical.”

“First week of term. Don’t tell us, the systems are overloaded. Have they forgotten that some of us actually have to teach this week?

“I knew this would happen.”

“When’s it going to be fixed?”

“I’ve got class in a minute, and no handouts. What am I supposed to do?”

Ajay shrank back. He held his tidy out in front of him. “Well. Anyway. Must get back to the office.”

He backed up to the fire doors and escaped back to the relative sanctuary of the office.

Martin looked up when he came in, possibly about to resume his litany of complaints about the university. Ajay had a brainwave.

“Martin, have you heard about the printers? You should go out there and see what’s happening.”

Martin was out of the office before Ajay could say any more.

Ajay sat down with a sigh. He knew that he probably shouldn’t feed Martin’s outrage, but the thought of five minutes peace had been too tempting. He patted his pile of handouts for the next two weeks, carefully copied a couple of weeks ago when things were quiet.


Wading Through Treacle is entirely fictional. You can follow @wadingtreacle on Twitter, or like the Wading Through Treacle page on Facebook to be informed of updates, or click on ‘follow’ at the bottom of this screen to register for updates from Wading Through Treacle. Feel free to send Wading Treacle accounts of daft things which could be fictionalised by email: wadingtreacle@gmail.com.

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