I was late for my sensitivity training class, two weeks after I joined a new company. It had been a while since I'd worked and was simply grateful to have a job.

I went to Human Resources to complain about the guy in the next cubicle who, even though he had been at the company for a while, he still had not grasped the idea of personal hygiene. The smell wafting from his cubicle was a mixture of homeless Vietnam vet and unwashed train-hopping hobo.

With state water rationing preventing all but the most necessary water use, at a premium price, no less, I could understand a little body odor. We all have that problem these days, but there is still a line no one working in the public should cross.

The smell got so bad one day, I had to sneak into the AC closet and turn off the air conditioning because the vent blew the stench up from his cube and down to mine. I had to give him credit, the guy always seemed to put in a twelve to fourteen hour day, so there were no complaints about dedication.

I hadn't had a job in two years, so I wasn't about to give this one up. I had no idea when the next one might come calling. Corporate work was drying up everywhere, being shipped overseas for slave wages, sent to the 'cloud' or 'double-booked' on some poor bastard who thought he was lucky to still have a job. Today, I was prepared to be that poor bastard.

When I went to HR and complained, I was told that I was insensitive to 'Tod's special needs' and that he had a medical accommodation for his issues. So I was sent to a sensitivity training course in order to improve my awareness of his situation. Starting my ninety-day probation off with a human resources sensitivity class. Way to make a good first impression.

The only upside to this situation was the opportunity to pass a tiny bit of heaven working the desk downstairs outside of HR. Her name badge said Penny. "Hey, Penny. Which way to the sensitivity training?" I was trying to sound cool and only semi-interested. The truth was, I had been dreaming about this girl since I got here. I had only seen her once or twice, but her flame red hair, ample bosom and well-dressed derrière were hard to miss. Only a dead man couldn't find her interesting.

"Hey, Dave. It's down the hall, turn left, second door on the right. I like your tie, something new?" she inquired. I did my best to not stare down her blouse. Meaning I had a minor seizure, my eyes rolled into my head and then I pulled it together.

She noticed! "Yes it is. My nephew gave it to me as a graduation gift a few months ago, but I wanted to save it for a rainy day. Since we don't seem to have those any more, I figured I am going to this class after only a month of working here, so I guess this will do."

"You look great, don't worry about it. There has been a lot of training going on here with the recent acquisition. I'm sure its not a problem. They say this position has gone empty a couple of times a month as they hire new girls for positions upstairs. I am hoping to graduate to one of those jobs, too."

As I listened, I was simply lost in her shiny green eyes and I could barely tear myself away from her lips. Her magnificiently supple lips… "Dave? Dave, you're gonna be late."

"Right, right, thanks. I'll talk to you later," I stammered and ran off.

When I got to the classroom, I walked in and noticed the room was lit with a bright green glow from the ceiling instead of the florescent lighting used in most of the company.

"Glad you could make it, Dave. You're the last one, today." The speaker was a tall, squarely built Black man with a set of thick, but well groomed dreadlocks. His face was sharp and angular, and he had a penetrating stare that fixed on me for a long second. Then he lidded his eyes like a serpent might, it was just the angle of his head that shifted and for a moment I felt like a mouse confronting a snake.

He came to meet me at the door and shook my hand. He smelled of cinnamon and other spices like a pumpkin pie. The smell made me want to sneeze and before I knew what happened, I turned away, covered my nose and sneezed, really hard. He had not let go of my hand yet and when I sneezed, his grip on me tightened and he breathed out a subtle, whispering sigh. He then let my hand go and turned back toward the room. He had a huge smile on his face and his teeth gleamed in the green light.

The strange lighting in the room which at first seemed a little too green and a little too bright, seemed less of a problem after I opened my eyes from my very juicy and uncomfortable sneeze. I found my handkerchief, cleaned myself up and sat down to read through the boring pamphlets about social tolerance and cultural acceptance.

