Pavel Panchekha


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I wrote for MIT's 21W.755, a short story writing class.

John walked through the polished marble lobby, and the suit walked outside him. He was tall, lanky, with a round head of short black hair and a fast walk. The suit was long and black, with a white, ironed-this-morning shirt hidden behind it. The suit was perhaps too big for John—it was his father's, and was tailored to his father's beer belly. "Puffed up" was how John described it.

"Yes?", asked the receptionist. A woman as old as his mother, he thought.

"I'm John…" replied John, in a sort of haze. What was he doing here—a twenty-three year old kid, barely out of college? What did he have to offer a big-name company?

"… Christoff. John Christoff." The voice didn't seem to come from him. John's suit nodded at him reassuringly. Of course he needed to give a last name. How would they know who "John" was? "I'm uh… I'm here uh…" His words seemed to trail off. He was lost, lost for purpose.

For a moment, he wanted to just walk away. Maybe later, maybe in a few years, maybe after he'd grown up a bit and when he could walk briskly toward the elevator, nodding to the security guard as if the security guard knew him personally. Maybe when he had silvering hair and the crisp clear tone of a highly-valued professional. Maybe then, but not now, while he was still a kid, when he would rather hang out at home all day and play video games and watch football and drink beer with his friends.

But just as he started seriously considering leaving, the suit grabbed hold of his shoulders, pulling up and straightening his back. The suit planted his feet firmly in their place, and clarified for the receptionist, "I'm here for an interview. With Mr. Folger." "Yes, for an interview," thought John. "So Mr. Folger can give me a job." He was talking through it in his head, just like how, in college, he would read sentences from textbooks over and over again until he understood them. "So Mr. Folger can give me a job. So Mr. Folger can give me a job. So Mr. Folger can give me a job."

"Yeah, I'm here for an interview. At 11:00." This was John speaking.

"Yes, I see. Ninth floor, room 914. There are elevators over there," the receptionist pointed. "Mr. Folger should be with you in a few minutes."

There was no reason to leave now. He'd already told the receptionist that he was here for an interview. She would think he intended to get a job. How could she know that he couldn't get a job here? That he was too young, that he had no idea what he was doing, that he only put on a suit today because of this interview, and normally lounged around in boxers and a t-shirt? That he didn't really know what this job would entail, that maybe he didn't know anything at all, that a history degree hadn't made him into a grown man and that he wouldn't be one for a while?

While he thought, his suit helpfully pushed his legs forward, and before he knew it, John was in an elevator, pushing the button labeled "9". Did the receptionist mean the ninth floor or the floor labeled "9"? Maybe there was a ground floor, and the second floor was labeled "1" and the ninth floor was labeled "8"? Did she see that he shouldn't be here and lead him astray? John felt a pat on the back, soft but strong, like the ones his father always gave him before his soccer games in high school. "Come on, son, make me proud." John had hated soccer.

The elevator door opened to a corridor of glass-walled offices, with embossed gold labels—"A. Smith, 901", "J. Anselin, 902", and so on. 914 was at the very end of the corridor, so John walked shyly past each office, not daring to turn his head, lest he see the sharp, experienced businessman he imagined occupying it, and prove once again that he was out of his depth. More than anything, he wanted this interview to be over, for him to have somehow stumbled into a job offer, for him to be able to say "I have a job at this big investment bank" to convince people that he was in fact an adult. Whether or not he really was. The suit hugged him, keeping his shoulders back, his head up. What would the occupants of these offices see? A lanky youngster just out of college? Or would they see the suit confidently striding into Mr. Folger's office?

914 was empty, but the door was open. The suit pushed John into the office with a friendly shove, and he leaned against the glass. The receptionist had said Mr. Folger would be by in a few minutes. He should stand up to shake hands, right? Probably shouldn't sit down. And what if that was rude? Though maybe leaning against the glass is too casual? Or would that make Mr. Folger think he was confident?

Five minutes passed, and Mr. Folger hadn't shown up; John grew tired of leaning against the glass, and sat down. The glass office had two chairs—one large brown leather chair, all puffy and imperial; the other a smaller, cloth swivley chair. The leather chair—evidently Mr. Folger's—was close to the window, while the chair John had sat down in was by the door. An impressive-looking wooden desk separated the two, and behind the desk were also some filing cabinets, a bookshelf of binders labeled "USA", "Germany", "Britain", and a modern-looking computer proudly displaying the corporate logo. Light streamed through the window—it was a sunny August day—and fell upon the desk and leather chair. On the left hand wall hung a clock.

John stared at the second hand ticking. He imagined Mr. Folger, in an important business meeting, talking to a client over the phone, staring at a printout of bond prices and finding the perfect trade, smoking a cigar and deducing how recent news would affect options trading, combing his necessarily-silver hair. Mr. Folger, confidently walking to the office John was now in, ready to expose him, to realize that John was nothing but a boy, had learned nothing over the twenty-three years of his life. John sighed. Nothing to do but wait. He put his black leather folio with his resume on the table, and watched the sunlight play off its gold corners. In his head, John ran through the stock market quotes he'd looked up this morning.

