A good life indeed/Read
I hate my job, my boss is an arsehole, and my life is just filled with stress and misery from being overworked and dumped upon. How, then, can I call this a good life?
Written by Enoch Leung
This story is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
Original story is available at Wattpad.com.
A good life indeed
There are two universal characteristics about every weekday in my life: 1) They all seem to drag on for forever; and 2) It always starts off with me waking up late.
Like this morning. I do not recall hearing my alarm clock going off—or perhaps I had snoozed it unconsciously in my sleep—but when my eyes finally flickered open and I seemed at least somewhat awake—but still unwilling to part from the cozy warmth of the haven under my covers—I could feel my heart dropping like a stone when I rolled over to check the time.
Eight-thirty! Eight-thirty! My shift started at nine and it took me half an hour to commute there!
What followed next seemed to pass me like a blur. Out of bed in a flash, trying to brush my teeth and put my clothes on at the same time. Running out of the house, still trying to tighten my belt as I clumsily jogged over to the bus stop. My tie was crooked and tied improperly. My suit and dress shirt looked like they hadn't seen an iron in ages. And my stomach was growling rather angrily at me for not feeding it any breakfast. My public appearance had nose-dived—and so had my self-esteem. Delay after delay passed as the bus weaved through traffic, as the subway stopped inconveniently in the middle of the tunnel, as I tried to push my way through the crowd on the sidewalk. By the time I burst through the front doors of my office, it was nine-fifteen, and out of a sheer stroke of luck, I managed to crash into my boss on the way in. He gave me a look of pure disdain. "Mr. Kowalski!" he said as I struggled to catch my breath. "How good of you to come all this way to arrive at work, late. Come into my office."
I groaned and followed him.
My boss plopped down into his expensive, genuine leather rolling chair behind his desk, but didn't turn to look at me. I had been in his office enough times to know the place like the back of my hand. It was primarily coloured black—his favourite colour, apparently—and one might've mistaken it for the Batcave. His desk was neatly organized, clearly showing the elegant mahogany wood underneath the stacks of paper and the black computer monitor. On a table in the corner was a coffee machine that he didn't invite me to fill up a mug for myself from. On the other side of his room was a vinyl couch and two leather armchairs surrounding a small glass coffee table with a stylish metal support frame that roughly formed the shape of a Z. Behind his desk was the tall floor-to-ceiling window, which my boss had turned his chair to look at. The city was stretched out before him—almost like a supervillain looking out over the world that he aspired to make his oyster—although the view was polluted slightly by the window washers, who were scrubbing the sides of the sixty-storey building. The buildings, roads, parks, and highways washed around like an oil painting, distorted by the water, covered by the suds, before being wiped off by the squeegee.
"Jim..." I began, addressing him by his name.
He raised a hand to stop me. "I am not interested in hearing your excuses," he said coldly. "In fact, I'm not even sure if there's any point in giving you the lecture that I have given you so many times. When you got this job, Mr. Kowalski, we agreed that you were supposed to be here at nine o'clock sharp. And by nine o'clock sharp, I mean nine o'clock sharp. Not nine-fifteen. Not nine-thirty. Not even nine-o'five. When I say nine o'clock sharp, I mean nine o'clock sharp. Is that understood?"
I swallowed a lump in my throat and nodded.
He turned his chair around and glared at me. "Is that understood?" he said again. He was expecting a verbal response.
"Yes... Jim," I said nervously.
"So, Mr. Kowalski: the choice is yours. If you would like to be shown the door, by all means feel free to show up here any time after nine o'clock—or better yet, don't show up at all. But if you would like to keep this job and keep the food on the table for yourself, you better get your sorry ass here on time. You understand me?"
"Good." He turned around again to look out the window. The window washers had finished our floor and all that was left of them were the scaffolding and their feet. "You may leave now."
I couldn't bear looking up at anybody's face as I headed back to my desk. People were staring at me, my fellow co-workers. They knew that I was habitually late and I just had one of those mornings with Jim again. No one offered to help me, or even wished me a "Good morning" as I passed. I dumped my belongings onto my workstation, turned on my computer, kept my head down, and started working. Or at least, pretended to work. My mind was still spinning, still in panic mode after waking up this morning, and when the adrenaline had calmed down a little, I planted my face down on the desk, covered my head, and tried not to let anyone see the tears fall.
