February 19, 2010 § Leave a comment
I envied him. That jolly bastard with his unmistakable mop of white hair, laughing heartily, cheap wine in a paper cup in his hand. 69p for one hundred. Booker. I knew because I bought them for myself at home. I just couldn’t be arsed to wash up any dirty glasses. The wine was foul. I was tackling it one dreadful sip at a time, wishing there was a sink in this office I could drain it into.
Frank was retiring. As of twelve minutes ago he was no longer Area Manager of Siemens Traincare Facility, a post he had held for forty years. Man and boy, as they say. His hi-vis jacket, always washed each weekend and brought in, gleaming, every Monday morning, would no longer hang in its customary place on the back of the office door. He was being clucked over by the gaggle of middle-aged women that mostly comprised our small office, imploring him to keep in touch, when really they didn’t give a shit either way. As retirement parties go, this was pretty dire. A turgid office celebration after working hours had finished on a cold Friday in a dark, wet February. Oh there were balloons, I guess; a random, haphazard collection of them hastily inflated and pinned lazily in a bunch on the wall. And cake. I didn’t even think there was cake at retirements parties? Wasn’t there supposed to be a gold watch or something? Something meaningful, something concrete for recognising the sobering fact that this man had given four decades of his life to the maintenance and upkeep of a bunch of trains?
I worked on the spreadsheets. Data entry. Occasionally, I was tasked with faxing invoices, a job that actually required me to leave my seat and walk to another part of the building. After lunch, this was the highlight of my day. Two years and three months I’d been here. This was supposed to be temporary. Stop-gap. But I still sat dejectedly on the bottom rung of a ladder I had no desire to climb. Tonight, I sat apart from them, the only one seated at his desk. Abruptly, Sandra let loose one of her infuriating laughs. I had steadily grown to hate that bitch, my immediate superior. She should have been mentoring me, at least pretending that she cared enough about my development to actually teach me a few things around here. Her heart wasn’t in it. Mine wasn’t either. I guess I couldn’t blame her; I gave her little to work with. But still, I hated that bitch.
The office door opened. Craig, Frank’s understudy, walked in briskly, all smiles. Under his arm was tucked a large bulky present, wrapped up in bright red paper, with a fancy yellow ribbon tied around it. Hard worker, that Craig. A jobsworth, and no mistake. He had every reason to be happy – he had been waiting for this day. Time for him to fill the big man’s shoes. Come Monday, it was Craig who would be Area Manager, and Frank would be a distant memory.
‘Okay then, everybody,’ he called out to the ten people assembled, by way of shutting them up from their banal conversations. ‘It’s a very sad day. Well, for us anyway!’ He laughed at his own joke. ‘I, for one, am going to miss Frank tremendously. He’s been an inspiration to us, and for me personally, and has led this team with a smile since he joined, I’m reliably informed, forty years ago. Yes, forty! That’s dedication! So, Frank, we got you a little gift. Something to remember us by.’
Frank broke away from the others, set his plastic cup on the nearest desk, and humbly accepted the proffered gift. He tore back the paper with one giant, calloused hand. I caught a glimpse of the box. It was a DustDevil. A fucking vacuum cleaner. ‘Now you can keep your home as clean as you kept the trains!’ proclaimed Craig. The women tittered. Frank, ever the gentlemen, accepted the gift with grace, smiling broadly and shaking Craig’s outstretched hand.
‘I’ll miss you all,’ he said simply. ‘Now let’s get this party started.’
Sandra took that as her cue to press play on the portable stereo she had brought in especially for the occasion. She had even made her own CD. Inexplicably, she had chosen Wham’s ‘Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go’ as the opening track. I drained the rest of my wine in disgust, ready to make my excuses and leave. At that point, I noticed Frank walking over to me. He carefully laid his new toy, the fucking DustDevil, on the carpet and pulled a nearby chair over to mine. He hitched his trousers up, and sat down with an over-exaggerated sigh. For a moment he didn’t speak, just sat there adjacent to me, the pair of us looking on as the women started whooping and dancing.
“You don’t belong here.” He stated simply, as was his way. He turned to me, his eyes stern under his bushy, white eyebrows. “You came here over two years ago. I hired you. You told me you wanted to be a writer. You told me you just needed a job to put some money together. You told me this was temporary.”
“I know, but I…” I began.
“Let me finish,” he said, cutting me short. “Siemens has been good to me. I made it to the top, and I’m glad I did. But I had no talent. You do. You showed me your stuff. It’s not too late for you. But it might be, if you don’t get out of this place.”
Frank was right. I smiled at him. I rose, walked over to Sandra. She stopped dancing as she saw me approach. Uncertainty was written across her face. She hated me too, but that was alright.
“I fucking hate it here,” I said. “So, I’m gone”. I turned, headed towards Frank to get my coat. He was smiling, too.
Photo credit: Amy Massey