Not many people have heard this story, and I’m sure the guy I’ll be talking about doesn’t even remember that day. Sure thing, he won’t care.
At the time – and the time was Spring 2015 – my personal London rat race consisted of three hours a day spent in the tube commuting from Woolwich to a blue-carpeted office near Kensington with windows sealed with cement.
There, I would spend 40 hours per week translating travel content from English into my native Italian and into French and into Spanish, while my colleagues would shout at each other in Gujarati all the time.
And since at the time I didn’t yet take seriously the proverb better wed over the mixen than over the moor, I was hearing nothing but Valencian and Spanglish at home.
The Boss had created this multilingual role especially for me after rejecting my application for another position. It was good to get a job tailored to my skills, but too many languages will annihilate your brain in the long term, and I wasn’t even allowed to wear my adored Nike trainers at work.
We were all required to dress like penguins even if we never had any client meetings, even if we stayed all time behind a desk in a small three-floor building with just five employees per floor that – being it a family-run company – were, very often, relatives.
No t-shirts, no trainers, absolutely no jeans, no colourful or flashy fabrics, and men had to be in suit and tie at all times: we were forced to follow this super formal dress code even if nobody would ever see us from the outside (not even from the windows, that – believe it or not – were all sealed with cement).
So the office was full of very elegant but spectacularly incompetent individuals.
Every sort of progress I tried to make in my role was being repeatedly obstructed by ridiculously pointless processes based on family oligarchy and nepotism instead of competence and experience, and they wouldn’t let me perform my job to a decent standard.
In addition to that, all my hard work was being fucked up by this smiling remote IT team in India that was having fun pasting my Italian content into the French website and vice versa, because they had too many spreadsheets opened at the same time.
I quickly ended up doing nothing all day long.
Nevertheless, as far as I was sitting at my desk from 9 to 5 wearing a smart black dress and looking extremely busy, The Boss was satisfied.
Apart from the 30-minute lunch break, we were not allowed to use social media, to look at our mobiles, to read online newspapers.
The Boss’ desk and chair were placed just behind our shoulders, so he could see our screens, and control our every single move and send us warning emails to report unbelievably stupid things.
There was also a system of CCTV cameras in every single room of the office, apart from (I hope) the toilet. But there was nothing around that even the most desperate robber in their mind would be interested in.
In the beginning, during my first couple of months working at the blue-carpeted office, The Boss had been nothing but amazing: he bought us Lindt chocolate bears he’d throw at our desks from a mile just to see us laughing, he would take us to Starbucks for a chat, he organised small parties for our birthdays, he looked so loyal and honest – just like someone who tries to see the best in every single idiot he has employed.
Then, from one day to another and at a zero-notice, he turned into somebody else.
It came as a shock to me to hear him shouting at people on the stairs and insulting them until they cried, I couldn’t believe or stand the way he was humiliating everybody in front of everyone and how he was manipulating us and putting everybody up against each other.
We all became suspicious and insecure, we wouldn’t help each other anymore, we even stopped chatting at the lunch break.
The bottom line was when we saw him firing three of us with a snap of his fingers and without the slightest reason; after this, seven more people resigned.
Seven people out of twenty.
Those who remained were his family members.
It was a collapse to see this otherwise clever, loving and incredibly amusing man suddenly spending his life playing with our lives like a spoiled kid having a great time exterminating lines of ants.
That afternoon, he was on the ground floor installing a clocking machine that got mysteriously broken the following day. We’d never had or needed this before, we basically signed in and out on a register, and – to be honest – everyone was always on time, but the bastard still wanted a clocking machine installed just to make us appreciate the extent to which he had no idea what to focus on.
As soon as the wall clock would mark at 5 o’clock, I’d leave.
I was still spending my time doing nothing relevant all day, I had no reason to stay overtime just like I had no reason to worry about the problems he was manifestly having with his stupid clocking machine.
I’m not a handyman.
– Where are you going?
– Home. It’s 5 o’clock.
– It’s not 5 o’clock.
– I swear it is 5 o’clock.
– It’s 5 o’clock when I decide it’s 5 o’clock.
– Look at my mobile: 5 o’clock. It’s not an opinion. See you.
To everyone’s surprise, I didn’t get fired.
I left the building smiling, just to burst into tears around the corner.
I cried my heart out for three million years.
Had I waited for one more fraction of second, I would have smashed the bloody clocking machine into his damn face. My hands were trembling, I didn’t know who I was, I didn’t know how I’d ended up there, I didn’t know what the fuck I was doing with my life.
And the worst part is that I didn’t know in what language I was thinking all this.
It wasn’t him, it was me.
I didn’t want a better office job, a better boss, another clocking machine.
I had no respect for the status quo nor the Christmas party.
I became the eighth person to resign from the company that Spring. Since then, I never ceased to look for a different way. Every time I think I’ve found it, something else happens and I find myself lost again, but every time I get a bit closer.
Boss, we’ve never had the chance to speak again since then, and I know that you don’t like this story and don’t like me anymore either. I can picture you now. You boringly sit at your desk covered in Maltesers, wearing a suit that does not match your trousers, you’ve had about 19 coffees since this morning and you don’t know what the hell you should buy Sam for her birthday.
Somebody has probably told you at some point during these years that you need to get some Omega 3 to avoid having a heart attack, so you sent Natalia to buy a healthy box for you, which, after 6 months, is still on your desk, unopened.
You’re still making great money with the stuff I translated for you, but you hate that I labelled the company a blue-carpeted office with windows sealed with cement, you hate that I called you a bastard.
But you know what, Boss?
Certain bastards come your way just to save you from yourself.
And your anger will love them until you die.