It’s the Principle by Kate Maxwell

The cycle had begun and there was no stopping it now. Bruce was still leaning into the fridge and complaining when I came back from the photocopier. Apparently, there’d been three Sicilian pizza pieces leftover from yesterday’s lunch meeting which Bruce had wrapped in paper towels and stored in the fridge. And apparently, everyone knew he intended to eat them for lunch today as nobody really liked Sicilian, except him. Obviously, there was a very thoughtless person on staff, or an actual thief.  

Sue and Rosa waited behind Bruce, who was obstructing anyone else from getting their own lunches out of the refrigerator. Sue was blank-faced. Rosa seemed to have slipped into a coma. 

 “Sue, remember I said I’d take that pizza? Nobody objected.” 

“I remember,” Sue said. “Here, let me take a look.”

“Believe me, it’s not there, even though I stated in front of the whole staff that I’d save it for my lunch.” 

Sue rolled her eyes. “Still, two sets of eyes are better than one, Bruce.” 

She leaned around him, repositioned a few items, and grabbed her own lunch. 

“Maybe the cleaner threw them out?” she offered, sidling away. 

“The cleaner doesn’t touch the fridge,” Bruce insisted.

Rosa, who was seated at the table by now, may have nodded off, neck bent to her chest and a hand over her eyes. 

“Bruce, let Rosa get her lunch,” I said, pouring my coffee. 

“What?” He jerked around too quickly. Jars and bottles rattled in the side door. A plastic bag fell to the ground. An apple escaped from inside, rolling under the table at Sue’s feet. Rosa peeped out from spread fingers. 

“Can someone grab my apple? Bruce, just pass the plastic bag,” she sighed.

Bruce fossicked in the fridge.

 “Which one?” he asked as he stepped on her bag.  

“Careful!” Rosa called.  

“Why do people just shove plastic bags in here? Which one?” He stepped on the bag again. 

“Bruce!” Rosa cried.

 “What? What?” He scrunched his face at her. 

“My plastic bag! Under your bloody foot!” Rosa held out her hands as she gestured at it.

Bruce looked down at the bag. “Oh. Okay. No need to yell. You really need to use a lunchbox, Rosa.” 

He handed her the bag, after which Rosa slammed her squashed lunch onto the table. 

 “We actually need a rule,” Bruce continued. “Only lunchboxes allowed. There’s so many plastic bags, it’s impossible to find anything.” Yet another bag fell as he shoved things around in the refrigerator. “See, what I mean? Ridiculous!”

I know I shouldn’t have said it. The unspoken rule is to minimize “Bruce experiences” for the basic well-being of the office. But it just seemed too obvious not to counter, “Bruce, you said you wrapped the pizza in paper towels. That’s not exactly a lunchbox.” 

“Paul,” he glared at me over the fridge door, “obviously, I meant when you’re bringing in lunch. I was hardly going to take them home, only to return them in a lunchbox.” He snorted. “I mean, if other people do actually like Sicilian, maybe we need to order extra. You have to stick to the preferences you allocated. It’s not very thoughtful or fair to nominate pepperoni or supreme and then eat Sicilian. Especially if someone has clearly stated their intention to eat the leftovers.”  

Bruce had hit full stride. Sue sighed, scraped back her chair and left the lunchroom with her plate. 

“We all live in a society. That’s what I tell my young nephews all the time. Common-sense rules are what makes this country run. I mean, if someone got a bit peckish and wanted one piece, I’d understand, but I’d clearly stated I wasn’t bringing in my lunch. Someone’s been rather selfish, I’m afraid.” 

Rosa picked up her squashed egg sandwich and left, muttering, “For Christ’s sake.” 

It was just Bruce and me now. I refilled my cup, suggesting, “The ground floor cafe’s open, you know.” 

“I know, but it’s the principle really, isn’t it? I don’t touch people’s things, and I expect the same respect in return.” 

Well, technically, it wasn’t yours, just free office pizza provided by management. But this time I only thought it. This particular pizza lament would likely continue into the afternoon, at the water cooler, the washbasin…and it would definitely be brought up at the next staff meeting.

Bruce frowned at me. “What did you eat for lunch? Only having coffee?”  

“Oh, bit of a tummy upset.” I patted my stomach. “Anyway, I’m off to finish a report.” 

It was true, I didn’t really like Sicilian, and it had given me a bit of indigestion, but it was the principle really. 

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