This past Friday, we took a moment at work to honor our office manager's birthday. Everyone piled into our rather modestly sized conference room for the surprise. Another worker ran inference by calling her over to the nearby annexed office space we use for deliveries.
The office manager was turning 59 and those in charge of the event (I was occupied with other work matters but designated two of my employees to handle all the arrangements) decided that instead of the all too common practice of placing a "5" candle and a "9" candle on the cake we would put 59 individual candles on the medium sized sheet birthday cake.
When I entered the room to join in the surprise the candles were already lit and burning furiously. I don't recall ever seeing such a fire on top of a birthday cake before. You could actually feel the heat as you walked past the cake. As it often goes with such things, we were successful in getting the office manager out of the space so things could be set up, but she became delayed upon her return. The candles continued to burn at a torrid pace, some of the individual waxed sticks were actually approaching the icing.
Minutes passed. A small pool of wax soon formed and found a low spot on the icing and began to slowly ooze onto the conference table itself, a little puddle of wax. One of my employees was sitting in front of the cake, fretting over it, saying we needed to blow the candles out and relight them. Oh no, sang the chorus, she'll be here in any minute. The small puddle of wax ooze continued to form slowly on the table. The candles were ablaze in 59 flames of various sizes. It was an impressive sight.
Finally, the office manager returned and immediately blew out the flaming mess. The wax puddle was about the diameter of a softball by the time we were all singing "happy birthday to you." I didn't have any cake myself. Sweets are usually not something I care for although I did have a homemade German chocolate cupcake just to be sociable.
After the birthday celebration, being a Friday afternoon, little thought was given to work unless something of urgency presented itself, which it didn't. Instead, there was a free-flowing conversation in my department about various things. Somehow, we ventured over into horror movies, scary moments, and the paranormal which triggered a bizarre remembrance by the same employee who had wrestled with the wax puddle as all those candles burned.
It was back in the spring of 2001 and she was distracted while driving in the congested traffic of a nearby town when she noticed too late that she had blatantly run through a red traffic light. A police car was parked nearby. Fearing she had been seen she immediately turned into a shopping center and went into a small store to try to avoid what she felt was a certain ticket. The cops did not follow her.
Feeling a bit relieved, she decided to buy a couple of items she needed for home. The line to the single open cash register was a bit long. As she stood there waiting her turn an elderly black man walking with a cane came through the front doors and looked around. As he began to approach the line he raised his cane and waved it in the air, pointing toward the line.
“I have a message for you,” he uttered rather provocatively. My employee turned to look behind her for the person the black man was speaking to but the people behind her were looking at her. She looked at those in front of her in the line, they too were staring at her. As she told us this story I felt as though she might be describing a strange scene in a Fellini film. She realized to her surprise the old man was speaking to her.
“I have a message for you.” First the traffic light incident and now this.
She said the man waved his cane about for a moment and then shuffled up to her in line and handed her a folded piece of paper. Then he turned and left the store, never to be seen again. She stared at the paper. The line resumed its briefly interrupted motion. Items were being checked out. My employee opened the paper. It was written by a neat, legible hand. The words seemed absurd.
According to my employee, the note mentioned something about hijacking and buildings burning and several other references of devastation. It was a long note, taking up most of a page out of a school notebook. It went on about things that were going to happen but my employee was so shaken by the rather bizarre turn of events that she couldn’t finish reading the note, which had no context to her intimate life whatsoever. She wadded it up and tossed it into the trashcan as she left the store with her items.
Several months later, September 11 occurred. Then she regretted tossing the note. She was clear that the note did not contain anything too specific, at least the portion that she read. There was no mention of the Twin Towers or the Pentagon or Arab Jihadists. It merely communicated generalities though the tone was clearly about sudden death and destruction.
My other employees were silent. I exchanged quick glances with one of them. Well, this employee has no history for the dramatic or the spectacular in her history with me and my department. She is a level-headed person. There was no reason to doubt she was being truthful. She is not one who ordinarily tries to top everyone's story with something from her life, especially with a story so bizarre. It occurred to me that, as spectacular as the story was, it nevertheless amounted to absolutely nothing. After a moment of silence, I shrugged my shoulders and looked at her.
“Well,” I offered slowly, “it seems to me that fellow made a mistake. He gave that note to the wrong person.”