We both stand behind his office door in silence, waiting for him to let us in.
We don’t even bother acknowledging each other’s presence. The more I contemplate her spotty face and exaggeratedly upright posture, the more my detestation for her continues to grow and grow and grow.
She acts as if everything she’s ever owned, even the blue pen she is holding now, she’d had to pay money for, so she needs to make sure you run out of your own life credit as well.
Even her spectacles look like they want to kill you.
Her effort to sound like if she was born and bred in the UK is huge, but I’m sure she wouldn’t even want to be from London; the capital is way too inclusive for her. Some remote residential area in Berkshire would certainly suit her best.
You can tell her first language is Spanish only when she pronounces her home country’s name. She speaks in English like a supermarket self-service cashier machine, and it’s only when she articulates words such as therefore that you can see how hard she is working not to let you find out that she comes from a third-world state in South America.
She certainly doesn’t seem to realise that her body and face look as if they were reduced into bits, pulled back together and eventually varnished with a fake tanning spray.
I don’t know how old she is.
All I know is that she looks ten years older than her age.
She’s been behaving this way towards me from the beginning, right since that Skype conversation we had three months ago when she came up with “ok you are coming to do this Erasmus for entrepreneurs placement in our company but I don’t want you to overshadow my team“.
She is the company’s HR manager and she is also the CEO’s right-hand man’s girlfriend, so I expected to have to deal with her all the time, but I thought and hoped that the degree she was allowed to piss me off on a daily basis was going to be somewhat limited.
The CEO is a guy who won The Apprentice in the past and now shares a business with Lord Sugar.
I’d met him only once before, but I liked his business model and found him reasonably cool, so when I was granted an Erasmus for entrepreneurs fellowship to spend a couple of months working at a UK-based company, I thought we would make a perfect match.
My fellowship was meant as an exchange of skills, that sort of things they would call “a win-win situation.”
The golden boy accepted my invitation, we did the paperwork for the European Union, and, on a Monday morning during Spring 2019, I joined his team in the London office.
That same Monday morning, on my first day of work, I ended up in hospital.
But don’t worry, the evil eye certainly doesn’t exist.
My soft tissue injury didn’t absolutely move to pity the HR woman and, as soon as I came back from the St. Bartholomew’s Hospital, the war began.
In order to beat a completely disarmed and unaware rival, she grabbed the most harmful weapon she could have ever used.
I don’t know how, but she managed to find the only thing that can and will kill someone like me.
She left me with nothing to do for 9 hours a day, every day, five days a week, whilst silently keeping track of my every move.
At the time, the company was organising a big event with Piers Morgan and Lord Sugar I was super excited about, Lord Sugar having always been a hero for me.
There was a lot to get done in the office in view of the event, but no matter how hard I tried to get involved into something, no matter how much help I was offering to colleagues, no matter how kind I was trying to be towards people, no one would speak to me.
I was being treated as if I was invisible – or better, I wasn’t being treated at all.
If I asked them basic questions such as where are you from, what football team do you support, how was your weekend they would murmur something random in return without even taking their eyes off the screens.
Or they wouldn’t answer at all.
Sure thing, they wouldn’t reciprocate that or any other question.
I later found out that the HR woman had told the office that I was there to “teach” them.
And who knows what else she’d said.
But beautiful things are often born out of boredom and loneliness, and because I had nothing better to do, I started drawing pictures and caricatures of my colleagues.
This is something I’ve been doing for all my life: each time I feel trapped, I portray the people around me.
I spent all my school and university years drawing.
The HR woman was immediately informed that I was drawing, and she arranged a formal meeting where she told me that people were talking about that, and that I might have “asked permission” to draw pictures.
Ask. Permission. To. Draw.
What a Glorious Peak of Utter Ignorance.
The only question she came up with when she heard that I was working as a sketch artist at some point in my life was: What? Do you mean you made money out of this?
From that moment on, I stopped drawing.
Shortly after, I received a formal disciplinary request from one of the managers.
I was ordered not to speak in Italian with the other Italian girl. Not even on our own. Not even at the coffee machine.
I was told this was her decision, but that she was too scared to tell me.
I said this was ridiculous and that I wasn’t going to do that. And I stopped talking to the miserable compatriot.
On the week following the 2019 European Elections, I was approached by someone who solemnly announced that Italy was being ruled by fascists.
I still wonder: how comes that if you vote for the right-wing in the UK you are proudly conservative, but If they do the same elsewhere in the world, they are just a gang of fascists?
Anyway, based on what he said, he was clearly talking about Spain.
And then about Greece.
How fun would it be to convince him that Yugoslavia is still on the map.
I reminded him that, on the other hand, his own country was being ruled by a lot of unbelievable incompetents who weren’t even able to sort Brexit out decently. He replied that he had voted Leave at the Brexit referendum because he wants what’s best for England.
He voted Leave because of England.
