Joseph checked the time on his computer screen. It was already 3.30. He only had a couple of hours to go and he had not finished the excel spreadsheet of data input that he had been tasked with that morning. Instead he had been flitting between web pages on his browser: motorbikes, new games and porn. There was a cornucopia of visual titillation at his fingertips, ready to burst the bubble of boredom that he had found himself trapped in. It was only for a matter of minutes, he thought.
Before he was aware of it, those minutes turned into hours and the hours turned into the impending fear of being found out. The Boss asked him to submit his work by 4. He hadn’t done it. The time came and went as he feverishly input random numbers into the machine (any numbers would do). The sheet was finished at 4.15 and he emailed it over. The Boss scanned it, raising both of his bushy eyebrows.
These numbers are all wrong Joseph! What is the matter with you?’ he exclaimed in exasperation.
That enquiry sent Joseph’s imagination into overdrive as he flailed around grasping for some ailment or technical issue that he could blame for his idle incompetence. This was the first time that he had been creative in days and he was mildly excited.
‘W- well it’s the strip lighting. I c-c-can’t see the screen very well and it gives me……..…….er…….. f-f-f-floaters?’ stuttered Joseph, the f word tumbling out of his mouth before he could quite articulate it convincingly.
‘We’ve run a workplace assessment and it’s fine. You’ve never had this problem before’
‘I’m getting headaches’ protested Joseph flatly and in a small voice.
‘Well alright. Perhaps we can put you in the dark room’ said The Boss as a warped smile spread over his face. ‘That way you won’t be exposed to the strip lighting.’
Joseph froze. The dark room was the one room in the office which no-one dared to enter. It was a space of dread and fear; a paradise for spiders and a vault of icy-cold isolation. Joseph smiled weakly. He had nowhere to run as the tall figure of authority loomed over him like the grim reaper. The Boss held up his index figure slowly and pointed in the direction of the small stationary cupboard. Joseph lowered his head and obligingly walked towards the room, his footsteps heavy with defeat.
The room was no bigger than a broom cupboard. Inside it there was nothing but a small desk and a naked light bulb hanging from the ceiling. Joseph was ensnared at the cage-like desk and The Boss slammed the door triumphantly.
Joseph opened up his laptop and took a deep breath but struggled to find his focus. His head started to spin. He ran out of the cupboard and into the toilet where he slumped down against the wall of the small cubicle. He felt like a trapped animal but managed to take some deep breaths and recover a bit of composure. He stumbled to the sink and splashed some cold water on his face, which made a large patch of damp on the front of his shirt. This stirred up some ingenuity inside of him. He exited the toilet and walked up to The Boss.
‘I – I’ve been sick. I had to clean myself as my shirt got dirty’ said Joseph in a small voice.
The Boss raised one bushy eyebrow. His prey had mounted another unconvincing challenge to his authority which only made him feel even more pumped up. It was like taking steroids without having to buy a crate-load of tubs off the internet: a free buzz. He was enjoying himself.
‘You’re clearly not in a good way today Joseph. I tell you what I’m going to do: I’m going to let you off doing any work which involves screens as they are clearly causing you some difficulties. Instead I’m going to ask you to take on a customer-facing role. I am sure that contact with the public will be easier on your eyes.’
Joseph was marched over to the customer complaints section of the front desk. The Boss pointed to the seat at the desk in a way which compelled him to take it. No sooner had he done so, an angry-looking woman pressed hard on the bell on the desk in a bid to announce her presence. The high ‘dring’ sound reverberated around Joseph’s skull: a pneumatic call to action that made him jump to his feet. A blond toddler with a chocolate-smeared face started crying and the woman wrestled her into a pushchair. The woman’s small boy then grabbed a handful of elastic bands on the counter and started flicking them at Joseph who had to duck to avoid the onslaught. As soon as the woman opened her mouth, Joseph was met with an uncensored torrent of abuse.
‘We bought two of these f***ing home burglar alarms from you f***ing muppets and neither of them f***ing work. We have had to spend two nights without sleep because no. 47 was burgled last week. We want compensation for loss of sleep, loss of the opportunity to sleep and for having to face the fear of living in our own home without any protection. Or sleep.’
Joseph looked back at the woman but all he could make out was a red vortex of anger. He had no idea what to do, not having ‘faced customers’ before.
‘OK. We can sort that out for you. Just wait a minute.’
Joseph ran straight to The Boss. The Boss just looked at him without a hint of expression and then looked back at the page of the book that he was reading. Panic-stricken, Joseph did not know where else to turn. He would have to run back to the front desk. On his way back he was hit with a flash of ingenuity. He grabbed a pile of red cables that he found in the box near the server. He didn’t know what they were for.
‘Here you are’ he said to the woman at the front desk who had maintained her defiant glare; ‘you can try these to jump start the alarms. They are E371D cables and they connect the input to output with a supercharged moto-incendiariser. They will solve the problem. The instructions are on the website.’
Joseph threw the cabling at the woman in a pre-emptive strike and ran back into the office. He sat back down at his desk. His heart was racing and he felt sick. This time the sickness was for real.
The Boss leant back, clasping his hands behind his head in a self-satisfied expression of jubilation. ‘Well done Joseph. I see you managed to get some worthwhile experience on customer service. Perhaps we can call it a day. Back to the excel spreadsheets on Monday eh? Have a nice weekend. Hopefully after a couple of days’ rest you will be feeling well enough to be back to your productive self.’
Joseph smiled weakly at his boss, grabbed his rucksack and ran out of the building. Monday was a far-off distant possibility that he did not want to countenance just yet. The weekend promised the escape that had teased him out of his afternoon duties: motorbikes, gaming and porn.