I had just come out of a disciplinary hearing for throttling my manager. He was messing with my schedule. The one I sacrifice for by working regular overtime.
This ego-maniac was interrupting my life and I wasn't having it. He had changed the work schedule without my knowledge. Forcing me to work on the last week of the month. The week I consistently plan in advance for my month-to-month home visits.
I had a good mind to twist my wrists as his neck sat constricted in my hands. But I knew the outcome of such actions. My grip was broken by my frantic colleagues. Telling me not to do something I'll regret.
They had no idea what I myself was preventing out of sheer willpower. They truly believe they stopped the worst outcome.
But it's probably good that they stopped me when they did. That feeling or … need … was not going away. That vindictive urge that had been growing for months on end.
I was at my wits end for all the sick leave and family responsibility leave and general leave that was interrupting my planned schedules to spend more time at home.
What this idiot of a manager tried to pull was the last straw. Thanks to that single grain of sane morsel remaining somewhere in the far reaches of my mind, I let him live.
“You need to get fired immediately,” he said holding his neck. “I’m telling Frederick right now and you can explain to him what your bloody problem is. Then he can fire you on the spot after that! You made a big mistake buddy.”
Big words for a cowardly runt. With his spindly legs and squeezable neck. The more he spoke, the itchier my hands became.
Frederick De Beer, our boss, was not impressed. Neither were the two Human Resources representatives.
The three of them had me cornered in the executive boardroom. Faces of stone perpetuated by the incessant drone of the aircon. Staring at me from the door to the chair and for most of my interrogation. The woeful disappointment on Frederick's face was complemented by the determined faces to his right. The room had a musty smell and a lifeless chill. Restricting my personality whilst prodding the unease within.
I had to give my best sob story to get their sympathy. Put them in my shoes of suffering and mental anguish. It must have worked because I received a final warning.
Frederick expressed his understanding of the reasons for my being upset. He also stated his condemnation for my “inexcusable actions”.
“Leshuba. You’ve contributed immensely to the company and are always willing to sacrifice for the greater good. I think you deserve a final chance. This was a once-off thing that I don’t believe will ever happen again,” Frederick said.
“It’s a disgusting act that should not go unpunished. I don't believe you should get fired over it. But you definitely need to understand the severity of it. Now your every move will be monitored. Your interactions with other staff members. Your behaviour in and around the building. You won’t be able to sneeze without scrutiny. So the ball is in your court from now on.”
The second HR lady was making serious notes at this point. “It’s not in your nature from my personal knowledge about you as a person, I’m willing to vouch on that,” he stated. “But obviously you had a brain fart and decided to be an idiot for the first time in a long time since joining the company.”
I agreed to the terms they gave me for the sake of agreeing. Using body language to convey the living epitome of remorse. Head hanging low, slumped shoulders, slow measured responses. The whole shebang.
That mouse of a manager must have thought I would return with a look of defeat and regret. Maybe apologize for my foolishness. Well, I had no choice. The charade needed to continue for the sake of the sympathetic angle.
Frederick called us both in for a meeting. Had me follow through on one of the “final warning” conditions. “I’m sorry for what I did to you. It was not my intention to allow the situation to go that far. I sincerely apologize.” I said.
In actuality, I could have taken the situation so much further than Cecil could ever imagine. He should’ve thanked the criminal justice system for his life. Without their laws, he wouldn’t be here right now.
“I forgive you. Maybe I should’ve consulted with you about the schedule before changing it so haphazardly. I’ll most certainly do that next time,” he said. ’What a kiss ass,’ I thought. Forgetting that I was technically doing the same.
The next couple of days were spent with me eyeballing him with the meanest grimace my face could pull at every opportunity available.
I was letting him know subconsciously that next time I'll do worse than give him a temporary loss of breath. Next time I’ll make him stop permanently. He hardly spoke to me after that. He would do good not to mess with my personal life ever again.
That was the end of it. For normal-minded people. Cecil, on the other hand, was an idiot. He was just as vindictive a human being as the thoughts that plagued my mind.
He had switched from one a-hole move to another. Off-loading work on me as he saw fit. No enquiring, no offer to assist when bogging me down. Just plain disrespectful off-loading. Making sure to ease it up on a Friday to make it look like he's being considerate.
But I could see right through the facade. "I know you're overwhelmed but so am I. Working in conjunction with the engineering technicians is taking its toll on me. Please handle these assignments for me. Your work is greatly appreciated," was his signature soap opera monologue.
My colleagues knew he was talking out the side of his mouth.
