Contemporary Fiction Suspense

Sarai entered the office building and followed the signs to the 2nd-floor reception area. Her new skirt felt tight as she strode confidently along the corridor, trying desperately not to skid on the polished wooden floors. Elated that she had managed to get through two interviews and a psychometric test, she was prepared to start her dream job.

Sarai entered a large room tastefully decorated with large circular abstract artwork on one wall and a smart office chair behind an imposing teak desk. There was a fantastic view across the city through angular windows capturing the warm morning sun. She made herself comfortable and opened a few drawers out of curiosity while rotating on the office chair. As she straightened the new computer screen, the door opened, and a woman in a razor-sharp trouser suit entered with a puzzled expression.

"I think you are sitting on the wrong side of the desk," said the newcomer as she hung her blazer on a coat stand.

"You must be the new hire?"

Sarai quickly picked up her bag, skirted to the other side of the desk, and stood uncomfortably at attention.

"Welcome to Humanity International, although I'm not sure what you are doing in this  office."

"I'm sorry. I asked at reception and was given instructions to come here, and here I am."

"I'm Mrs Fudira, by the way, managing the Programmes Department. You are supposed to be one floor down. Let me call someone to escort you."

Sarai felt sweat trickling down her back as she followed a young man in response to Mrs Fudira's instruction. He was smirking as he strode down the corridor with Sarai in hot pursuit.

"Sorry about that. You will soon get used to Mandy's pranks.  She deliberately sent you to the wrong office.  No hard feelings?"

The colleague deposited Sarai at a desk with a plaque labelled Supervisor, did a u-turn, and disappeared without another word. The chair was empty, and Sarai resolved she would not be caught twice in the wrong seat, so she waited.

Ten minutes later, she was still waiting, and her feet in her only worn once shoes were beginning to pinch her as she shifted from one foot to the other. She was about to ask the occupant of a nearby desk when a woman sounding breathless, arrived and looked at Sarai quizically.

"Oh, you must be the new intern. I'm Bongai. What's your name?"

Sarai introduced herself and remained standing awkwardly, waiting for instructions.

"It's been hectic lately, and we certainly need an extra pair of hands. Are you are joining the Accounts department?"

"Er, no. I did a course on Finance for non Financial Managers," said Sarai, “but that is not my strength. I am expecting to work in programming, just like the job advert said."

"Oh yes, The advert! Things are moving so fast around here," said Bongai. "All our posts are being re-examined since the announcement. That's what this email says," as Bongai turned to share her screen.

Sarai, as if she had not heard anything continued, "I was interviewed and hired less than a month ago as an International Project Assistant focusing on Maternal Health. The job still exists, doesn’t it?"

"You know how quickly the environment changes in the NGO sector,” said Bongai. “On Friday, before the long weekend, the government announced cuts in international project funding. The announcement has a major impact on the post you were hired for. Here, you can read about the changes in the national paper."

Sarai, feeling light-headed, was offered a chair as she scanned through the article. The report stated that the government, with immediate effect, would be reducing spending on international development assistance. The aid budget cut would create a black hole in the funding, impacting critical areas such as health work. She re-read the article, and the message was still the same.

"I'm sorry, I don't understand. Why didn't anyone contact me? Do I still have a job?"

"To be fair," said Bongai, "the announcement has caught everyone by surprise. You are lucky to have come just in time for the departmental meeting at 10:00 am. So I suggest you go and make yourself a coffee and come with me to the boardroom where everyone is congregating."

As the room emptied, people switched off their screens and carried their notebooks to the boardroom. Sarai joined her new colleague, but by the time they arrived, there was standing room only. Sarai cast her eyes around the room, trying to get a sense of the organisation she had joined. It was like a mini UN, and the buzz circulating the room was energising. Murmuring in the room decreased as a man and woman entered carrying smartphones and thin files. Respect for the two was reflected by the silence now pervading the room.

"Who are they?” Sarai whispered to a neighbour.

"The CEO is the woman in the red blouse. Next to her is the COO, the power behind the throne," a voice responded, giggling nervously. "Today is D-day."

All attention was now focused on the two senior staff who cast their eyes around the room, gauging whether they had their audience's attention. After the preliminaries, the CEO delivered the critical message.

"I'm sure you have heard various rumours about the implications of the government funding cuts. Our situation is not dire, but we have to make some changes since we are already mid-year and we have to try and minimise the disruption of our programmes. We will try as far as possible to reach our annual goals, but it is inevitable that we also have to make some adjustments in our operations."

The CEO then gave the floor to the COO, who shared financial spreadsheet details that went over Sarai's head since she had not even started her onboarding. Her interest piqued when she heard the mention of programmes.

The CEO continued, "Our challenge is how can we deliver quality programmes on a limited budget? Our only solution is to cost-cut, and we have worked on a revised annual plan resulting in redundancies which will mean the last ones are the first ones we have to consider letting go. HR will be in touch with you on the way forward."

Sarai did not hear the rest of the announcement after the redundancy statement targeted at new employees. She had not even completed one day, and already it sounded as if she was out of a job. The meeting dispersed, and, looking despondent, employees returned to their desks. Some were milling in the corridors in a state of disbelief. Others continued muffled conversations, knowing there would not be much happening in the turmoil until people were clear about their job security.

"Sarai, sorry that in your first major meeting, you had to hear such negative news. HR has already sent a message for you to go up to their offices. I suggest you take your bag with you," said Bongai, unable to look Sarai in the face.

As Sarai knocked and entered the HR office, she recognised faces that had been part of her interview panel.

"Oh, hi Sarai! I had forgotten that you were starting today. How's the day been so far?" Sarai recognised the Head of HR, leaning against the desk of another staff member. "Do come in. I assume you have come to talk through your induction programme."

"Induction programme? I thought I had already lost my job after the CEO's announcement in the meeting I have just come from. You mean I'm not part of the group being made redundant?"

"Whatever gave you that idea?"

"The funding cuts and talk of reducing budgets."

"Yes, that's happening," said the Head of HR, "but the CEO also explained the realignment and mergers of departments. Yours is one of them. Oh, you thought we had recruited you for a non-existent job! No, we wouldn't be that unprofessional. There will be cuts, but more in the overseas offices, where we will be reducing the international staff thereby reducing costs. Local partners will take over to promote sustainability."

Sarai, looking relieved, said, "I must admit I didn't hear anything else after 'last in first out.' I'm so glad that I have still got a job."

"Of course," said the Head of HR. "We can't afford to lose talented people like you. However, the only major change because of the cuts is that we will no longer be sending you to our international offices. I'm afraid you are now grounded. You will also be in a smaller office due to downsizing. I'm sure your line manager will share the other changes which we now have to put in place to manage a reduced budget."

Sarai left the HR offices still uncertain about the future. Her responsibilities had undergone revision, but at least she still had a job, for now.  

September 03, 2021 08:41

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