After glancing longingly at the beach wallpaper on the screen one more time, I shut down my laptop. As I leaned back in the chair, sipping the lukewarm coffee-my eyes grew heavy with exhaustion. I stared at the half-organized clutter on my desk, reminding me of my action-packed day. What a day it was!
It started off normally, just like any other Monday morning- answering phone calls and replying to emails. It was around mid morning, and we were standing in small groups near the coffee machine. Then we heard the commotion outside our accountant’s room and we ran to check. Our accountant, Emily was trying to control a very drunk husband while he kept pushing her. We stood awkwardly, not knowing how to intervene until we saw him lifting his hand to slap her. We quickly pulled him away from her and handed to the security guard who was apparently on a break when Emily’s husband sneaked in. After he was taken away, Emily burst into tears. None of us knew that she had been going through an ugly divorce. She was too embarrassed to tell us, but I completely understand her reasons for not telling. Anyways, now that our company is filing a case against her husband too, her divorce petition just got stronger. After making a phone call to her sister, I went back to my desk, my body still in shock after witnessing the violent scene. Before I even got a chance to calm my racing heart, we had our second visitor- the customer from hell, Mr. Thompson’s son.
We had been doing business with Mr. Thompson’s firm for more than a decade and our interaction had always been pleasant. But the dynamics completely changed last year when he passed away and his son took charge. He has been giving us a hard time with unrealistic, ridiculous demands ever since. It seems the upper management is finally fed up with his antics and most likely their contract won’t be renewed from next year onwards. Since the marketing manager was busy with a conference, I was asked to take over, much to my dismay. Blatantly ignoring my throbbing head, I sat with him for almost two hours, trying to explain the difference between marble and granite. In the end he just walked away muttering something vaguely, not even bothering to thank me for my time. Times like that make me think of how ungrateful this job really is. Lately I have been doing a lot of thinking. I have become sort of a workaholic now, starting my day with office and ending it off with directly jumping to bed. Except for the occasional grocery trips, I don’t go out at all.
And then, there are those little signs all around.
The grey roots showing whenever I look at the mirror- when was the last time I had gone to a spa?
The tiny holes in my tights- when was the last time I did shopping?
The dusty duffle bags sitting in a quiet corner of my bedroom- when was the last time I packed the bags and went on a trip?
It’s like I have turned into a machine that works without any complaints, until it breaks down one day. Is it really worth it?
Coming to the third event of the day…
“Maya, what are you doing here? I thought you already left.”
My boss, Maria stood at the doorstep, her hands on the hips.
“I was getting ready to go. Just doing some last minute decluttering.” I said, pointing towards the desk.
“For someone who won the employee of the year award, you don’t sound so excited.”
She commented as she came in, her eyes assessing.
Employee of the year- the third event of the day…
When the HR called me to his office, I was shaking with anxiety. And when he told me that I have been chosen as the employee of the year, all I felt was relief- that my job is still intact.
He continued to explain the reasons why they chose me- I haven’t taken a day off in the past year. I am the first one to come and the last one to leave. And whenever they need I am available, weekdays or weekends.
To me those reasons just cemented the fact that I don’t have a life outside this concrete building.
“I got an award for not having a life outside the office. You can’t blame me for my lack of excitement.”
Hearing my bland response, Maria raised her eyebrows questioningly.
“Are you ok Maya? Is something disturbing you?” She asked, her voice full of concern.
I pondered my next step. How much should I tell her? Over the years Maria has become more of a friend and confidant to me. But she is still my boss and I can’t cross that line. So I will just need to make sure that whatever I say doesn’t offend her.
I swallowed hard, gathering the courage to speak.
“I love this company and I love this job.” That earned a smile from her.
“It’s just that lately I have been feeling stressed and overworked. I haven’t taken a day off for more than a year because of the workload I have. A few months back, I said to myself that it was because of the merger. Today, my reason is our new product launch. And tomorrow, I would have some other excuse. It doesn’t end. All I do is work, work.”
She smiled sympathetically at my outburst, before speaking.
“I understand what you are saying Maya. And I am glad you spoke out. But you need to take it easy too. The company policy doesn’t say that you cannot take a day off. It’s the rule you made for yourself. The merger will still go on even if you don’t come to the office for a week. The company will still launch the product even if you decide not to work for more than eight hours. The expectations you have, the goals you set- you did it for yourself, no one else.
So take my advice. Take some time off. Go somewhere, meet new people, eat, drink, laugh. Do whatever makes you happy. Unwind and come back. Believe me, I have been there.”
I nodded my head, absorbing the meaning of her words.
“ Think about it seriously Maya.”
After throwing a meaningful glance in my direction, she turned to leave.
“Maria, have you ever thought of quitting the job?”
To my surprise, she laughed out loud, shaking her head at the same time.
“You are so naive! Of course yes. More times than I can count.”
“And?” I couldn’t contain my curiosity.
“Whenever such a thought comes to my mind, I start forming a list- about what I get out of this job. And the list is always a long one - the two-storey house in the suburbs, private school for my kids, an attractive bank balance. The list just goes on. People might think that my list is shallow and materialistic, but I don’t see anything wrong in that. In the end it ensures that my kids will have a good future and we will have a comfortable post retirement life. It all boils down to the happiness of my family. So see. It’s all worth it. ” She finished, with a smile.
“Your family is so lucky to have you Maria.” I said, feeling awed.
“That’s a sweet thought Maya. And I am lucky to have them in my life too.”
As I watched her retreating back, I thought about what she said. She has her reasons to continue in her job. What’s my reason?
After a few more minutes of self-reflective thinking, I packed my laptop and got up to leave.
The parking lot was almost empty. Since it’s Friday, everyone must have left early to do whatever they had planned for the weekend. It depresses me that I might be the only one without any plans.
I was about to start my car when my phone rang. Guilt rose in me at the sight of the name displayed on the screen. Mom.
She had told me that she would be taking my dad for his chemo today and I promised I would call her. I didn’t…
“Hi Mom...I am sorry I didn't call.”
“It’s absolutely fine. I can understand how busy you could be.” She said, in her usual calming tone.
“How...is dad? How did it go?”
“All went well. The doctor said he wants to see your dad in two weeks. The new medicine was making him a bit groggy. So I sent him to bed early.”
“How is everything else Mom? Do you need more…?”
“No…please…” She stopped me midway.
When she started speaking again, she sounded embarrassed.
“Maya…I don’t know how to thank you for the way you have been supporting us since your dad got sick. Sometimes I feel bad for troubling you for money. You earned it and it’s yours. But I had to quit my job to be with your dad as he was in a terrible state, physically and emotionally. In the beginning, I even thought that he would kill himself. But fortunately, the counseling helped. He has come into terms with his condition finally, but in a positive way. Maybe...now I can go back to…”
“No…Mom…No...Listen.” Now it’s my turn to stop her.
“I know you feel bad for taking my money. But I never feel bad about giving it to you. You both gave me a great childhood and made me what I am today- a strong, independent woman. And I am earning enough money to support you and dad too. If at all a situation arises and I am not able to support you both, I will surely let you know Mom. So relax. Be with dad. “
After a momentary silence, she spoke…
“We are so lucky to have you as a daughter my dear…”
“I am lucky to have you both too Mom.” I said, through tears.
“Take care dear.”
“You too mom. I am planning to take a week break. Maybe I will come and spend it with you.”
“We really look forward to it.”
She said before ending the call, sounding happy.
As I sat there, wiping my tear-stained cheeks, Maria’s words kept coming back to my mind.
The question I had been asking myself a lot recently- I think I finally have the answer.
In the end, it’s totally worth it. In one way or the other.