Martha, the office secretary, has been fired for embezzlement. An e-mail was circulated today hinting darkly at “financial damage, which is substantial.” She was my favorite person in this office. It appears she has been making unauthorized withdrawals from the company's checking account since 1999.
“We are changing the locks,” the e-mail said. “Please do not leave any valuables around.” At this I smiled: I can't picture Martha sneaking back onto the premises of the company that has just thrown her out in disgrace, and lifting my forgotten cell phone to get even. Then it dawned on me: this was a judgement, a brand—she has taken our money so now we treat her like scum and don't give her even a sliver of the benefit of the doubt.
I found myself thinking compulsively about the news. Actually, mostly I just thought about Martha. She is a short, pretty Filipino girl, 25 or so. She helps her ailing mom who is usually either in the hospital or in urgent need of going there. Did she need the money for her mom? They live out in Hunter's Point, in the ghetto; they are not well-to-do… Can she go to jail for this?.. She usually takes care of the payroll disbursements; who will do it now? I was supposed to get my check today…
Coming back from lunch, I bumped into her coming out of the elevator, eyes red from crying. It took me a second to regain my voice and say “Hi, Martha,” but she had already passed me, carefully avoiding my eyes, and was gone.