Another ten minutes passed. Where was Mr. Folger? John started fidgeting, parting and re-parting his hair, turning left and right in his chair. "Stop that", the suit reassured. "Mr. Folger will be here any minute now. Do you want to blow this job interview? Relax, sit back straight." Any minute now? Fifteen minutes had passed. Had John been forgotten? Did he never even have a chance at this job? "Fifteen minutes is nothing, Mr. Folger's been held up a bit. You're fine, stop fidgeting." John passed the time by looking around the office. On Mr. Folger's desk was a Wall Street Journal. Today's— John had read it cover to cover on the subway ride here.

Maybe Mr. Folger's client had an emergency. Yes, maybe some stock had just fallen in price and Mr. Folger was earning millions for his clients. Or Mr. Folger was giving a presentation to some executives that had run a bit over-time. It was nothing odd to be fifteen minutes late. A professional, working man like Mr. Folger wouldn't forget about him. And what was John to do, anyway? He thought about going to look for him, wandering into another office and asking for his whereabouts. But wouldn't the occupant just laugh at him? Or give him that disappointed look his dad gave when he brought home a B?

Twenty minutes later, John could no longer relax. Still Mr. Folger was missing. "It's fine", soothed the suit. "Thirty minutes is nothing for an important businessman. If you want to be that businessman, if you want to be like Mr. Folger, sit and wait. You want that job, don't you?" It made sense. John looked about for a photograph, maybe of Mr. Folger and his family—what did Mr. Folger look like—but he found none.

Why was Mr. Folger gone? Maybe he had a serious medical condition that instant. Wouldn't the receptionist tell him? Or Mr. Folger's secretary. (Did he have a secretary? Of course he did, an important man like him.) Or maybe the market had crashed and there was chaos at work. John checked his phone—the market was fine. Maybe he'd gotten fired. Well, hardworking sharp businessmen didn't get fired. Oh, he'd probably gone out for an early lunch in a different part of the city and hit traffic. What time was it again? 11:35? Hmm. "Patience is a sign of a good worker", reminded the suit. "How else are you getting this job?"

Ten more minutes passed. "Mr. Folger has important business to take care of", noted the suit. Well, yes, John supposed so. What was taking him so long? Shouldn't John be having an interview now? John checked the email on his phone—yes, the interview was today; yes, at eleven in the morning. Didn't the receptionist confirm that? "Look, Mr. Folger's got important business to take care of", echoed the suit. "He's doing something important, and doesn't have time right now to interview you. Wait a bit. You'll get the job, you'll grow up, you'll have important work too." How'd the suit know? The suit was almost thirty by now, John supposed. A bit older than him; maybe it would know. Wait, it was just a suit! How would it know?

Where was the damned Mr. Folger? Shouldn't use the word "damned" like that, Mr. Folger might be his boss. Did the suit say that? Where was the damned Mr. Folger? Did he forget the interview? Wouldn't his secretary have reminded him? (Did he have a secretary?) Had he gone out drinking the night before; was he home nursing a hangover? Maybe he was sick. Wouldn't he have phoned in? "Relax, this is normal. You'll get a job and you'll understand," whispered the suit. Over the last half-hour, the sun had moved and the light was now streaming down onto John's suit pants. It was getting hot. John took off the suit jacket and hung it on the back of his chair, then resumed staring at the clock's second hand. It seemed to be ticking slower now. Or maybe that was John's impatience?

Fifteen more minutes passed, and Mr. Folger was now an hour late. It hadn't recently shifted to Daylight Savings Time, thought John. Eleven was too early for lunch. Had Mr. Folger fallen asleep at work? "After that night at the bar", thought John, and chuckled at the thought. John had discovered that his chair tilted forward and back, and played for a few minutes with the controls.

"Maybe something came up, something really important, something that needed Mr. Folger's expertise and experience to resolve," proposed the suit. It spoke now in a croaking manner; it didn't seem to like hanging on the chair. "Listen, he could have at least sent someone to tell me," replied John. Then the absurdity of the reply caught up to him: he was talking to a suit. Heh. John was no longer so sure Mr. Folger was a sharp, well-dressed businessman.

Another ten minutes passed. "This is silly", thought John. Outside was sunny and warm, and it was the perfect time for a lunch in the park. John stood up and stretched. "Hey, where do you think you're going?" reprimanded the suit from its chair back. "You're not getting this job if you leave! Sit back down here and wait, like an adult." John picked up the suit and put it back on, though unlike before his hair was a bit disheveled from playing with it, and unlike before John forgot to button the suit jacket. "Siddown, son", the suit commanded.

John hit the ground-floor button in the elevator and sat on the elevator-car's railing as it descended. The suit had quieted up, but looked at him in a way that made it clear it was still holding a grudge. "Disappointing", it muttered. John wiggled his shoulders so the suit would sit better. The elevator doors opened, and John walked into the marble lobby, then past the receptionist's table and toward the exit.

"How'd your interview go dear?" asked the receptionist.

"Oh. Mr. Folger never showed up. I figured the interview wasn't happening, so here I am." John was pleased with how nonchalant that sounded.

"Oh, I'm so sorry! Should I reschedule it? Mr. Folger could probably make some other time," suggested the receptionist.

"Yes!" implored the suit.

"Nah, it's all right, I didn't want the job much. Thanks, though. Have a good day." John walked out into a sunny August day. He was tall, with a lean athletic build, and wore a long black suit.