Work. It's an interesting character, isn't it? It tells you that if you bow to its beck and call, you will be rewarded with fulfillment, with a sense of achievement, with rest. But when you start following work, a funny thing happens; it pulls off a magic trick of its own, like a magician pulling an endless supply of handkerchief out of his hat. It taunts you, waving vacation in your face, daring you to come closer to grab it, but as you get near he jerks his hand back, all the while bathing you with insults and comments over how lazy you are, how you're a failure for not being able to complete it, how you could have made it if you worked a little harder.
Work. It's something you have to do in order to live, isn't it? But yet whenever you do it, a part of you seems to die on the inside. The longer you work, the more of you seems to fade into the background, until there's nothing left but an empty, hollow shell, a zombie that either collapses on the spot or works half-heartedly, barely paying attention to what it's doing. If you didn't turn into one by the end of the day, though, you were told that you weren't trying hard enough.
Work. It's like an ocean. A violent, restless, unforgiving ocean whose waves crash repeatedly on the rocks, seeking to drag carcasses out to sea. It washes over you with fury and rage, getting spray into your nose and eyes, drenching your clothes until they stick to you like cold rags, making you shiver. You try to fight it, try to get dry, try to tame it, but any efforts at controlling it eventually succumb to its merciless assault, slapping you across the face once more. If it really gets out of hand, it brings the waterline over your head, and if you haven't been drowned yet, soon you will be.
Work. That was what I was drowning in. In the past, I would drown in paper as the white sheets would literally be dumped onto my desk, often by co-workers that had a bad temper, and I would be told roughly and rudely to go through them. No matter how hard I tried to stay on top of it all, the backlog would never get cleared and the workload would continue to pile up endlessly; as soon as I was done a sizable portion of the work, my co-workers—or sometimes, my boss himself—would heap more of it onto my desk, like hot coals at a victim they were torturing. My boss didn't even bother with the carrot of the false promise of a promotion; he just kept beating me with more work and more lectures over how my work performance was sagging.
"How goes the work, Mr. Kowalski?" he would say to me as he passed my desk.
"Good I guess," I responded sarcastically.
He would bring himself to tower over me, like an elephant over a mouse. "Glad to hear," he said. "Just so you know, you did this assignment completely wrong. Do it again!"
And so progressed my morning. I'd be hastily thumbing through the pile of paper on my desk, trying to read and answer a million emails on the computer, and trying to answer the phone whenever a call was directed at me—which was pretty much all the time.
"Hello, Jonas from Brookfield Technologies. How may I help you today?"
"Mr. Jonas? You sound like you're drunk right now!"
But it wasn't just me sitting by myself at my desk, though I might have preferred to be left alone that way. Almost every day there would be meetings that I would be required to attend, meetings supposedly about the betterment of the company, though more often than not they were extravagant performances hosted by my boss so we would all be reminded about how charismatic and eloquent he was.
"...And if we had gone so far as to cut the size of the human resources department, then we wouldn't be expending thousands on their luscious coffee breaks, because that's all they do down there anyways. We don't need that many people 'managing humans' now, do we? Just review the occasional resumé, interview the occasional newbie, and you're pretty much done work for the week! Isn't that right, Mr. Kowalski?"
I woke up from my sleepless doze. "Huh? What?" I mumbled.
"Don't you agree with what I have just said, Mr. Kowalski?"
"Um, uh... yeah, it looks great and I—"
"You weren't paying attention, were you, Mr. Kowalski? You think we pay you to sleep here during the day, sleepyhead?"
These days my company has shifted most of its operations onto the cloud, which the IT department loudly trumpeted it would "Increase productivity by letting you work anywhere, anytime!" The theory was, with the boost in productivity and efficiency, we would all be getting more work done in a shorter amount of time, which could mean shorter work hours—in theory, at least. But more often than not, it just resulted in my work becoming an inescapable monster, for now my boss could yell at me if I didn't read or respond to any emails sent outside work hours.
"Damnit, Mr. Kowalski, why didn't you bring your assignment with you today?! Didn't you get the email that was sent last night?! What did you think we switched to Gmail for?!"
(The email in question was sent at 10pm on a Wednesday night.)
