Re-entry — The Unexpected Table

Michael Abberton
8 min readAug 15, 2021

My first time back in the office for 17 months — from workplace to alien environment, being stalked by an unseen predator…

Photo — Invaders II, by the author © 2008–2021 rorshach13

I looked down at the table that shouldn’t have beeen there. Just inside the revolving doors, a cheap, circular table, the wood-grain formica jarring with the carefully-styled furniture of the rest of the lobby. At just below waist-height, the primary function of this intruder was also uncomfortable. Under a cardboard sign there was a ring-binder, in landscape orientation, containing paper ‘sign-in’ sheets, and beside it, two plastic plant pots, both filled with lidless Bic pens, leaning against the sides like battle-weary soldiers waiting to go over the top. One pot was green, the other red. The instructions told me to choose a pen from the green pot, and after use, deposit it in the red pot. Was this what some people call hygiene theatre?

I picked a pen from the green pot. It had that sticky yet slimy feel that instantly repels that we have all got used to over the past year 18 months — hand cleanser gel. My mask fogged my glasses as I bent over to fill in the required details. The form asked for my name, department, line manager and entry time. This last one posed an unexpected problem. I hadn’t worn a watch in over a year, and the thought of putting one on had never entered my mind. It took me a little while to realise I’d have to consult the screen on my phone.

This was my first time in the office for 17 months, obliged to come in to receive a hard-copy document that for reasons of security could only be delivered here. This was no particular hardship for me, my home being just half-an-hour’s stroll from the office building. Walking the familiar route again I’d gone back onto autopilot as if no time had passed, though it had been with a new underlying sense of trepidation — a queasy chill in my stomach, like someone or something was there at the office, waiting.

I walked across the huge, airport-like lobby. The new headquarters had only been occupied a couple of years before the pandemic banished us all on a random Thursday in March 2020. It still had that new car smell. My trainers squeaked across the marble floor as I passed the square-edged couches, now even more forbidding than their geometry made them, all roped off with yellow warning signs. More signs exhorting…

Michael Abberton

Tomahawk thrower, writer, trade unionist, Japanese speaker and all around good guy.