Then ask me why I support Scottish independence.
A bit later, a terrible fight – and when I say terrible, I really mean it – developed between two male colleagues over the correct way to pronounce Spandau Ballet.
The one that lost the debate got bullied every single day ever since.
People who didn’t get my jokes about Cristiano Ronaldo would laugh out loud at that.
I really couldn’t avoid this because these two were sitting on my left and on my right.
The stupidest was obviously on the right.
After ten days spent like that, I finally got to speak with the CEO.
During the few minutes of our first and last business meeting, I was:
1) lectured on how much money he has made
2) reminded of how successful he is
3) informed of how challenging working with Lord Sugar is
4) asked the following two questions: “have you got a property in London?” and “how old are you?“.
As I reminded the golden boy that you should never ask a lady her age, especially with that attitude, he cut the conversation short.
I insisted that he at least surfed my website once, which he did in 30 seconds, and all he eventually gave me in terms of business advice was saying “I don’t like the logo, it’s cheap”.
As for the rest, the only person I was relentlessly dealing with was the HR woman.
She was always busy arranging these pointless meetings where, with a sordid smile, she would affirm things like “I’m here to hire and fire” and “I’ve fired people who were really good at their jobs but everyone hated them”.
That damn psycho smile.
I could perfectly picture herself being commissioned by Mexican drug traffickers to get rid of you and then stabbing you to death without ever losing that smile.
After all, she’d already assassinated one of her own dreams.
In fact, I later found out that she originally wanted to be a journalist and she even graduated in journalism back in South America, just to end up buried in a London office trying to sound British and making a point of being called “talent and people manager” instead of HR manager.
When I questioned her about that, she kind of said that journalism was just an “option” for her, but I am a journalist myself and I can tell you that journalism is never an option.
Journalism is like astrophysics, like teaching: journalism is like medicine.
But also like drugs.
It’s a vocation and an addiction.
You don’t work as a journalist. Either you are a journalist or you aren’t. And if you look at people like WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who had his life permanently destroyed for exposing war crimes and corruption, then you’ll see what the price for telling the truth may be.
And here we are now.
I am waiting behind the CEO’s door as if it’s a theatre curtain I am ready to tear apart to uncover this farce.
I am going to discuss my behaviour with a reality show contestant and a failed journalist turned into an HR monster.
I mean, what else.
I’m here because the monster said that I had official complaints filed.
That, apparently – colleagues have been accusing me of being “close-minded” and expressing my opinions about politics in a way that is “too strong.”
At least, one compliment.
As the golden boy finally opens the door, all of a sudden it’s like if someone has just splashed a pint of men’s fragrance right on my face.
Without my consent, that arrogant smell goes all over and under my skin and I wonder what I’ll have to do now to take it out of my hair and neck.
I would really have a hard time convincing a hypothetical boyfriend that I didn’t cheat on him.
I distribute the documents I have printed to the golden boy and the HR monster. Nobody seems to give a shit.
“It’s the reporting plan I wrote.”
“What reporting plan?”
“For the event.”
“The event with Lord Sugar and Piers Morgan in June!”
I don’t quite understand if he pretends he doesn’t understand or if he’s just taking the piss.
He looks at me as if I’d just crashed a secondhand bike on his Ferrari.
Even though based on what he wears, he is not quite the type of guy who’d invest in a Ferrari.
My automotive reflections get soon interrupted by this weird feeling that is slowly spreading out in the room. It’s the first time I’m alone with the two of them and I cannot believe what I am sensing here. So this is why she behaves as if she’s the queen of fucking everything. Now everything starts to make sense.
The elephant is in the room. The elephant is in the company. I wonder whether I’m the only one seeing it.
Damn women’s sixth sense.
As he starts humiliating me, his large, phoney smile remains pretty much unvaried.
Actually, it’s hard to tell whether he is pissed off or not. If you really want to know the truth, it’s also hard to tell if this is reality or the telly, or a reality show, or maybe a show reality.
Now I get what The Truman Show was about. Had I watched more TV in the last 20 years, I’d know how to behave now.
“Do you realise when you piss people off?”
“I beg you… pardon?!”
“Does it interest you, that you piss people off? Do you give a fuck about feedback?”
I look at him in the eyes, and all at once, I realise that I am seeing him for the first time.
This is the real him. This is the ruthless and abusive fake who won a TV show.
There’s nothing else in.
“Of course, I do take feedback on board. And you know, I accept just any feedback, from anyone”.
“She told me that she had five complaints about you as an HR manager. Five people complained about you in a matter of weeks. This is not acceptable. If something else happens I am going to end this”.
“You know, when she accused me of being “close-minded” by email last week, we both agreed that this was clearly referring to conversations that arose around politics, especially around Brexit, the European Elections and Julian Assange“.
“I don’t care, I don’t want you to disrupt my team”.
“Fine, I will stop talking about politics at work”.
