I walked into the office on a sunny Monday morning. It had been just over a week since my networking meltdown and – as I was yet to reap the whirlwind – I began to relax. As usual Jess was in before me. Unintentionally slamming my faux-leather satchel down, I greeted her with a salute.
“Why do you always have to be so dramatic?” she said.
“Because I expect a cheer, like when the Fonz appears in Happy Days.”
“What’s happy days? Sounds like some religious thing.”
“Yes, that’s exactly what it is.”
Looking up, she gasped. “What happened to your face?”
“This?” I said, stroking my three day beard. “Just thought I’d give the old beard a go. What do you think? I was going to crop my hair too, but thought maybe a bit too hipsterish.”
“Are you having a breakdown?”
“Don’t be ridiculous. It’s just a little reinvention.”
“Is this because Charlotte knocked you back?”
“No, what? That was ages ago. Why do you keep dragging it up?”
“I’m not dragging it up.” She pulled a face. “I’m just trying to work out what started your whole image crisis thing.”
“It was Sanjay, if you must know. He just got me thinking, that’s all. I’m just trying something new. I wish to reboot myself, as it were. I want to be reborn as a grittier, edgier version of me. Dark and brooding, I am going to be the Christian Bale of HR. You have heard of him, I take it.”
“You’ve lost it.”
Jess was right, on both counts. I had been on a date with a colleague, and now she hated me.
She said, “Do you want me to go the managers’ meeting today?”
“What, so I don’t have to see Charlotte. Again, what’s the obsession with her?”
“You mentioned Charlotte, not me. I just thought it was my turn.”
I picked up some paperwork. “Right.”
“It’s been my turn since you went out with her, so I thought you were dodging it. Well, want me to go?”
It was tempting, but to show any kind of weakness would have been, well, of little consequence, frankly. I wanted to get back out there and show Charlotte that I was impervious to rejection. She was my first work-date and I was shocked and alarmed by the outcome. Repairing my reputation was now the imperative. My plan was to ask her ‘number two’ Fran if she wanted to help me with the employee engagement project I’d been assigned. My task was to work with a senior line manager on launching the new ‘We Listen’ initiative. It was all ready to go – for minimal input they’d receive a significant payoff. If the glory-bound project had Fran’s name on it Charlotte would see I was still playing the game. It would also show my willingness to give away the credit that should have been hers.
This was merely a retaliation. Charlotte had struck first. That was what I told Jess when I received a poisonous email about a contentious redundancy exercise I’d led. According to Charlotte, my timeline was too long. In other words I had not acted with sufficient urgency when parting the wheat from the chaff. Naturally, Charlotte copied various big hitters in to her email. On reflection, the outcome of our one and only date could not have been worse. The hypothetical worst case scenario had been realised. We had skipped polite awkwardness and pitched straight into Total War.
Thankfully Charlotte did not attend the meeting, sending Fran in her stead. It was all a soul-squeezing waste of time, of course; and always held in the same room: a corner office with a clear view of the Thames. I often sat watching the lethargic tourists below, wishing to join their number. The meeting started in its usual fashion with various emissaries updating the group on their banal activities. Each person spoke in acronyms while the rest of us nodded, occasionally making thoughtful notes. The terminology was baffling, but I had been with the company too long to ask what anything meant. I was certain that I was not alone. A lady opposite nodded at every utterance. The ‘over-nod’, I thought – an amateur mistake. I preferred sphinx-like inscrutability. When I did have to speak, I did so with conviction and of course, ‘passion’. As we all know, it is not enough to simply like our jobs anymore. We have to feel a passion for our work. Regardless, my facile deception always worked. A few of us remained after we concluded ‘any other business’. Fran was standing by the window, emailing. I walked over and, craning over her shoulder, said:
“I have some other business.”
“Jesus,” she said, with a hand on her chest. “Don’t do that.”
She turned around.
“What happened to your face, by the way?”
“This?” I said, scratching my stubble. “Just thought I’d try something different.”
“It’s different alright, it looks like you spent a night in the cells.”
“Really? I thought it was gritty. A kind of reinvention.”
“Yes, I am rebooting myself. I’ve tweaked my origin to be more angst-ridden.” I pushed my chest out. “I am the Christian Bale of HR.”
Fran shifted her phone from one hand to the other. Before she could speak, I said:
“Listen, about that business – I was going to say, it would be really nice if we could, you know, go for a coffee, maybe. I’m looking for someone from Finance to work with on the We Listen project. Remember, the big initiative Rita mentioned? It’s pretty much good to go. It could have your name on it.”
I was about to suggest more benefits when she stopped me.
“Look,” she said. “Are sure this is appropriate?”
“Well, yes, clearly.”
“Really? Getting back at Charlotte by cutting her out of the engagement project? Rita said department heads should be launching this stuff. You’re trying to make Charlotte look bad, how childish.”
I felt my neck burn.
“No, you’re rubbish. And nasty. She told me all about you.”
Some movement caught my eye, next to me Gary the IT manager was on his knees unplugging the projector. Fran walked out.
Gary let out a long whistle.
“Oh, piss off,” I said.
“Calm down,” he said without looking up. “Keep your bat-suit on.”
Outside the sun shimmered on the Thames. The air condition gently whirred. I grabbed my coffee and headed back to my office.
This is a serialisation of my book ‘I am Marcello’.