"He's using work to get back at you. 'Working with engineers' just means sending emails and sitting through one or two meetings a week. He's exacting his revenge on you," said Dandala during one lunch conversation out of many.
"I know. But how do I prove it? I can't report something without conclusive evidence. I will look like the one with an agenda." Bonano nodded his head.
"My brother. He's got you in a corner. If you say no then it looks like gross misconduct based on the assumption that you hate him," Dandala said. "And you're on your final warning," Bonano added.
What my colleagues and I were agreeing on was that this dog had me by the marbles. One action or another, I was going to look like the bad guy.
"There is a way out of this mess," Dandala said. "We've done it before." He and Bonano looked at each other.
"When Harold still worked here. Remember him?" "Very well," Bonano replied. “It was before your time,” he said. Looking in my direction.
"He was bossy and controlling. And evil." "Just like someone you know," Bonano said. Pointing his head at me as he nudged my shoulder with his.
"So what happened to him?" I asked. "He got fired," Bonano replied. Snickering in unison with Dandala. "And how did that happen," I asked with a smirk on my face. "Let's meet after work and we can talk then."
Dandala tapped me twice on the shoulder and we all packed up the mess we had made on the cafeteria table.
I would meet up with them after work as scheduled. It was a very informative talk filled with promise and light. I slept bothered for the next couple of days due to this talk. Crossing off the days in the calendar with optimistic dread.
Friday the 15th was upon us. A supposedly glorious day. September is the season of rose blooms and daffodils. And innocent white carnations.
“Don’t make it too obvious or it'll be suspicious,” Dandala had said at the meeting.
We had picked Tuesday as the day of reckoning. The day we prepared prototype designs for the mass Thursday run. Ensuring products were up to standard and scaled to the correct dimensions. Which meant ensuring the injection mould tool was up to scratch and set correctly for the specific job. In this case, five thousand houses or outer shells for a name-brand electric drill.
“This is long term so you need to keep yourself together when it finally comes time to tell your side of the story.” Dandala had looked me directly in the eyes when saying this.
It was the manager’s job to ensure everything was correct and up to speed.
My friendly manager had become complacent in his job. Neglecting certain key elements, not only for his job but for production in general. in order to convenience himself. Trusting me to be competent enough to perform his duties on top of mine.
“I will play my part to perfection. I will do what I need to do. You do what needs to be done,” Dandala had assured me.
His job would be to call to Cecil's attention, some defunct remote control shell parts. Get Cecil to decide on whether to recycle them or not. Then convince him to take the recycling route. Which meant paperwork. Which meant he would stay out of my hair that day under the pretence of being bogged down with work.
It was a tried and tested formula if you just wanted his condescending irritating demeanour away from the production floor.
“Once you commit, there's no turning back. So be sure about your decision.” Dandala's face was stern with eyebrows raised. Bonano was nodding with the same expression. “I’m sure. I'm going through with it. That dirty coward must learn from his mistakes. I will gladly teach him.” That was our first and last after-hours meeting. All I could think about from then on was the freedom of working Cecil free.
I had set the injection mould tool to make bigger screw holes and clipping mechanics than the Bureau of Standards’ regulated requirements. Not so big that the changes would be noticeable. Because they still had to make it past miscellaneous assembly and inspection before they left our department and got handed over to the assembly department.
That would happen the following day. At which mistakes and inconsistencies would only be reported on Monday while the rest of the assembling continued.
It would be too late to stop production and re-model anything if the assembly crew couldn’t continue. You would have to reconstruct the injection mould tool from scratch just to get started. A tedious and lengthy task in and of itself.
I was hoping that protocol would stick in this unique instance as I wanted to enjoy my weekend before things fell apart. Knock off times for most departments was 1 pm on Friday’s. Including ours. I had to leave on the dot if I was to avoid any chance of being called in for weekend overtime to fix the mess. I needed this time off to cool down and prepare my nerves.
A grim excitement took hold of me that Thursday morning. Knowing what I knew and wondering how it was going to affect me. But mostly seeing Cecil panic as his face turned pink trying to explain himself with his mouth half-open. I knew him like the back of my hand.
The injection mould tool was connected and the machine started up. All routine. I fed the plastic into the tool. Then the soft rubber around the designated areas of the plastic. Bonano and Ricardo were in charge of the cooling process.
One configured shell fell off the production rack. Followed by another. And another. Financial folly stacking one on top of the other. I had become numb by the time we reached the halfway mark. The unrelenting terror of consequence refusing to exit my mind.
Cecil came to the floor near the end of our shift.
“Is everything coming along fine?”
“Yes boss,” Ricardo replied.