“This is not enough. They don’t like your attitude. Five complaints. If someone else complains, you’re out. Five complaints”.
I finally turn myself toward that disgusting woman. And for the first time in my life, I feel ashamed of being a woman myself.
“You didn’t tell me that you had five complaints. When did the complaints raise to five? Bring these people here and we will sort this out”.
“We don’t say who these people are. They asked not to be mentioned”.
“They asked not to be mentioned. Seriously?”
“This is our company culture“.
“I’m fairly impressed. At least tell me what the complaints are about”.
“You know, it’s just in general. Your attitude is annoying people”.
“Again, if you’re referring to the conversations about politics, I admit I overreacted after being told now that I hear you speaking, I remember why I voted Leave“.
To my greatest surprise, the golden boy eventually overreacts to this.
He declares that he won’t tolerate any form of racism at work because he is from a Commonwealth country.
I try hard to figure out if there’s some existing link between having the Union Jack incorporated in your flag and being discriminated, but I cannot find any.
“Who said that? My employees would never do racist remarks such as this because they know they’ll get fired. Tell me the name”.
“Tell me the name!”
“I will never tell you the name. It’s not my job to tell you the name. I am not a backstabber“.
“I already fired an intern, you know that?”
“Yes, you keep repeating the MBA story. And by the way, I am not an intern”.
“He was asked to bring some sandwiches for the managers during a very important meeting and he said he wouldn’t do that because he holds an MBA. I told him to bring his fucking MBA and ass out of my office and to never come back“.
“I heard this story at least six times since I’m here”.
She jumps into the conversion again, uninvited. She is now happily smiling like never before but, for some reason, she’s become just uglier. I hope the ray of sunshine reflecting on the glass of her greasy spectacles will eventually blind her.
“Have you ever worked in a company with an HR department, Silvia?”
For a second, I seriously consider smashing her damn putrid face into a jelly.
“And how do they solve conflicts?”
“They bring A and B and a moderator and they talk through and solve the problem. But they don’t allow people to backstab each other like this. This is also the first time in my life I am asked to accuse someone so they can get fired, and this is also the first time I am allegedly accused by ghosts. This is the first time the lawyer is also the judge”.
This is the first time the lawyer is also the judge – I’m such a fucking poet – I stop and think. That’s such a wonderful example I made, this should create some kind of impact, I hope. Maybe now they’re starting to realise how unfair, dishonest and ridiculous they are.
All this reminds me of Al Pacino’s passionate speech about integrity and honesty in Scent of a woman as the school disciplinary committee wanted to rule the expulsion of Charlie because he didn’t betray his fellows.
And by the way, I am 100% sure Al Pacino would be happy to chat in Italian with me over a Prosecco – not like this bunch of losers.
But this isn’t the case.
Nobody is going to show the smallest pinch of regret for the shit they are doing to me and to the entire humanity.
I stare at the two morons I have in front of me and I cannot avoid but thinking you count nothing. You haven’t made the slightest difference into people’s lives. You may have done money, and money can buy a lot but it cannot buy respect. You won’t be remembered, you won’t be quoted, your shity manners will alienate anyone just barely decent around you. You haven’t invented anything, you haven’t directed E.T., you haven’t ended apartheid in South Africa, you haven’t found a cure for cancer or an alternative to plastic – and what’s worse, you don’t even care that you haven’t done all these things.
The bitch is saying yes yes.
This clearly stands for yes yes, of course, we are both the lawyer and the judge, and you’re just a piece of crap. The “conversation” finally comes to an end, and the bastard wants us out so I can stop “wasting his time”.
Before I go, I tell him that I wanted to discuss what I had printed for them.
This was a draft for the reporting I wanted to make about the big event with Lord Sugar and Piers Morgan planned for later that month.
I had detailed everything and was hoping to be able to interview them, especially Lord Sugar – or at least tell him how inspiring his books have been to me, and that I’ll never forget when in What You See Is What You Get he is appalled to realise that the cost of the microwave installed on his private jet equalled his annual salary as a statistician at the Ministry of Education in 1963.
The golden boy goes through my draft like someone who is interrupted while sitting on the toilet, and when he hears that I want to interview Lord Sugar, he gives a quick look at his bitch.
She returns that same exact look back to him.
Then they say of course you can interview Lord Sugar, but I’m not listening anymore.
In that look they’ve just exchanged there is everything I have and I will always fight against, everything I will never, in a million years accept and agree to, everything I don’t want to be affiliated to, everything I would feel ashamed to explain to a 5-year-old.
If you ask me for memories from the greatest days in my life so far, they will most likely be days when I actually did something.
On this day, I am signing an early termination of my Erasmus project giving up my placement, all the money that goes with it and especially – and this is the hardest part – what may have been my sole chance to interview my business hero.
But I know this is still one of my greatest days.
This is the day I didn’t interview Lord Sugar.
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