It was a quarter past eight in the morning.‘You wanted to see me boss,’ he said, as I motioned him into my office.
‘Yeah, I did fellah. Take a seat,’ I said.
He pulled up a chair from the corner and placed it in front of my desk. ‘Wassup?’ he asked.
I gritted my teeth at the over casual air of confidence but decided to tackle the question head on, if indeed it was a question.
‘Sorry? Where? You allergic to them then?’
‘Allergic to what boss? I’m not with you.’
‘Wasps. You mentioned a wasp, or am I mistaken?’
‘For a moment his eyes glazed over and then a grin cracked his face. ‘No, I mean, you know…what’s up. It's an expression. What is it?’
‘An expression, huh? So...What’s what? What do you want to know?’ I asked as I leant back in my chair.
His grin disappeared and he leant forward in a sub-conscious body language response to the space that had grown slightly larger by my action. It was deliberate on my part. A conscious decision to pull the strings. Draw the sucker in. You make the puppet dance in this game. He attempted to answer my question.
‘I mean. You wanted to see me. I wondered what for. That was all?’
I leant back over my desk, placed both hands flat across it and stared him directly in the eyes. ‘Yeah, I wanted to see you fella. I wanted to see you about your non-attendance.’ Calling him ‘fella’ de-personalised it. Not for my benefit. I couldn’t give a shit. But he needed to know he was a nobody.
‘Non-attendance? What non-attendance?’ he said, a surprised frown crossing his features. ‘I’ve got a good record. My attendance has been good. I’ve been here every day. Never taken a day off sick in the four months I've been here. I don’t understand.’
Time to fire up a cigar and blow smoke at the sucker. I flipped the lid of the wooden box that sat on one corner of my desk, pulled out a Quai D'Orsay Corona and rolled it between my fingers for no other reason other than effect.
‘Well, let me tell you about non-attendance fellah. The way I see it is you’re meant to be here every day at eight o’clock and leave here at five o’clock. Yeah?’
‘Well, yes,’ he said hesitantly.
‘But the thing is, you’ve been getting here at five minutes past eight…that’s past eight...and leaving again at five minutes before five…yeah? Every single day of those four months.'
I saw his mouth open to respond. I didn’t let him.
‘So you see we ain’t talkin about attendance…your so called perfect, no-sick record. We’re talking about the times you ain’t bin here. That’s what non-attendance is. It’s the time somebody has not bin somewhere…somewhere they’re s’posed to have bin. You getting the difference now? Yeah?’
He shifted uncomfortably in the seat and glanced towards the window. Another body language giveaway. Looking for help. Then he spoke.
‘My time keeping's not so bad –’
I couldn't help the smile. The puppet was dancing.
‘Time keeping? You call it time keeping? You understand what keeping time is? No? Ok. Let me elaborate.’ I reached for the cigar cutter and clipped the butt end off the Corona in one clean snip. I stared at the cleanly sheared end before continuing. ‘Keeping time. Keepin time is what a drummer does. He picks up the beat and stays in time with the bass and the guitarist. That way the whole band stays tight and in sync. You seeing it now?’
I stuck the cigar in my mouth, and chewed it for a second. Creating space. Creating tension. His fingers twitched as edginess crept in. I reached over to the corner of my desk, picked up the red jet torch lighter that sat there like a mini dumbbell, flicked the trigger and flared up the cigar with a yellow burst of butane. The first cloud of blue smoke wafted across the desk.
'So by getting their arses in to work at the same time and then leaving at the same time…the time that my employees are all signed up to…the whole team stays in sync. But you, you my friend are doin a solo act without the band. You’re a singer with no backing, yeah…cos you ain’t in sync with the team.’ I took a long pull on the cigar and shot a cloud of smoke right into his face.
In an effort at justification or perhaps an effort to gulp some oxygen, he attempted a stuttering response. ‘It’s only five minutes boss. I mean –’
Cheeky sucker. ‘Only five minutes? Is that right? Yeah? Ok…let me explain your five minutes. You, my friend have been stealin ten minutes every day for four months. That's right...stealin. There's eighty-five working days in those three months. That's a total of eight hundred and fifty minutes or fourteen hours that you took. Two of your working days in fact. So, hey, what’s two days in four months you might ask? You wanna ask that?’
There was silence. I blew some more smoke. He stifled a cough.
‘Well do you?’
‘Sorry…do I what?’
‘You wanna ask that question. What’s two days in four months?’
‘Yeah you do.' Ask the fuckin question sucker.
His startled look gave way to another stifled cough as another plume of smoke enveloped his head. I stood up and walked around the desk.
‘You got a cough?’
‘No…no, it’s the…no…it’s fine.’
Yeah sure it’s fine. Suck it up chump. ‘Ok…now you had a question…right?’
‘Err, yes…I did. Err...so…err...what’s two days in four months?’
I rested the cigar on the corner of the desk, turned towards my in-tray and picked up a folded sheet of paper. I opened it slowly. His gaze was focussed on the paper, just as I had wanted. I held it out in front of me and started to tear it into little pieces. Each piece fluttered down onto his lap. His face clouded over in a mix of surprise and curiosity.
‘What’s two days in four months? I’ll tell you what it is. It’s the two fuckin days leave you just applied for this weekend that you ain’t getting cos you owe me sucka. Now get the fuck outta my office.’