Not until Lionel appeared at his work station was James’ attention diverted from reading papers, filling out forms, checking records and making notes.
‘Coffee break, mate.’ Lionel placed a cup by James’ right hand, put down his cup, wheeled a chair from a nearby, vacant work station, then sat looking intently at James who he’d known for the past ten or so years in the company. ‘What’s up, mate?’
‘Pardon?’ James picked up the cup and took a long sip of sweet coffee. ‘Sorry? What do you mean?’
‘Oh, just that you’ve been buried in that file all morning. Not raised your head to any greetings or goings-on. Ms Gillespie could have arrived in a brief as mini-skirt and you wouldn’t have noticed.’
James snorted with laughter at the thought of the company’s new ‘star’, who he’d admit was attractive in her own way, who dressed conservative corporate-style, even having an exposing mini-skirt in her wardrobe. ‘C’mon, Lionel. That I would notice.’
‘Yeah, well, my point still stands.’
James felt taken back. Lionel’s question and comment now felt like a probe. To cover his discomfort, James took another sip of coffee. That customary knot of anxiety tightened. ‘Just getting work done, mate. Just getting it done. Hadn’t realized I was so lost to the world. Still, I’ve accomplished much, so all’s good.’ James offered up a half smile.
Lionel’s gaze remained intent. There was a hiatus as if he was about to make an announcement, then he said: ‘Ha! No fear of you not getting work done. Always nose to the grind stone.’
‘Hey!? Did you read the latest Internal Memo?’
James had no idea. ‘The latest one? What was the last one?’ A practise of skimming memos then immediately filing them had developed in past months, so James felt uncomfortably on-the-spot with picking out any recent or significant one. ‘This has to be something important for Lionel to comment,’ was the thought that bounced around James’ now anxiety-crowded mind. ‘What have I let slip this time?’ He scrunched his toes within his black, work-day shoes. Such was a habit from primary school when he felt put on-the-spot. An expression of almost panic in his feet, while his face remained poker-blank and unreadable. The left shoe pinched.
‘This one,’ Lionel said as he took from his shirt pocket a folded memo, then laid it flat, placed on the work station between them. For something so important it looked flat; just a single sheet of paper easily over looked beside the heavy weight of the ‘later’ file. ‘Last week. Reminding us of evaluation time.’
‘Oh yeah, read it and noted. So?’ A frisson shivered through James.
‘Mate. Read between the lines – the circumstances.’ James’ face was unreadable. Lionel did note dark circles beneath his eyes before continuing: ‘Budget cuts – tightening of finances – evaluation/review.’ Silence after this telegraphic declaration.
With both a rush of realization and anxiety, the import hit James.
‘Not that you’ll have to worry about that, Mister-Line-Up-Your-Brick-Houses. Nor me, mate, nor me. Since I landed the Gillespie account,’ Lionel stretched his arms above his head. ‘Then, I’m all set for the time being.
Can name one or two here who may not be so comfortable.’
With that comment, Lionel reached forth, took both now empty cups in hand and said: ‘Back to the grind stone,eh?
‘Up for a drink with the mates after work?’
James was so tempted. His promise to Gloria came to mind. Not so much a promise clearly spoken, however, one never-the-less. James inwardly cringed over the number of times he’d said he’d be home at a certain time only to stay late at work. Then, there were the times, which seem to grow more and more of late, when he’d locked himself away in the study to catch up. ‘I’ll just clear away some paperwork. Won’t take more than an hour,’ he’d said, only to lose an entire afternoon.
‘Nope, told Gloria I’d be home on time. Have dinner with the family. Pass this time, mate.”
Lionel smiled, as with two empty coffee cups he headed off after saying: ‘No worries. Got to put family first. I do.’ Lionel winked then moved off between work stations, leaving the vacant chair behind. James pushed it back in place, then sat before his computer wondering if he really wanted to see what other e-mails had arrived.
Amanda’s message came to mind. ‘Hmmm … didn’t read those attachments,’ James recalled.
Opening the first attachment sent a quiver of surprise through James. ‘Surely Amanda didn’t seriously intend for him to attend such a high power seminar?’ The bill of presenters was impressive; internationally known; of solid repute. The venue itself spoke volumes. The cost was expectedly hefty. As James scanned further down the document ambivalence grew into a two-headed hydra. Part of him was tempted by the offering, while another, stronger, inner voice spoke doubts about James’ suitability to move in such a professional circle.
James shook his head, opened the second attachment, only to grunt in amazement. “Amanda must be taking the mickey or she’s losing her grip on reality,’ the thought resounded through James’ baffled mind. The hydra of ambivalence reared again. ‘As if he would attend a course titled – ‘Think Outside The Career Square.’ James hardly skimmed the document before closing the attachment, logging off his computer, then looking at the clock realized it was close to lunch time. The morning had flown past.
To be continued …
The third and final part of Another Day at the Office will be published next Wednesday, February 18