Scenes of life - Week 001
‘Allysse, do you have a minute?’
‘Sure,’ I reply turning away from my desk. It has just turned eight o’clock and I have not yet had time to turn my computer on.
I follow the company managing director, C., down a flight of stairs and into the new covid secure meeting room. Multiple tables are squished together to create a large rectangle, keeping people at a distance from one another. There is a formality to this set-up that has rarely been part of our meetings before. A sofa is pushed at the far end of the room, unused and gathering dust, a reminder of the relaxed meeting room this once was.
In silence, C. opens the door and walks in. She pushes the door far back for me to follow without having to touch the door. I follow as quickly as I can, the soft close mechanism giving me plenty of time. The door clicks shut and I notice D. sitting at one edge of the rectangle. D. is the company HR manager. Are we about to discuss my resignation? This seems a little excessive a set-up if for it.
The day before, sitting at home, I had typed a formal resignation letter, leaving out my discontent with the company. Was this going to be my exit interview before being shown out of the building?
‘Have a seat,’ D. says.
I grab the nearest chair and sit. I glance at C. in front of me and D. on my left side. Both of them have a pile of paper in front of them. I am empty-handed.
‘We wanted to talk to you this morning about your role,’ C. begins. ‘As you know, we have suffered heavy losses during the pandemic, and while we are recovering, we are still in a difficult financial position.’
I nod. Yes, I have attended all the return to work meetings. She proceeds by dissecting all of the current aspects of my role that will not resume in the near future. It is clear that this meeting is not about my resignation. My stomach tingles with excitement at the news I am about to release in this room, but first I need to hear the words I have been dreading for weeks, the ones that have pushed me to reactivate all of my job alerts in August. I listen and nod, trying my best to maintain a neutral expression as I wait for a pause in the director’s monologue.
‘So, we have come to the conclusion that we need to have a redundancy of one.’
C. looks at me with her best sympathetic face, her eyes not carrying the weight of the rest of her features.
‘Can I…’ I interrupt before she carries on.
I try not to smile but it is difficult to hide the glee I feel at the idea of thwarting C. carefully laid plans. This is not one of the decision she is going to impose, all of her might falling down on me, powerless and disposable.
‘Have you spoken with A. yesterday?’ A. is my line manager, the one I sent my resignation letter to.
‘No, why?’ She enquired bemused.
‘Well, I sent a resignation letter.’
‘Do you have a copy of it,’ D. interjects before any silence has time to settle. I turn my head to him, almost expecting to find him on his feet. He is still sitting.
‘I don’t have a printer at home, so no. But I can forward you the e-mail,’ I add calmly.
‘No, it’s okay,’ he answers sheepishly, realising his outburst wasn’t as controlled as he would have liked.
I turn my attention back to C. She is still quiet, unsure on how to react. ‘So huh, about your notice period…’ she stumbles on her words, the meeting having gone awry, her notes useless, the paperwork in front of her of no value.
‘I’m flexible with it. I’d prefer to keep working for a couple of weeks to tie up any lose ends and pass on some of my skills to the rest of the team. But I’m open to discussion,’ I add.
Another silence settles over the room. I look at C. and D., waiting for their next sentence. I am not supposed to be the one in charge in this meeting.
‘Well, if you could go home today. We were going to ask you to return home anyway. You’ll be paid in full for the day,’ C. hastens to add.
‘And we’ll let you know about you’re notice,’ D. remembers to comment.
‘No problem. I’ll go and gather my bag.’ I raise from my chair, having dismissed myself from this meeting. C. and D. nod.
Without a glance back, I turn to open the door and jump up the stairs two at a time. Back upstairs, I automatically spray my hands with sanitiser. I watch the motions of my fingers woven together, sliding along my palms and over my wrists. I am unable to understand how I feel. C.’s words finally reach my brain. So, we have come to the conclusion that we need to have a redundancy of one.
A weight drops painfully in my stomach, my breathing accelerating. I want to collapse on the floor and cry for all that has changed, for all that has been lost. But before any tear can fall, I remember that I have another job waiting for me, that I am safe, and I want to laugh. I take a breath, knowing I cannot remain in the corridor indefinitely. Through the door of the main office, I can see my colleagues chatting together. I step in. Their gaze turn to me expectantly. Most of them are unaware of my resignation, all of them are ignorant of the company redundancy plan. I open my mouth but no sounds come out. A torrent of words is ready to escape but I need to contain them. I am unable to trust my emotions. I open my mouth again, slowly explaining the facts. My colleagues eyes bulge out of their sockets as I go on but before they can comment, they are called to the meeting room by C..
I watched their figures disappear down the stairs. I do not move until I hear the faint click of the door closing behind them. I am alone in the office. Around me, the computers hum quietly, the screens bright and filled with folders and images I know too well. I notice for the first time since before lockdown began, the grey carpet below my feet. Dark lines of grey swirl around a background of light grey, dents from the desk set-up of pre-covid time still visible on the floor. The tinted window darken the room, the only bright streaks of light coming from the crack of one open window. Behind me, the photo booth stands massive and deserted. I do not turn around to look at it, cold metal draped in black.
