Olive fretted. Her eyes darted from side to side, and her left index finger played with each other. She sat on a hard stool that was uncomfortably positioned in the middle, and felt like everyone was just staring at her like she was the only thing interesting enough to look at. She was nervous, but was determined to make a good first impression, as if that would change anything. A short woman with brown hair and black glasses clicked over in heels. Heels! She must work for the government. No average islander was ever, ever given such shoes.
“Olivia Mayfield?” She asked, or rather, demanded. She had a powerful tone.
“Ye, yes!” She stumbled, getting up so quickly, and dropped her sack. All her materials spilled out on the floor. Great, messed up again, she thought to herself as she jumped down to gather everything.
“I’m Sandra Mayfield, head of the supplying office. Did you bring all of the materials required?”
“Yes, I did,” Olive said, now picking up the last of the things and standing up again.
“I have my empty folders, my new uniform, my lunch... And here are my school supplies, but oh- I guess those are my office supplies now?” She let out a small laugh in spite of herself, but quickly stopped short at Sandra’s look.
“We do not joke here, new girl, and your folder is pink. That one’s for school.”
“But my little sister wanted the clear...” She faltered under Sandra’s gaze and hung her head.
“It’s all right,” Sandra said, surprising Olive.
“Bring it for next time, and I won’t mark you off. Now I’ll show you your work.”
Olive followed Sandra into the corner of the office, making many turns and twists. She came to a small desk with a pile of documents and a radio.
“You’re a beginner, so your radio’s the simplest one. But you won’t be able to do anything else with it, just contact the ration station and fruit canning factory. See, the red button connects to a line with the station, which is on every radio, but the black one that connects to the fruit canning factory is just on your radio because you will be in charge of all the canned fruits.”
Olive raised her eyebrows at the thought of extra pineapple.
“This machine is connected to the central rationing system at the ration station. A person’s info will light up here when they come to collect their canned fruit, and you have to check if the person has canned fruit in the list. Press this button to send the canned fruit, and tick off the person’s name on this list for the people who get canned fruit for the week. A different list will be given every week, depending on the people’s ration increase or decrease. Occasionally, you’ll get a radio call from the ration station. Then call the fruit canning factory and tell them to send fifty boxes of canned fruit to the ration station. Otherwise, don’t touch the radio. Got it? Now get to work.”
Olive was left alone now, and the rapid directions swirled around in her head. Just when she was getting too confused about the work, the machine lit up and blinked red. The screen read, ‘Adam Mayfield, 32, houseroom painter.’ She jumped at this sudden notification and fumbled with the stack of thick lists. Fortunately, she found the list she needed, which was organized by age then alphabetically. He was the only houseroom painter that was 32. These days, two houseroom painters are picked each year because of the steady increase of houserooms. She ticked the person’s name off and pressed the send button. She let out a sigh of relief, but quickly moved on to worrying about if she did indeed do the job well. What if she pressed something else or ticked the wrong person? After repeatedly checking the machine and the list, she laid back in her chair.
She spotted that the list also contained the preferred fruit of each person. Adam seemed to like pineapples. Or maybe his family likes pineapples? She started daydreaming. He would take the can home, and during evening break, his family would gather round the bed and enjoy the pineapples. Cherish every bit of the fruit, enjoy every drop of juice that flows out and pools in your mouth with a bite... Laugh and talk and share the little happiness that even the work and the social stress couldn’t take away. For the moment, the pineapple would tie them together in a special bond, so strong that they would forget that more work lies after, and the day after that, too. Just like Olive’s own family.
Just when she was lost in thought about the pineapple that’s more than just sweet, the red light blinked again. She bolted upright, determined not to make a mistake. Sally, age 24. Likes peaches.