But the intercom just mumbled something short, and the door buzzed. He lurched for it, but as he pushed it, the buzzing stopped, and it wouldn’t move. He pulled, he pushed. Reluctantly he gave the intercom another, apologetic push, and just as he did so, the door buzzed again. He threw himself against it and it clicked and opened, and he staggered into a dark grey lobby. The door swung slowly shut behind him. The only way out of the lobby was a concrete staircase leading to the first floor.
At the top he peered through the glass in the door to what was clearly the main office and reception area. He could see desks and computers and people milling and tapping. He was about to knock on the door when a body appeared at the glass, there was a click, and the door opened.
“Can you wait in here?” she said, directing him into a kitchen and dining area. He sat down. “Would you like a cup of tea or coffee?”
What now? Yes, he would love a cup of tea. Tea was good for people suffering from shock, which he supposed was similar to feeling acutely stressed, which is what he was now. But tea made by strangers, tea made by strangers in public kitchen facilities, possibly with unusual milk, which is to say UHT, unusual tea made by unusual people in unusual kitchens was rarely nice tea, tea that would sooth the drinker, relieving stress and enhancing performance. Plus he never received the correct amount of sugar despite the simple clarity of his instructions (imagine a level teaspoon of sugar, well just a little bit less than that, so you can see some of the spoon all the way around), and chose instead to make commentary (I don’t know why you bother with that amount, surely you can’t taste it, that’s just silly), failing to realise that it was of course precisely the smallness of the amount of sugar that made accuracy more important: a few grains either way in a builder’s four-teaspooned atrocity being neither here nor there, but at the low end of the sweetness spectrum, undue deference to the finely honed instructions, a failure to appreciate the curvature of the micro-heap, for example, could lead to catastrophic, irreversable oversweetening, or, worse, a bland beverage, equivalent to that which, yes, had no sugar at all, placing its drinker in the socially awkward situation of having to choose between downing the pleasureless liquid without comment, or risk offending the host by making a surruptitious move on the sugarbowl, to add a visibly countable number of extra grains, rendering the drink drinkable in the true sense of the word.
“No. Thankyou. Yes. A coffee, please. Thanks. No sugar, and a little bit of milk.” Coffee was a bitter drink, was his opinion, no point in denying the obvious and trying to alter it with sugar, and so, surely, a safer bet under the circumstances.
She moved to the filter machine, which appeared reassuringly full and steaming. Nothing quite as bad as cold stale coffee. Let’s not start on that.