The office is uncharacteristically busy today. She has barely stopped for breath all morning — between the mass of papers stacked on her desk, waiting for a free spot by the Xerox machine, the zoning forms she had to scan into the database, and the scanner that refuses to scan.

Still, when Marija Grybauskė appears at the door, blocking the hallway light, Vasara cheers inwardly. It’s been close to a week since she left the pigeons in the archives, and she is itching to get back inside. But Marija just plonks down a bag full of thick, wadded envelopes beside her, followed by her signature bark.

“Urgent. Get these to the Paštas quick, before it closes — Henrikas’s orders. And I know it isn’t like you, but try not to forget: Registered. Post.” As if Vasara were a dim-witted child. Marija taps the table with a painted fingernail and swaggers out. Vasara shoots a venomous gaze at Marija’s back, but it gives her scant satisfaction. Come on. Archives! There must be something to send over.

Vasara pushes her chair back from the desk, scraping the floorboards loudly. She lifts the bag with lazy arms. Post office it is, then. She’ll get a new phone card while she’s at it. Soon. Soon she hopes to get a full-time position. A proper paycheck. A living wage. Then she’ll get that Nokia she’s been dreaming of, and she’ll be able to talk to Daina at the press of a button.

The air outside is bitingly cold, but crisp and clean. Turning off Respublikos Gatve toward the Rokiškis post office, she passes a familiar convenience store with rows of hard liquor on sale. Stiff steel wires choke the bottles’ necks, locks designed to keep out petty pilferers. Vasara used to be a pro at wrenching the bottles free. She straightens her shoulders and quickens her pace. Not anymore. She’s beyond that.

The brisk walk lifts her spirits and Vasara returns from the post office ready to tackle all the Marijas of Rokiškis. Which is fortunate, because Marija pounces before she has finished unwinding the scarf around her neck.

“Don’t take off your jacket!” Marija kicks at a carton of files on the floor near Vasara’s desk. “These were sent down from Accounting. They need to go to the archives.”

Accounting doesn’t know she exists, Vasara notes wryly. Most probably, Marija was told to do it herself. Still, Vasara smiles amicably.

“Gerai. Sure. Just give me a minute.”

Marija’s eyes glint suspiciously, but she leaves her with the box.

The smell doesn’t hit her immediately. But after Vasara puts the box down near the entrance and begins exploring the dimly lit aisles, a fetid odor assaults her senses. Soon, she sees the mess. Unruly splotches cover the floor, and stark white drippings, stained with black, are splattered over shelves and window ledges. Vasara clenches her fists and punches the stuffy air. Mission accomplished. Sort of. At least the first part has gone according to plan.

(Excerpted from Family First, Issue 628)