Monday morning – time to meet the staff.
I wandered through the Board Room to the office of the Superintendent. After asking me how I slept, the Superintendent, a man of Japanese descent, gave me a quick tour of the Board Office. Then he introduced me to the two competent clerical staff, both members of the Nisga’a Nation.
The attractive, shy young woman, the accounts payable clerk, politely asked, “Did you rest well?” I assured her I slept soundly. Her organized work space was the antithesis of my next introduction. A young man, Jordy*, the Payroll Clerk, emerged from a station of casual clutter. His hair, blacker than the lava beds, was styled with several bright orange spikes.
“Like your hair,” I said.
“Cool,” Jordy said, flashing a grin with direct, dark and sparkling eyes. “How’s the suite? Did you sleep well?”
“Just great,” I said and mentally noted this was the third time that polite concern was expressed for my comfort.
I knew I could work well with such diligent and reliable staff. Salaries being the major portion of the budget, this bright young man proved his competency by delivering payroll figures with precision and accuracy. The budgeting went smoothly.
Our temporary home, the tiny rectangular suite, proved comfortable. The living/dining area was at the front end and the bath/laundry facility was at the bottom end. In the center, a bedroom and the kitchen shared the width. The kitchen, 1/3 of the width, was set up along the wall that separated it from the bedroom.
One double window, chest height to ceiling, on the outer kitchen wall, provided the only source of fresh air. It faced a neighbouring house where a dog was perpetually tied in the back yard. Its small house provided ample safety and comfort. Because he barked at the slightest disturbance, I was confident he would announce any visitors, especially wild animals.
The Board Office was at the edge of town. The Board Room and, therefore, my suite were adjacent to a parking lot that was bordered by Canadian wilderness. Mac wasted no time heading into the thickest clump of underbrush he could find.
Over the next few days, Mac quickly determined the length of the dog’s chain. He teasingly pranced past the poor creature enough times to finally convince the dog that he was a cracker jack playmate. Mac had a knack of winning the confidence of other animals. They simply had to acknowledge Mac’s Alpha role.
After a few nights of sharing dinner with the Superintendent, I returned home without the dog barking when I got out of my car. Since these were Northern evenings in early May, the light of a lingering dusk or a magnificent sunset would amply reveal the path to my door. I trusted the dog would have been howling if a wild animal lurked nearby.
One such evening, as I reached the entryway that led to my suite, I saw the rear access to the Board Room was wide open. The building was on an alarm system. I peeked in to see who was around. A young woman was doing her janitorial duty.
After introductions, she asked, “Are you okay in there?”
Noting this was the fourth round of seeming concern for my well-being, I assured her that I had all I needed. “I have a question about the alarm, though. What sets it off?”
“Motion and movement,” she said. “If the alarm is on, any movement inside would set it off. It’s loud. It can be heard all over town. I’m always scared I’m going to do something wrong and set the stupid thing off.”
“I know what you mean,” I said. “Every school district has a different system. I always dread having to set them.” I thought about the nights I had worked late in this Board Room. Mac had come in to check on me several times.
“I guess that means my cat could set off the alarm if he was locked inside the building,” I said.
The woman’s dark eyes grew huge, “Omigod! You have a cat? Here?”
“Yah. I thought everyone in town knew…” I was prepared for another bear lecture.
“I’m frightened to death of them,” she said looking towards the open doors. “Will you please close those doors so it can’t come in here?”
I quickly went and shut the doors. “What scares you about cats?”
“I had nightmares as a child. They totally freak me.” She nervously began cleaning chairs around the Board table.
“Oh no…are you supposed to clean the suite? I’ll gladly look after that myself. Will that help?”
“I can’t… if your cat is there…I can’t go in there. Even if I get heck for that.”
“I’ll make sure you don’t. Does the staff know about your fear?”
“Please don’t tell them. They’ll think it’s funny to scare me,” she said. “Matter of fact, weird things that happen around here don’t scare me like cats do.”
“Like what kind of things?”
“Oh…just silly things like finding all the shoes and boots from the back entryway piled up here on the Board table. There’s just some stuff that nobody can explain. But I should get going. I have the offices to do downstairs.”
She gathered her cleaning materials and headed for the doors leading into the main part of the Board Office . I went in the opposite direction. When I opened the rear doors, Mac was diligently grooming himself by the suite door, letting me know he’d had a successful hunt.
The Board Room immediately went black. Distant main doors slammed shut.
(*Not his real name)