• The questions continued to run through her mind
She slowly put the letter back into the envelope and folded the white envelope in half. All the while trying to think of something to say that would undo what the letter said.
She then folded the half-folded envelope in half again. She did this so that it could fit in her trouser pocket. So that those who had not seen her going into the HR office would not know.
Overwhelmed with humiliation tears welled up in her eyes. She was angry too: What did I do wrong? I do not deserve this. What am I going to tell everyone?
HR had told her that the retrenchment was about the bottom line. That it was nothing personal. But that was the last thing she was going to believe. This felt very personal.
The questions continued to run through her mind: “What did I do to deserve this? The two commendation letters that I have received in the last two years are testament of my work. What criteria did they use to select me of all people? Is someone out to get me?? Has it something to do with that argument I had with some of my colleagues during the last presidential election?? Is this tribalism at work??”
There she had to pause – and almost smiled. This was the least tribe-oriented organization she had ever worked for. Nobody cared about such things. Indeed, she had never heard even one of her colleagues speak a word in their mother tongue.
“I must pull myself together”, she thought. “This search for hidden enemies won’t help me. I have to be rational.”
Arriving at her desk, she lifted her head and glanced across the open plan office. Her eyes scanned the room. She needed companionship in her misery.
“So”, she thought. “Who else looked like they too had been retrenched? Who would join her in cursing this place – this destroyer of dreams – where they had all been so happy, never guessing what lay in store? Where in that room was a broken heart being concealed behind an awkward smile??”
Needing a better vantage point, she stood up and headed to the water dispenser. Looking around whilst trying not to appear to be looking around.
As she walked past him, she noticed him holding his head in his hands.
She had found what she was looking for, and so she quickly walked back to her desk, her thirst forgotten.
At least her situation was not as bad as his must surely be…thank God!
She knew that his mother, who had long been ailing, lived with him and his family. Major expense! Then his three children all went to private schools. Totally major expense! And though his wife had a job as a receptionist somewhere…well, how much do receptionist earn??
She promptly sent him a text saying, “Let me buy you coffee after work today. Usual place. I too got “the letter” – if you know what I mean.”
Unable to do any work the rest of that day, five o'clock could not have come fast enough for her.
The walk from her desk to her little car was her walk of shame. She thought – no, she knew; she absolutely knew – that everyone else knew and were looking at her from the upstairs window. She would bet that some who had been spared were even laughing at her – waiting until they could have a proper sit-down session to review how she absolutely deserved to get dumped. And how many of them could do her job better than her.
“Focus”, she told herself. “If on top of everything you trip and fall in these heels, then they might just burst out laughing out loud, while you are still within earshot.”
Getting into her car she took a few deep breathes and suddenly remembered another famous walk which occurred during her college days.
Her friend Flora’s famous walk of shame.
Flora had finally gotten a date with a fellow student whom she liked. After an evening of too much to drink, she woke up the next morning to find herself in his bed in the male dormitory. She could not remember how she ended up in his bed. To make matters worse, he was nowhere in sight. Realizing that she was in her evening attire of a shiny silver micro-mini-dress and 4-inch stilettos and after unsuccessfully trying to find a coat or jacket to cover herself up with, she had no option.
Only long afterwards, years later, was Flora able to talk about it casually and tell her friends how with each contact that her stiletto heels made with the cabro, she prayed that the ground would open up and swallow her. Everyone milling around the courtyard knew exactly how she had spent her last twelve hours. As the cat calls, jeers, boos and whistles started, she walked faster as she hung her head. It was longest- short distance walk of her life.
Flora’s walk of shame could not have been as shameful as hers, she imagined. After all, most young woman in college made mistakes of that kind. But this was something else. This was Armageddon. The end of her world.
He was waiting for her. But was in no mood to talk. He just sat and stared at the drink in front of him, not even bothering to pretend to listen to her as she told him that it was really the company’s loss to have let go two such high-performing executives as the two of them.
Giving up, she went back to her own thoughts: “Thank God I started my side hustle last year. As I look for another job at least that will keep me going.”
But suddenly doubts crowded into her mind: Would it really be possible to grow her small online handbag sales business?? She would have to at the very least triple the sales figures, if she was to earn enough to live on. And even then, only after she had drastically cut down on her personal expenses.
An hour later, she left him sitting there with his untouched coffee.
Driving home, she could think of nothing but her side hustle…How much money would she need to inject into her business if she wanted to expand it? Where can she find a cheaper apartment? What items that she owns can she sells to raise money and further reduce her expenses. Oh! And her sweet car. Would she have to sell it too?? Go back to boarding matatus?? When she had vowed never to see the inside of a matatu again?? And how her former colleagues would laugh…
“Stop it” she sternly told herself.
After taking a pain killer for the throbbing headache which had descended on her skull from nowhere, she slipped into bed.
In the morning she woke up to a gray rainy day. She remembered the events of the day before and shrunk inside.
It had not been some insane nightmare.
It had really happened.
The financial security she had worked so long and hard to achieve was gone – maybe gone for good.
Jane Abukutsa- Personal Resource Management Consultant, Life Coach and Speaker