The speaker, one Dr. Mbenga wore a mixture of modern clothing and some kind of tribal acccents. His shirt was long sleeved but of a dark fabric, I couldn't place. There was a long colorful sash he wore over one shoulder which drapped nearly to the floor. He moved around the room with a smooth gate and a stylish flourish while he lectured. His shoes appeared to be made of leather but had an unusual grass-like sole. He seemed a decent fellow, but his accent was so thick sometimes, I could barely understand him. This only added to the surreal never-ending quality of our first lecture with him.

This first day, the training was done in the evening and after two hours, we were allowed to go home. He mentioned we would have some exercises the next two days and the last day was an all day session. A sigh eminated collectively from the participants as the realization of the last day being the longest. We filed out like men condemned to a firing squad, heads hung low, backs bowed. Penny was already gone, but the smell of her perfume lingered and stood out over the BO of whichever of my unwashed colleagues had left after she did.

When I got home, my cat and dog were thrilled to see me, and after taking Max, my German Shepard, for a walk, Mini, my Maine Coon curled up in my lap for another great evening of TV dinners and Law and Order. I was kind of peckish though and had another TV dinner and a pint of Ben and Jerry's afterward. Before I went to sleep, I saw a stock report on the news about a relatively new company providing green lighting to businesses. This new lighting could store energy from the sun and transmit it inside of buildings, for no costs. Rancol Incorporated had just split its stock, making its shareholders even richer. The only drawback was its slightly greenish tint that workers said they hardly noticed after a time. The age of florescent light appeared to be at an end. I thought I should get some stock in this company. I would call my broker in the morning.

My sleep was rough and uneven. I had the strangest dreams as well. Something to do with eating some food that I was not particularly fond of but my father kept telling me to eat it. He was the law when I was a kid, so ate it I did. I remember fighting the food down, nearly gagging on every bite. I just remember shoveling one mouthful after another until it was gone. Then to punish me futher, he would have me clean up after dinner and my dream completed our ritual. It felt like hours, but my rest seemed to have only been a few seconds. I woke exhausted and in a cold sweat but a hot shower soon fixed that.

I took Max for his morning walk but he seemed skittish and unhappy and when I came back and filled Mini's dish he did not come running. Maine Coons take meal time very seriously. Something about needing to maintain that bulk being one of the biggest housecats known to man. I figured he was under the bed or hiding in a closet, as is his habit some mornings. I simply didn't have time to deal with him. Mini understood if he didn't eat in time, Max would have two breakfasts that morning.

I rushed to get dressed because I knew I was going to have to deal with doing my job and another half day of sensitivity training, so I knew I needed to be on time. Before I could even finish getting dressed, I was racked with abdominal pain like I had known only once. As a kid my appendix ruptured during a football game. All I remember was the screaming and the white-hot poker tearing through my side. This was worse than that. Through all the pain was the urge to go to the bathroom.

There are no words for happened next. I kept flushing and filling the bowl. Only after the fourth flush did the stabbing pain subside. When I looked in the bowl, there was blood everywhere. But the pain subsided almost as if it never happened. I took a shower, cleaned up. I got ready to call a doctor but by the time I was dressed, for the second time, I felt great and except for my missing cat and the queer looks from the old couple next door, I had never felt so energized. I threw away all of the remaining TV dinners from my fridge. Never ate another one of those damn things ever again.

The next day of sensitivity training had half as many people as the day before. We started with ten and were down to five. When I asked what happened to the others Dr. Mbenga gave me some smooth and plausible sounding answer and though I thought I wanted to argue, once he had said it, the urge to argue passed. Today, I had less difficulty understanding him, he seemed to be making a greater effort to enunciate. Perhaps someone had talked to HR and told him to speak slower and clearer. I was bored out of my mind by lunch and though we were told these exercises were important, I could barely see why. He had drawn a number of formulas on the board, something about statistical variability and cultural dispersion on the planet, blah, blah, blah. Lunch could not come soon enough.

"Hi, Penny," I was so happy to be anywhere besides that room.

