No one in Ohni’s agency had as many case files on their desk. Okay, it wasn’t her agency. She didn’t own it or even manage it; though she might have done a better job than her current supervisor, a fiftyish bureaucrat in love with policy and procedure.
New Start Family Services of Saint Francis, Kansas, had never been fully funded, as some of social services providing help for more “worthy” clientele such as those coping with AIDS or heroin addiction. The dented file cabinets and outdated desktop computers showed it.
Ohni sighed and looked at the schedule on her day planner. Ten clients today. She gazed at the grey canvas covering her cubicle. It reflected her mood.
“No lunch for me today, I guess,” she spoke towards the identical cubicle opposite her.
“Oh, Ohni, you just need to be more efficient,” a faceless voice attached to a blonde head nagged. “Skip the depression assessment. Fill everything out while they’re talking.”
Ohni rolled her eyes.
“They hardly ever make eye contact anyhow,” her office mate claimed.
Her cubicle opening filled with a slight but formidable frame that became only more threatening with continued acquaintance.
“Budget meeting tonight, Ohni. You know the routine. Don’t forget to be back from supper break by five-thirty—it’s especially important we be prompt.” The middle-aged woman planted a hand on her hips and glared at Ohni.
“Can I go to the cafe for supper?” Ohni struggled to push herself past a whisper. And failed.
“You won’t have time. If needed, I’m sure the office refrigerator will yield something edible,” her supervisor intoned, as if speaking to a high school intern.
Ohni dreaded the meetings as much as agoraphobics fear track and field meets. Lasting til nine o’clock was common, and tonight’s agenda would be unusually tedious with Mr. Lanscombe making his quarterly appearance. The agency controller never met an illegible spreadsheet he didn’t like.
Her supervisor had vacated the doorway in the few seconds these thoughts ran through Ohni’s mind. She often thought her private musings to be the only things her supervisor couldn’t control. When she signed on with New Start, she had hoped the name would apply to her life as well. But her current situation, with little free time and an impossible quota of clients to serve, each day mocked her optimism like a spectre brandishing her work contract and ridiculing “you forgot to read the fine print Ohni! You will pay for your carelessness!”
“Hey, Ohni, earth to Ohni…”
She snapped back to 2025.
“Yeah, what, Rozika?”
“I was only going to say I brought an extra sandwich today in case you didn’t have anything for supper.”
“Thanks, Rozi. Tofurky?”
“Yeah, mayo–no mustard. I remembered.”
Ohni wished Rozika would have better recall about her promise to speak to her Uncle Ulrich, attorney-at-law, about Ohni’s indenture contract. She’d misplaced the priceless piece of paper on her journey to St. Francis after her mother died. Seventeen years old and grieving, Ohni recalled. And the state of Kansas expects me to have all my ducks in a row when they dump me, all alone in St. Francis, in a crummy studio apartment?