The dear, sweet maintenance man where I work begins mopping the floors precisely at 3:30 p.m. daily. He mixes a noxious cocktail of chemicals from generic, yet dangerous-looking, plastic jugs. I think he experiments sometimes, because the odor is never the same twice in a row. And it is a truly foul aroma.
There are two things I’ve smelled in my life that are worse. One was the stripper my dad used when he restored my sister’s bedroom set. That stuff really did make me throw up once. The other, I’d rather not mention. I don’t know what it does to the floor, but it produces an instant headache. It’s like something you’d use to scour a slaughterhouse. Truth be told, I don’t think he knows what he’s using.
One day he walked into my office with an industrial-looking bottle.
“Do you know what this is?” he asked.
I just sort of blinked at him. “Do I know?”
“Yeah,” he continuned. “Will this make the floors shiny. I want to wax the floors and make them shiny.”
I gamely took the bottle and examined the label, which may as well have been written in Cyrillic, and I’m not entirely convinced it wasn’t. “Uh, I don’t know what this is,” I said.
“I think it’s wax,” he said. He took the bottle and walked away. The next day, I noticed no difference in the floors.
Sometimes he gets it right and shines them up magnificently. Seems a waste, mind you. They’re in terrible condition, bare wood exposed under cracked tiles. In some places, whole tiles are missing. It’s like running a vacuum cleaner on a dirt floor. But he takes intense pride in those floors. No different from the rest of us, I guess. We all want to be proud of our work — without poisoning people in the process.
So I don’t mind so much when he comes into my office to mop around me at my desk. And I feel bad when I have to tiptoe across his work, leaving half-footprints behind me. For a long time, I didn’t complain about the headaches. Or being driven to fits of sneezes with the “air fresheners” he sprays to cover up the odor, adding yet another layer of chemicals. (Imagine falling into a huge box of laundry detergent powder. Makes my skin crawl.) He comes in and out. It passes. And life goes merrily on.
And we have clean floors.
Sometimes he mops them three times in a night. Just to be safe.
One of my colleagues sometimes encourages him to come later. “You know, I hate to be in your way,” she said. “Why don’t you come back after five when we’ve left?”
It’s the ghosts, he told her once. That’s why he starts so early. He wants to get his work done on the top floor before everyone leaves, because he hears noises, he said. He’s seen doors close and open on their own. Lights turn on and off. And he thinks he’s seen a woman in white.
The building is old, and it can be creepy when no one’s there, I’ll give him that. And he’s not the only person to have ghost stories from that building. I’ve been there as late as 8 p.m. and heard noises myself. But ghosts? More likely, it’s the chemicals he uses that conjure these visions.
Another colleague once made a passing reference to him about the “evil spirits.”
“Oh no, don’t worry about evil spirits,” he said to her. “There’s no such thing as demons.”
These are just ghosts, he informed her. “I know. I’ve read the bible.”
I think someone talked to his boss, because for a while he did start later. But I guess the ghosts got the better of him. He’s back to his old routine. I think he’s using different chemicals.