"Hi Dave," was her morose reply. My goddess of cheer and sunshine was less than happy. This could not be.

"What's the matter? my curiosity overcoming my good sense.

"I am getting a transfer tomorrow. I will be going upstairs."

"Uh, I thought you would be happy, isn't that what you wanted?"

"Yes, but I..." she stuttered. "I was hoping I would get to see you before I went upstairs. They said I would be leaving here first thing in the morning, so I have to pack up this afternoon."

"Do you want to have lunch?"

"Yes," was her timid reply. But I was on top of the world.

"Let me do one more thing. See that exec over there, the one with the red tie clip? I was typing something for him and I want to make sure he gets it."

As the executive was moving down the hallway, most of the workers shied away from him, making every effort not to look at him and shuffled off as quickly as possible. Penny handed him the sheaf of papers, and he gave her a completely lecherous stare. His eyes all but undressed her, folded her clothing and proceeded to tie her to his office chair. Sensitivity training? Here was a guy who obviously had not been invited yet. As he grew closer, I felt a bit sick, but Penny ran ahead of him and grabbed my arm on the way out.

Needless to say, lunch was great. It was Penny's favorite restaurant so I would have eaten there no matter how I felt. I thought I wasn't going to have much of an appetite after this morning but by lunchtime, I'd changed my mind about eating. Under normal circumstances this place would have made me just shy of nauseous but today I was a beast. I ate a steak sandwich, slathered in onions and cheese and whatever other sundries they could pile on top. Then I ate two more. Penny had a healthy appetite, a hearty laugh and we enjoyed lunch like two old friends who hadn't seen each other in ages; and had starved the whole time. Outside the office, our mutual awkwardness was gone. We rushed back to the office and she ran back to her desk but she gave me a hug and a peck on the cheek. I covered my excitement with my briefcase until I could make it back to my seat.

There was more boring lecturing around social sensitivity to the disabled but I was listening more intently to Dr. Mbenga's voice. There was a transcendental quality to it, as if he was speaking directly to my soul. While what he was talking about had no substance, or perhaps I just didn't give a damn, the sound of it moved me, choked me up and I every word was sheer rapture. The rest of the afternoon sped by.

Penny was gone again when I was leaving but it was less traumatizing than yesterday. I had been able to spend a whole hour with her at lunch. Magnificent. I had to stop to get something to eat on the way home and I stopped into this dive, a place I normally can't even stand the smell of normally but I was just so damn hungry. I don't remember anything about the food other than the quantity of it. It seemed as if I could not get enough. There was something on the news about some outbreak, probably a flu or something. I couldn't concentrate on it so I quickly finished and rushed home.

When I got there, Max was positively ballistic. It took me twenty minutes to calm him down enough to get him on his leash. He ran around the apartment, jumping away from me as if he didn't recognize me. I wasn't feeling all that well, so this whole meltdown was the last thing I wanted to be bothered with. I was certain I was running a bit of a fever and wondered if I had overdone lunch and dinner. I was beginning to think maybe a call to a doctor might not be a bad idea. I sat down hoping it would give Max some time to calm down. After an hour, I felt like I might be able to complete a walk. Max had come and lay down next to me, eyeing me as if I was someone he wasn't sure he knew. I moved gingerly and gathered his leash and then led him to the door.

Once we got outside the building, he pulled at the leash as if he were trying to get away. I pulled back and tried to shorten the leash. As I gathered it, I took my eye off of him. In that moment, he bit my hand and ran away, faster than I had ever seen him run. I took off after him but after only a few seconds realized he was a dog and I was never going to catch him. I went in and bandaged my hand.

I am a bit of a wimp when it comes to alcohol application during any kind of personal first aid. Strangely enough, though the initial bite was painful, the alcohol didn't bother me at all. WebMD said I should see a doctor, in case of rabies, but I figured since Max was my dog, rabies wasn't likely, with him having had all of his shots. Surely it could wait until tomorrow after work.

