THE bell rang furiously and, when Miss Parker went to the tube, a furious voice called out in a piercing North of Ireland accent: “Send Farrington here!” Miss Parker returned to her machine, saying to a man who was writing at a desk: “Mr. Alleyne wants you upstairs.” The man muttered “Blast him!” under his breath and pushed back his chair to stand up. When he stood up he was tall and of great bulk. He had a hanging face, dark wine-coloured, with fair eyebrows and moustache: his eyes bulged forward slightly and the whites of them were dirty. He lifted up the counter and, passing by the clients, went out of the office with a heavy step. —“Counterparts” by James Joyce
There is a man being fired from his job, just three tables away from me at the Starbucks.
It took a while for the conversation of the two men, one facing me, the other with his back to me, to penetrate the general hum of the place, but that is what is happening.
Their body language tells the story: the man facing me is dressed like a mid-level manager—not sharp, not sloppy. His shoulders are hunched over; he has a hanging face, blank yet grim; and his hands are clasped together between his knees.
His counterpart, though I can’t see his face, is dressed like a man with power—his jacket is off, he’s wearing a crisp white shirt with French cuffs, and he is speaking quietly but forcefully.
The peculiar acoustics of this room are just enough to allow the rest of us working nearby to hear what none of us wants to hear.
We can hear about forms that are going to have to be filled out; about the two weeks’ severance the man will be receiving; and about the health insurance coverage he is eligible for while he is, as the euphemism goes, “between opportunities.”
Worse, for it seems as if the man is not to be trusted, we can hear a question about the status of his computer, and any other office equipment belonging to the company which he has not turned in. And whether he has keys to any of the company offices around the state.
It turns out he still has a key to one office.
“That will have to be turned in,” says the man doing the firing.
Everybody in this room—it is a big room, with hard floors and echoing walls—can hear about the key, and what comes next.
The man pushes back his chair. “I’ll get you that key,” he says, then he leaves, quickly.
His counterpart sits for a few more minutes, looking out the window contemplatively while drinking the rest of his coffee.
Then he leaves, and we are all back to work.
Jeff Matthews I Am Not Making This Up
© 2007 Jeff Matthews
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