So here I would be, trying to juggle the boatload of work dumped onto my desk, complete all of the assignments assigned to me, answer all of the emails that landed in my inbox—even when it was three in the morning and no sane person would ever be working at that time—and attend every stupid meeting my boss called for and watch him make even a drama teacher reconsider their existence. I would never have an opportunity to rest or relax; any attempts at organizing my schedule or looking at what lay ahead of me only fuelled the anxiety within me. My calendar program had turned my life into a series of coloured blocks, each block representing a scheduled event in my day. Life became almost mathematical, mechanical in nature; scheduling new events or tasks was a matter of finding some empty space between the blocks of time. It was like laying bricks, with any gaps in between being bad news, a waste of time. It was all about plugging the gaps, sealing them lest there was a flood and water was able to seep through. It was like building a wall, a wall I would have to climb down every single day, hitting roughly against every single brick in the way as I made a clumsy, fat-fingered descent towards midnight every night, only to find myself at the top again the very next day.
On this particular day, I was working at the top of my game—or at least trying to, with a growling stomach, a pounding headache, and a phone that would never shut up. I had been tasked with the low-level job of organizing company documents, being everybody's secretary for a day, and I had both paper and electronic copies to work with. The filing cabinets I had to shelve things into were a good walk away from my desk, and my boss was probably remotely monitoring my computer from his comfy chair so he could yell at me if I tried to game or didn't interact with the computer for several minutes. So here I was trying to organize the electronic and the physical files simultaneously, occasionally getting up from my seat to make the trek over to the relevant filing cabinets before running back to move the mouse so I could do some work there. My phone never stopped ringing off the hook and the emails never stopped coming in, and soon my boss was irate at how I had six callers on the line, all waiting impatiently to speak to someone who was expected to be in three different places at the same time. I was sore, sweaty, and stressed from trying to carry the weight of the entire office on my shoulders, unable to clear the backlog that seemed to grow with every passing second. And if that wasn't enough, my boss would come around to remind me of all the other things I had to do:
"Mr. Kowalski! I'm here to inform you that your eight-page report is due tomorrow at precisely 11 o'clock sharp. I have noticed that you have gotten approximately zero percent of it done, and I had assigned it to you two weeks ago. I don't know which parent or which teacher of yours ever taught you to take two weeks to complete nothing, but I sure as heck am glad they are not with my kids! Do you have kids, Mr. Kowalski? Well I feel darned sorry for them!"
I hate my boss.
It's a statement I do not use lightly. I really hate him: his face, his smug smile, his damned guts. I wish he would be beaten to a pulp by someone twice his size and thrice his sass until he resigned his title as snarky office dictator. I wish he had an identical twin that would boss him around and rule over him with an iron fist, undoing him with his own barrage of linguistic firebombs. I wish he was kidnapped, gagged and blindfolded and driven off to the middle of nowhere; tortured and trafficked but not killed, so he could suffer and feel the remorse for all the times he abused me.
One time, when I had been working at the company for three months, he called me into his office over the intercom, loud and clear so everyone could hear, like the principal using the school's PA system to ask a very specific kid—first and last name announced so there was no confusion—to pay them a visit in their office. I entered his office, a little shyly. He didn't sound that happy over the intercom, and he sure didn't look nice now that I was seeing him in person. I was pretty sure that I wasn't there to receive a prize or anything of the like. He left me standing awkwardly in front of his desk, not talking to me, almost going about his own business as if nothing had happened. When I became uncomfortable—and felt the urge to do the dance, for I needed to go—I asked, "Did you wish to speak with me, J—?"
With impressive speed and accuracy he flicked out a folder from the pile on his desk and thrusted it at me like a projectile. "You see this?!" he barked, flapping the folder in front of my face, letting all the papers inside spill out onto the floor in an avalanche of white. "You think I hired you to get this kind of quality from you?!" He slammed the folder onto his desktop. "You think I pay you to get this kind of crap out of you?! Disgusting quality of work here! Honestly, I'd be happier if you didn't do it at all!"
I was bewildered, confused, frightened, and shocked all at the same time. A million questions wanting to be asked floated around my head. What are you talking about? What did I do wrong? Why are you so mad at me? What can I do to fix this? But my mouth shut down, and all I could produce was a gulp as I swallowed an almond-sized lump in my throat. It hurt on the way down, cutting little notches in my esophagus before reaching my stomach, where it sizzled like hot metal flying from a forge.