The next morning I felt positively awful. I was sluggish and sick and thought I might be hung over, until I remembered, I had not had a drop to drink. Then I thought, it's that flu. Suddenly I was overcome with the urge to vomit and before I could take a step, I did, everywhere. It seemed like it would never stop, but finally it did. I went to the phone to call in and tell them I wasn't coming to work, but they put me on hold.

It felt as if my world was covered in a fog, the entire room was blurred, hazy, and indistinct. The room smelled atrocious, like someone had died right in my house. As the scent registered to my brainstem, I almost dropped the phone.

Dr. Mbenga's voice cut through the fog and fuzz in my head as clear as the first sunrise after a six month Alaskan night. "Clean up dat mess, take a shower, put on some clean clothes, and bring a change of clothes with you in your gym bag. Get your ass to work."

And just like that, I was able to clean up the vomit, shine the floors, iron a shirt and slacks, pack a gym bag and head off to work in record time. Halfway to work, the energy faded and I felt myself slowing down. Puking up one's guts is likely to be hard work so, maybe that why I was suddenly wasted. The train ride seemed interminable, every second stretching off into infinity.

I realized I was at the halfway point before I started feeling better. Suddenly I was hungry. Normally, riding the subway was a total appetite killer, the crowds, the noise, the stench, but today all I could smell was pork chops. My stop came and I got off the train and went upstairs into our office building. I kept smelling pork chops all the way into the building. I figured there was someone who worked in my office who was bringing in their chops from last night's dinner. Lucky bastard, they smelled outstanding.

When I got upstairs to the meeting hall, the good Dr. Mbenga escorted me to a smaller conference room on the same floor. Sadly Penny was nowhere to be found. I missed her already. He took me into the conference room and sat me down. His outfit was his traditional Black, with a white sash around his waist. He wore a silver ring with a large skull, each eye filled with modest-sized diamonds. I had never noticed it before. "Wait here, someone will be here shortly," his voice, I could easily liken it unto a heavenly choir, reverberated within me and I could nothing but obey. I sat. He placed his hand upon my head and I felt myself fall into a deep slumber.

When I woke, I knew a hunger unlike anything I had ever felt before. Hours passed, each one more excruciating then the last. I looked up and noticed the Roncol light was on and it had been very bright. It was so bright, how could I have missed it until now. Then I realized why I hadn't been aware of it. It was getting dimmer. The softer the light grew, the stronger my hunger became.

I called out. I shook the doorknob. I banged on the door. No one came. The hours passed. By the fourth hour, I had turned over the chairs. I used them to bang on the doors. I could barely make sense of what was happening. Imagine your favorite piece of music turned to the highest volume you could stand. And then double it. This was my hunger. I screamed myself hoarse. No one came.

I threw myself at the door, again and again. My body, now bloody smacked wetly against it. My pain momentarily overcame my hunger.

I sat down in a corner and waited. I rocked back and forth, my movement had become the heartbeat I could no longer feel in my chest. Then I heard the click of a key. I wanted to rise and did so with a snarl, the remnant of my voice. A light seared its way into my febrile brain and along with it a primal wave of fear, a desire to be anywhere in that moment but there. In the silhouette of the terrible light was a female shape but it was a man I heard.

"Wait here, Penny," said the voice of the lecherous executive from yesterday, and the light, that terrible light, I had to shield my eyes -- came from his tie clip. I wanted desperately to claw my way through the wall to escape.

"It stinks in here," was her reply.

She was pushed into the room and the door closed behind her. With the lights out and the terrible glare from his tie-clip gone, I could almost think again. But I was hungry. Maddeningly hungry, crazed with hunger. Pork, pork, pork, it's all I could think about. Make it stop, make it stop, make it stop. Penny heard me groan, and came toward me.

I knew what would make the hunger stop. Long pig.

"Dave, is that you?"

"Yes, Penny. And you smell so, so... good."

Thaddeus Howze © 2010, All Rights Reserved

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