The view from the office window got me out of bed. I arrived at the archives office right on sunrise, to watch the sunlight claw its way over the Rimutaka Range, fighting through layers of cloud thick as a stew, and dance across Wellington Harbour. In winter the hills wore a cap of snow and the water was like frozen glass. We turned the heaters up and hung dripping scarfs on the backs of our chairs.

I don’t know why they gave me the job. I was 22 and the only work experience I had was sorting the parcels on the nightshift at the post office. Maybe they thought sorting the archives wouldn’t be much different. My job was to retrieve government files from the one hundred kilometres of archives, stored in three underground levels. Every half hour a batch of requests would be dispatched. I donned a maroon lab coat, a pair of white gloves and pushed a trolley into the dusty depths of the building. The race was on.

Shipping lists from the 1800s, probates, military files, top-level disaster inquiries; what really fascinated me and Jolene were the coroners reports. Jolene was my age and my new best friend. She was thin as a pauper’s probate, with blue eyes and straight black hair. She cunningly used her chain-smoking abilities to eavesdrop on gossip in the smokers’ room. She would lean towards me and confide, ‘We are like kids here in an adults’ world.’ She was right. We couldn’t take anything seriously. In our downtime we were supposed to work through a mountain of photocopying for the historians, but instead would photocopy 1960s tourism campaign posters to turn into Christmas cards, or hold meetings deep between the stacks to discuss how to best advance our romantic ambitions with our co-workers. Jolene had the hots for James, the English archivist who ran to work everyday, showering and arriving at his computer still buttoning up his shirt, causing Jolene to dash to the smokers’ room to calm down. I fancied the librarian, Jess, but in retrospect pretending to be too dumb to use the photocopier so I could ask her for help probably wasn’t the best pick-up strategy.
There were no rules. I came from the post office, where a clock-on computer carefully recorded your every minute. At archives we were expected to put in a 36 hour week, but no one really knew how long you spent there. I started missing sunrise, arriving just as James was taking his lunch break. I busied myself answering scam emails, leading on a poor Nigerian man named Rovi Zandi and keeping the office informed of the updates. I joined the indoor soccer team and wrote the shortlist for slogans to appear on the backs of our shirts. Welcome to Archives New Zealand – please confine all Class-A drugs to the corridors, was deemed too long, so we went with, Archives New Zealand – would you like files with that?

Eventually Jolene and I were hauled in front of the manager and firmly yelled at, like the naughty kids were we. Jolene was mortified but I shrugged it off. We deserved it.

It was the last job I had before I moved to Australia. I had my leaving drinks at the Thistle Inn, and the big-wigs from Appraisal, Preservation and Arrangement and Description slapped me on the back and said, ‘We’ll miss ya, son!’ Actually, maybe they didn’t. I drunk so much that I caught the bus home to my old house where I hadn’t lived for three years.

I walked past Archives New Zealand yesterday, and wished I still had my swipe card. Free morning tea muffins, a telephone with my own extension, a take-home cheque of $375 a week, I think about it every sunrise. That huge window over city. The stern, shadowy hills. The sunlight sharp as a paper cut. The harbour turning deep blue by nine; muffin time. Just another day at the office.