"I'm disgusted with you and your pathetic excuse for work!" he continued. "You better take this folder back and think about how badly you screwed up on this one before handing back to me a fixed version of your work by the end of the day. And if you have to work overtime or stay past closing to get it done, too bad for you!"
Another time, a few weeks after my one year anniversary of working at the company, I was sitting at the café on the ground floor of the office building eating lunch when my boss came down. He sat across from me at my table and exclaimed with pretended enthusiasm, "Mr. Kowalski! So good that I could join you for lunch!"
I grumbled my greeting.
"How did you like my performance at the meeting this morning? I'm quite eloquent, right? Nailed it on the head what I wanted to do with your department, huh?"
Did I even have a department? I don't know, it seems like I worked for everybody.
"You should see how important the well-being of the company is to me. I don't just hire anybody to work here. You should feel quite honoured that I chose you to do what you're doing right now!"
I didn't look up. I couldn't take him seriously. Was he complimenting me or was he being sarcastic? This was completely unlike him, to be nice to me.
"What, you don't think I mean it?" he jabbed at me. "C'mon, it's 'be nice to your employees' day. I care about you guys! Aren't I a great boss?"
I care about you guys. The greatest white lie he has ever told.
Just two days later, he proved to the whole office how much he cared about us. He went around to every single workstation, talking to his employees. Well, scrutinizing them, more correctly. He would hover over them, watching them work, pointing out all their flaws and the things he didn't like in a rude or patronizing tone, all in the name of "constructive criticism". "That looks like a rat pissed on your work." "Your desk looks like a garbage dump." "God, did you shower today? You smell like a fish!" When he got to me, he stood towering over me, watching me with hawk eyes as I worked. The staring made me very uncomfortable, and soon I began to fumble and make mistakes. When he saw this, he opened his loud, smack-filled hole in his face and yapped, "Did you know in some Chinese tea houses, there is a large window leading into the kitchen where they prepare dim sum so all the customers can see the chefs at work in there? Every mistake, every forehead scratching, every nose picking is noticed by all. And those chefs can't just run and hide; they just have to work with all those eyes gazing at them. Maybe I should do that in this office, especially for you, so you guys will learn how to work under pressure!"
A long day's work had passed me. The last two hours of work was mostly spent glancing at the clock, watching as the numbers ticked ever so closer towards five o'clock. Five and it would be fine. I would be able to go home.
When 5pm approached, however, my boss had other plans. "Mr. Kowalski," he said in his dreaded, irritable tone. "Have you finished organizing the Team Drive like I had asked you to do yesterday yet?"
I nodded. "Yes Jim," I said. "I organized it."
"Very nice. Stay here while I have a look," he said. I grumbled slightly to myself for being so nice to him. I should've told him to shove a carrot down his throat, I thought to myself as I opened up the page in my web browser. He took control of my mouse and started clicking around, examining my work, looking closely at where I placed all the folders, the names I gave them, the contents inside of them. When he had finished, he said, "Well done, Mr. Kowalski."
"Huh?" I caught myself saying.
"You did a good job," he said simply. "Have a good night." And with that, he straightened up and walked out of my workstation.
I blinked. He what? Normally this was the part of the day where he would berate me for this, berate me for that, tell me that I had to work overtime and beg for mercy on my knees to avoid being thrown the sack. But today, he said I did a good job, and that I could go home...
I needed no encouragement. I quickly shut down my computer and hastily packed all of my belongings. I punched out and was about to bolt out the door when another strange feeling came to me. I poked my head through my boss' door and called out, "Good night, Jim!"
He didn't look up at me, but he waved at me and said, "Have a good one, Jonas."
Jonas. He called me by my first name...
Jonas. The name my parents gave me. It kept floating around my head as I rushed towards the subway station, as I stood in the jam-packed train holding onto a ceiling strap staring out the window at the tunnel. Jonas, Jonas, Jonas. My boss had actually called me by my first name!
My mind was spinning faster than the wheels on the train, the wheels on the bus, my feet as I jogged the last hundred yards to my house. I unlocked the front door, slipped inside, closed the door softly behind me. I could hear—and smell—something cooking in the kitchen. "I'm home!" I called out.
"Hi honey!" My wife Erin rushed out of the kitchen to greet me. I kissed her on the cheek, and she responded by kissing mine. "You're home early today, for once!" she commented.
