Rob first noticed the stranger by the coffee machine when he stood up for a quick stretch. The man was wearing jeans and a t-shirt, and he was drinking coffee and watching the office like a critic.
Rob sat back down. He gave his monitor a careful look, scanned the tropical cutouts across his cubicle wall, drummed his fingers on the desk, and then stood up. The man had not moved. He was gazing coolly from his seat and bobbing his head to a silent theme song. The man helped himself to another coffee as if the machine was his kitchen faucet. Then he looked Rob's way. Rob sat down with a jerk and stared at his monitor. Who was that guy? Why was he here?
After another hour, Rob began to grow nervous. The man had certainly been staring at him earlier. Finally, Rob consulted Bill from across the aisle.
"Hey Bill," he hissed.
Bill stuck his fat, bald head out from behind his wall.
Rob gave him a secretive look. "Who's that man over there by the coffee machine? He's giving me the creeps."
Bill took a moment, then stood up and stretched as Rob had originally done. When he sat back down, he did so with a chuckle. "Now Rob, there's only one reason why Mr. Lafoy should be giving you the creeps. How are those deadlines coming along, eh?"
"No, I'm not talking about Lafoy. The other man. The one sitting in the chair by the coffee machine!"
"There's a chair by the coffee machine?" asked Bill. He laughed. "Putting a chair by the coffee machine would just be asking for slackers. Maybe they put it there as bait!" He chortled mightily and disappeared behind the cubicle wall.
Rob frowned. Since he'd already used the stretching excuse, he would now 'go to the bathroom'. He got up and began to make his way down the aisle towards the man.
He was halfway down the aisle when the man looked up. Rob froze. They were caught in perfect eye contact. And then began one of the most surreal and gripping moments of Rob’s life as he watched the man slowly transition from contentment to interest to suspicion to panic to the downright terror of a wild animal. Rob would have whirled around to make sure there were no monsters standing right behind him, except that this entire emotional spiral had occurred during solid eye contact. Which made Rob suddenly wonder if he was a monster. But he didn’t have time for such inward reflections because the man snapped from his terror and bolted for the exit.
Rob remained where he was—in a state of utter consternation. But this only lasted a moment before being overridden by the surprise of finding his limbs slipping into a soft-footed run. Somewhere in the back of his mind, there was a hostage situation involving duct tape and his obedient little worker-self.
As he wheeled around the corner, the large metal exit door was just closing. He sprinted to the end of the hall and burst into the cement stairwell with a clang. He skittered to a stop, heard the rapid clip-clapping of shoes on the stairs below him, and then took the stairs four at a time.
He began to gain on the mysterious runaway by the time they were at the second floor, but the man did not slow as he reached the underground parkade. As Rob burst through the final door and spotted the man making off between the silent vehicles, he realized his chance. Over open ground, the man was no match for Rob. Rob kicked off his dress shoes just as he kicked it into first gear. He had been a track star in high school, and impromptu races were his specialty.
However, almost to Rob's disappointment, who hadn't had this sort of exciting exercise since he was a kid, the man abruptly stopped. He put one hand on a knee, and the second in the air to stop Rob. "Stay back!" the man cried, hiding his face behind his arm.
Rob didn't know what to say. Sorry I chased you seven floors down an office building? It wasn't the most appropriate way to start the conversation.
"What’s the matter?" he asked.
The man stumbled a few steps back. "Stop!" he cried.
Rob had not moved. "I'm not coming any closer to you," he said.
"Stop talking to me!" The man leaned his weight against a cement column.
Rob was taken aback. "Excuse me?" he asked. "Would you rather I let you catch your breath so we can run another few blocks or something?”
"He cannot be talking to me..." the man said to himself, breathing heavily.
Rob gaped. “Seriously? I’m still here. Don't treat me like I'm invisible."
"You're not invisible!" the man cried, standing up straight and confronting Rob, now with an urgent tone. "Do you...?" he asked, "Do you work here?"
"Yes," Rob said.
Rob cracked a grin. "Don't have a bloody clue," he said.
The man did not agree with his sense of humor. But his voice was more afraid than angry. "But you chased me."
"Only because you ran."
"But you looked at me funny."
"I did not! You looked at me funny!"
"But you looked at me first!"
"Who cares?" asked Rob. He was beginning to think he should have stayed at work. "Listen," he said. "Why don't you carry on from here and don't worry about who looked at who. I have to go back to work. Sorry I chased you...and...sorry I looked at you."
The man was slightly reassured. "Thank you," he said. "But don't do it again."
"I...won't," Rob said slowly. "Next time you show up in my office uninvited...I'll just pretend you're invisible and you can drink all the coffee you want."
The man nodded and backed away. Then, giving Rob one last look of disapproval, he turned and fled.
“Dear God,” Rob said to the empty parkade. “Get that man some help. I’m going back to work and filing a complaint to your heavenly office.”