Ricardo was a junior who had no reason to know what was going on besides what his eyes saw. Him and everybody else outside of our triangle of trust.
His ignorance of the events unfolding would serve me right come enquiry and interview time. If things were to go that far.
“Everything is spic and span,” Ricardo continued. “Sounds great my good man. What about you Leshuba. Is everything spic and span on your side?” “Yes, Cecil. Everything is fine. We're just about to pack up,” I said feigning a smile. “That’s great. I wish you a safe journey home then. Just make sure you lock up well when you leave.” I continued to hold my fake smile. “Yes, Cecil. We will make sure of that.”
As if we hadn't locked the production floor a thousand times before. But then that’s the attention to detail we came to expect from him. The verbal kind.
Monday flew around the corner and all the talk was about the defective drill shells. I was the focus of attention throughout the whole floor. Rightfully so. But I was confident that my fall guy would shine through. Cecil, myself and Dandala, being the production manager, supervisor and senior maintenance officer respectively, were immediately summoned to Frederick's office shortly after easing into the morning.
Andiswa Miego, the head of the assembly department, was there. Leaning on the filing cabinet with her arms crossed. “What the f… happened last week? The entire line was a f… up. Cecil. Leshuba. Dandala. Explain. And it better be good because heads are rolling today. The executives are on my behind. The CEO is saying we're making him look like an a… This is the biggest f… up that I've ever seen in my life. I can’t believe you could f… up this bad.”
After a needle drop of silence, Frederick lifted his hands, “Well, I’m waiting.”
“We'll sir. I was busy approving the defunct remote control's for recycling so…”
“Bull…” Frederick interjected. “It doesn't take that long to do recycling paperwork.”
“Yes. But then I had to attend to the engineering technicians. There's a lot of…”
“Yeah. I've heard that story before. I think you spend way too much time doing everything except the work you're supposed to be doing in your own department Cecil. That's why everything's going to hell. You're not minding your own business to give a s… Excuses. That's what it sounds like. F…ng excuses.”
I felt a wave of satisfaction at this relentless grilling. That is until my name came up.
“What’s the point of checks and balances if you don't follow them Leshuba? You should have spotted the change way before you set up the line. Are we just pushing things through now with no care whatsoever? How did the sizes change?”
I had practised a response over the weekend but the pressure knocked me off course.
“I don't know? It was perfect when we tested it. Something must have happened between the time the mould tool was designed and when it was connected to the machine.”
“Bull… There's no way the tool changed unless someone changed it or it was wrong from the beginning so which one is it?”
My throat would no longer accept my saliva. Pushing it back up each time I tried to swallow. “I don't know how to explain it because we always test it before it leaves the workshop. I can't explain how it changed sizes.”
“So you're saying someone adjusted the sizes while you were looking the other way?”
“I don't know what happened. I can’t tell…” “A poltergeist walked into the building and f…ed with the equipment is that what you're saying?” “No. That's not what I'm saying.”
“The more you talk the more fantastical your story sounds Leshuba. You're gonna have to do way better than that.” I began rubbing my nose bone.
“So none of you can give me a coherent answer? Dandala. What do you have to say?” Dandala brushed his bald head?
“I can't explain what happened, sir. I'll have to check and see if I spot any inconsistencies.”
“It’s too late for that,” Frederick interjected.
“That should have been part of your checking process,” Andiswa spoke finally.
“100 percent,” Frederick replied. “We can't work like this. Not knowing what’s going on. Doing things with no care. Just as long as it’s done. That’s not how things work around here. Honestly. You should all know better. Especially the three of you.”
He took a breather before continuing.
“There is big sh... going on upstairs. Your fates now lie in the hands of the executives. Based on the evidence I present, will determine what happens next. Just go back to normal production for now. I'll have an answer for you by the end of business tomorrow. Each of you send me an email with a breakdown of the events leading up to and after the passing off of the goods to the assembly department. CC Andiswa in the email. Make sure you send those emails before lunch today. Goodbye.”
“Boss. I just wanted to say I apologize for what’s happened and…”
“Don’t care Cecil. Too late for apologies now. Just send the mail and let’s see what happens.”
Due to my final warning, I was fired the following day. Negligence and failure to adhere to protocol. The company reportedly lost half a million over the incident. They had to make an example so I became the fall guy. Cecil and Dandala were let off with written warnings.
I was bitter for the first three days. Losing is never fun. Losing to your enemy is devastating. Karma dealt me my penance. This realisation allowing me to come to terms with my misfortune. Perhaps it was for the better. God knows what punishment I would have received had I twisted my wrists two weeks earlier.