Just in time

4 min read

Rita was running late for her job at the call centre. She stuffed the rest of the stewed apple in her mouth and rushed out the door. She hadn't been able to run fast of late and it bothered her, since she had been an athletic champion at school and college. Still it, helped that the call centre wasn't far off.

When she got there, she was relieved to find that she was on time. 8:58, the big clock on the wall said and her check-in time was 9:00. Ha! They won't be docking my pay this month!, she thought with a smile. She loaded up the software and waited for the usual calls about people whining about their gadgets not working. She was a veteran, so knew all the most successful approaches - "Have you tried switching it on and off? Please unplug the device from the socket and plug it back in. Is your computer up-to-date?" and so on.

While she waited, she started up a game of Hearts and joined her old friends Pauline, Ben and Michele for a game. As she thought about her hand she decided that it was possible to shoot the moon with ease. Passing her useless cards, she was pleased to find that she received hearts. Now to business!

She missed by a few cards - 21 points to her, 3 to Ben and 2 to Pauline. Michele, of course, had played a perfect hand, ending up with 0. I swear they must be updating the AI on this. Its getting better and better. And I must remember to complain about this mouse. She didn't receive any calls, so the headset remained unused the entire morning.

A little later, a look at the big clock told her it was lunch time. She'd head over to the cafeteria. They were serving her favourite! Man, this is turning out to be a good day!

She went back to her terminal afterwards and waited for calls to arrive. While she waited, she started up a game of Hearts. She quickly decided that her hand would allow her to shoot the moon fairly easily. She got rid of her clubs and diamonds and fortunately, received hearts. Great!

A couple of days later, she was leisurely having her breakfast when she realised that it wasn't Sunday as she had thought, but actually Monday. Oh no! I can't afford to be late! Thankfully, the call centre was close by and she made it there just in time, a couple of minutes in advance, in fact! Rita was pleased. She loaded up the call software and started a game of Hearts in the background.

This mouse is really acting up. Its unable to click anything accurately. she thought to herself. She didn't receive any calls that morning so she headed to the cafeteria when the clock told her it was time.

After lunch, she came back to her terminal and worked till it was time to leave. Another day, another dollar.

A few days later, Rita was in the middle of brushing her teeth when it dawned on her that it was a Monday and she had completely forgotten. She threw on some clothes in a hurry and rushed to work. She breathed a sigh of relief when she realised she had made it on time - 8:58! So she opened the calling software, followed by Hearts and started playing.

Halfway through her shift, she noticed a lady get on a chair and fiddle with the big clock on the wall. She had changed the time to 12:01. This filled Rita with a vague sense of unease. She beckoned the woman over and asked, "Something is wrong, isn't it?"

"What do you mean?" she replied.

"I mean ... I'm not actually working here, am I?"

The woman's face fell. "No Rita, you're not. You just live here."

"I'm not 26 years old ... am I?"

"No, you're 70."

"Oh!". Rita was surprised. If she was that old, then that must mean .. "Do I have a husband? Any children?"

"You were married for almost 40 years. He passed on a few years ago. You have 3 children who visit you often."

This came as a shock to Rita. She had to sit down. "What are their names?"

"They're called Michael, Jeremy and Jean. Michael is 37, Jeremy is 36 and Jean 34. All of them have children of their own. You love it when your grandkids come over."

"Thank you."

"Anytime, Rita", the lady said.

"I've asked this before, haven't I?"

"Once in a while." The woman seemed sad as she said this.

She sat down and tried to absorb all of this information. She was a mother! A wife! A grandmother! What else didn't she know about her life?

"Am I good? Am I a good person here? Do I ... make trouble?"

"No ... you're the best. You always sit right here in the mornings and afternoons and play Hearts. You eat your meals right on time and you're kind to everyone in the cafeteria and the rec room." The lady was crying softly now.

"Thanks. That means a lot to me." She sat for a while at her desk and thought about her life. What it must have been like, loving someone for decades, watching your children grow up, growing old yourself. It seemed like all her memories were sort of there, except covered in a fog.

She looked up and noticed that the clock said 12:01. Lunch time! she thought with a wide grin, as she made her way to the cafeteria.

Author's note - the inspiration for this article came from this reddit thread where everyone talked about their experiences of caring for people struggling with this illness. I thought it would be interesting to write a story from the perspective of someone on the other side.