“Could you come to my office please, Sarah?” The first bolt of adrenalin enters my stomach in that familiar “I’ve done something wrong feeling.” It’s a fine line between needing to pee and wanting to vomit but it grips the stomach and starts twisting its ugly fist as I pull myself up off the chair and towards the Manager`s office. A short distance of 10 meters becomes a catwalk marathon as I try to saunter unaffectedly with my shoulders thrown back, conscious of my colleagues’ gaze directed at my momentary gawkiness.
In her office, everything is as always; papers amidst matching leather office furniture. Mental check list is crossed off as I look around at the family photos and career memorabilia. A lack of employee trust is implicit in every manager’s need to prove, through strategically placed photos and certificates, that they are a.) Loved and b.) Qualified. Having closed the door, I sit down squinting at her, sitting in front of an enormous window, aware of her immediate advantage in being able to look directly at me while my eyes are compelled to glance away from the excess of light. We assume our positions and wait for countdown; me, sweating slightly and pale: her, huffing pointedly and orange tanned. With one glance in my direction the diatribe starts, a verbal loosening of her clogged office bowels, spewed up over the table and onto me:
“Youareluckytohaveenteredthisofficethismorning. Countyourblessingsthatyouhavebeensittingonyourchairatallafteryourlittleperformancelastweek.. Allyoudoismakemistakesandiamseriouslyconsideringdismissingyou.”
And so it goes on for twenty minutes. And at some point along the way, my adrenalin choked nerves begin to form a shape and I know that if I do not get up and leave within five seconds then I will begin to shed Big Time Tears. This is perhaps one of my major weaknesses in the War Of The Workers and is something that affects me only as other maladapted, over sensitive sympathizers can know. Through a blur of filing cabinets, I stand up, mumble something incoherent and walk out of her office straight into the toilet where I proceed to cry uncontrollably in gasping, rasping bouts for ten minutes. And this marks the second flaw in my Office Armor: a grieving, shuddering incapacity to get a hold on myself and KEEP IT REAL. Armed with my humiliation and blotchy face, I make my way home where I lick my wounds and seek consolation from my Cataman St. George who begins to plot ways of killing the dragon, or at least returning for a bust up.
The next day I feel brighter, although nervous and still with the urge to throw up that gets worse every time I think of the ordeal awaiting me. I find myself on a work health & safety training course doing mouth to mouth resuscitation with a plastic doll in front of fifteen unknown Catalans. More than once I catch myself thinking about the surreal turn of events. As the afternoon unfolds, the nausea builds up until, finally, five minutes before I am due to leave the building my opportunity arises. Protected by my list of complaints, I march across the floor, entering the office with what I hope is my most menacing demeanour, difficult for someone who is compared with Heidi on a regular basis. On taking my place, I am thrown slightly by the Jekyll and Hyde character that appears in front of me, today placid and docile - almost a mother figure with a fluttering concern and sweetness. I go for the attack telling her that I had been upset the day before and that as a secretary I would never have expected to be talked to in the tone of voice she had used, nor would I have wanted to make cups of coffee on an obligatory basis for her or her manager cronies, nor would I have anticipated facing a sacking for every minor error I committed. “But, Sarah,” she begins, “I think you have little idea of the life I lead and the stress I am under. There is no question of firing you.” I am not to be beaten. “But Marta,” I continue, “I can see you are stressed but for this reason YOU are the manager with a manager`s salary and I am just the assistant. Yesterday it was a question of firing me. What will it be tomorrow?” Like a dream that only appears in the Coca Cola adverts of this world, I persist in my unlikely attack, brandishing my polite sword at every opportunity, until finally we seem to reach a truce. “But you have to look at your good points too, Sarah,” to which I reply, “I do look at my good points, Marta.” And she smiles in that sympathetic, caring way she is so good at feigning and I stand up to leave, tired but content. “Buenas tardes, Sarah, see you tomorrow.”
Having slept well, conscious of my victory, I feel renewed and ready to take on the secretarial challenges of the day and even considering making the odd managerial coffee if the mood takes me. On entering the office the atmosphere is calm; the boss is pleasant, displaying no signs of yesterday's aftermath. The limited contact we have is amicable and she tells me to take part in a series of meetings that might interest me. I feel as though a new epoch of our working relationship has begun, characterized by mutual respect and understanding.
At 1 pm the head of Personnel drops by and enters the meeting room with the boss. I continue with my Excel sheets and planning tasks, so important in the Management Battle against the onset of Worker Chaos. I pick up the phone, "Sarah, could you come to the meeting room a mo` please?" I walk in, undeterred by the presence of so many managers in one space, where I sit facing them both expectantly. “Sarah, after considering your progress here, we have decided that your personality does not fit in with this company and we are firing you.” Shocked, I sign the papers presented to me feeling numb. On leaving the meeting room, I walk up to my allies and kiss each one in turn, feeling strangely like the host of a wedding reception or like a comic heroine.
So is this what it amounts to? Life in Spain for an English girl, normally used to getting on with it without complaining too much? Just another Friday in the life of a Spanish worker? Another battle fought and lost?
Not sure, really, but it makes a good revenge tactic, right? A toast to Marta and her quality Spanish worker ethics!