I tear my gaze away from the desks around and step into my new office, the one that use to be the pre-covid meeting room. I make a beeline for my desk, ignoring the pile of junk that has accumulated in the middle of the room, creating a natural separation between desks.
Without thinking, I grab anything personal I have left laying around. From my drawer I extract an old toothbrush and a tube of toothpaste, dehydrated packets of soup I had forgotten about, a box of sweets I probably will never eat, a stress ball decorated by a long gone colleague – one side of it punctured from a pen stab, a selection of pens and highlighters, and finally from the top of the desk I grab the cactus I was offered at Christmas by a previous line manager. I hold it in my hand, hovering above the bag. 2019 feels so far away. It was a gentler time in this company, one where people were more than numbers, one when I liked working in this place. My past team members all have their cactus on their desks too, the letters of their first name glinting gold against the matt grey pot. The light bouncing off mine catches my eye, startling me out of my reverie. I cradle the cactus between the rest of my belongings, securing it in place before zipping my bag closed.
I can hear my colleagues moving up the stairs, the echo of their whispers carrying to where I am.
‘They didn’t even tell us about you,’ one of my them says as she bursts into the room. ‘It was just about the extra hours,’ another one adds.
‘I’m sorry about that,’ I comment.
‘It’s not your fault.’
‘I know, but still…’ I cannot help feeling guilty at my freedom while they have to remain in the office nearly three hours past our official hours. Unpaid.
I do not know what to say. I have no idea if I will ever be back in the building. I should say something meaningful but I did not know I would have to say goodbye today. I want to hug everyone rather than have to explain how much I’ll miss this team, our jokes and common frustrations. But I cannot. Our bodies should not touch for fear of transmitting the virus to one another. So I stand still, awkwardly telling them I’ll miss them, telling them I’ll organise a leaving do of sort.
C.’s voice booms through the office. ‘Back to work now.’
We cannot see her from where we stand, but the message is clear.
‘Well… I’m not going to keep you any longer,’ I don’t add but we all know that me staying, us chatting is fuelling C. with anger that will eventually fall on the remaining members of staff.
We say our goodbyes once more and before I leave I add quietly, ‘you know, there are jobs out there.’
They nod in a silent acknowledgement of how we have all been feeling since being brought back into the office. ‘I’ll be in touch,’ I say louder. I wave one last time, sling my bag over my shoulder, and hops down the stairs, the office door firmly shut as I pass it.
Back on the streets, I walk as normally as I can until I am out of sight of the office. The building left behind I break into a run and laugh, the surge of emotions too strong to contain. I stop at a traffic light, my breath jagged, my body still shaking from laughter.
‘I…’ I start at no one at all. ‘I… it’s…’ I cannot comprehend what has happened within the last hour. I was about to be made redundant. The agony of the past few days over whether to accept the new job or not fill me with dread. A shiver runs down my spine at the thought I could have rejected this new role, choosing to give one last chance to my current employer. ‘It’s…’ the words die in a puff of air. I shake my head in an attempt to bring clarity to my thoughts but I cannot.
I am invaded by images of a world in which I didn’t get offered a new job, a world in which the news of redundancy would have crashed on me, annihilating the last of my faith in my workplace. In this other universe I would have been in tears, sobbing in the middle of the street.
Instead I am standing at a traffic light, waiting for a break in traffic to cross the road, laughing. I choke on the last of my laughter, coughing air out of my lungs. I close my eyes and inhale as deeply as I can. I straighten my back, open my eyes, look left and right. There are no cars in sight. I cross the road as calmly as possible. I still want to run. I want to jump too and scream at nothing in particular. My steps quicken but I force my body to slow down, but my feet insist on skipping a step or two on a regular basis. I gaze straight in front of me, not truly seeing the world there. Images of the meeting play in front of my eyes, the word ‘redundancy’ echoing loudly in my ears before my brain reminds itself that it does not matter. Not today. My face breaks into a smile too wide for my muscles. I try to stop it, not wanting to look like an idiot in the streets, but I find I have no ability to restrain the movements of my body in that instant. So I let go, my face smiling, my body running and walking in turns, my thoughts flooding me in a cacophony of incoherent noise. My chest expands, heavy with too many feelings pushing against my ribcage. My throat tightens until the weight of all I’m feeling is forced out by the rising tickles of my belly.
I am happy and I am sad. I am anxious and I am relieved. I am the Allysse of all the universes, time and space wrapped around me in a flood of possibilities. I let it all wash over me, incapable of stopping the onslaught of emotions. I know this will pass but for now I can do nothing else but wait until my emotions exhaust themselves to leave me with an overwhelming sense of relief and gratitude to the gods I do not believe in.