"Jim actually let me go on time today," I said. "Even called me by my first name as I left."
"An odd change from the 'grumpy old snob' you've always been calling him, hmm?"
I sighed. "Well, he was that way this morning. It'll take a miracle for his personality to change."
I rushed upstairs and quickly got changed. Normally when I got home, it was long past the dinner hour and I'd have to reheat whatever my wife made that evening in the microwave. Today, however, I was so early that she wasn't even halfway done preparing the ingredients. I hurried back downstairs and helped chop the vegetables while my wife tended to the stove. "It's pretty rare that we get to cook together," I said.
"We should do this more often," she replied. "Not just the fact that we're married... But it kinda sucks being in this kitchen all alone, you know?"
I don't know how long it took her to cook dinner without me, but I'm sure it was faster tonight now that she had a helping hand. Soon, dinner was on the table: stir-fry carrots and onions; steamed broccoli and cauliflower; roasted salmon; and fettuccine with fresh pesto sauce on top. "You certainly made a feast!" I said, my stomach growling. I barely had lunch that day; I was so loaded with work that all I ate was a blueberry muffin from a coffee shop, hastily gulping it down as I ran back towards the office, back to my work, back to the people that didn't care about me.
"You know, I was really hoping you could get home earlier in the evening so we could make this happen more often, for our future." She turned to me and smiled. "For those ahead of us... You know what I mean."
I blinked for a few seconds, a blank look on my face, before I suddenly realized what she meant. "We did it!" I squealed, squeezing her tightly.
"It's going to be a rough ride, but the results will be worth it."
I released her and looked at her. "Who do you think it's gonna be: a boy or a girl?"
"Who cares?" she said. "Even if it's half a boy, half a girl, or some Minotaur in between, I'd still be a proud mom."
We ate, the food refilling my spirit as well as my stomach. My wife's co-workers threw her an anniversary party today for one year of work, and she had brought home a remarkable homemade cake in the fridge, waiting for me to enjoy it with her. It was sweet—every bite rich with the pleasant taste of coconut—and there were walnuts and almonds and berries hiding amongst the flesh of the cake, like nuggets of gold buried in the soil. Although we had a big mess to clean up afterwards, we had plenty of fun washing the dishes and wiping the tables—more correctly, flicking water at each other and popping the bubbles created by the dish soap. I had a hot shower with soap—a luxury I take for granted—and snuggled with my wife on the couch in front of the TV, propping our feet up on the coffee table, digesting the stories and the comedy and the commercials shown on the screen. When the hour grew late, we retired to our bed, where clean sheets and warm blankets awaited us.
For some reason during the night, I woke up. Wasn't too sure why, though. I'd often wake up in the middle of the night, work on my mind, my boss' voice yelling at me over how my down time was wasted time, and that I had dozens of assignments to complete, plenty of time at night to do them. I didn't have any of those thoughts, though; I was not sweating or shaking with anxiety, but felt rather comfortable and snug, a feeling that I had rarely experienced so shamelessly. I looked over at my wife, who was sleeping soundly next to me. She looked so beautiful and wonderful when she was asleep. I knew that she had been bullied for her appearance as a child, and the gossip over how she looked and how she dressed continued into adulthood. She didn't care, however; she had two loving parents and three close siblings, and as long as she had them, she was happy no matter the circumstances. When she met, dated, and married me, she included me in the list of precious people in her life, and we would often go to see her parents and her siblings—my in-laws, but they didn't see it that way. They called me a family member, and they invited us to all of their celebrations, their special occasions, the big things big families do together. Even though she married me—a train wreck of a workaholic—she never once made any demeaning comment about me or my work, and remained so positive and passionate in everything she did. I thought about everything that had happened to me today, how my morning was a mess and how I was so burdened over my work, how I was on the receiving end of Jim's butt jokes and his destructive verbal missiles, how I just didn't have anything in my life together. I thought about the filling meal I had, the luxuries of home that I could enjoy, the oddly nice treatment I got from Jim at the end of the day. I thought about my wife and how she knew everything that went well in her life, how she appreciated the good things rather than constantly lamenting about the bad. I looked at myself and thought about how I needed a change. A change in thought. I smiled to myself as I lay back down on the pillow, thinking to myself, Yes, I do have a good life indeed.