He fidgeted around with his pen as the clock struck quarter past 2. He heaved a sigh of relief as his shift would end in 15 minutes. Just then, he received a text from his boss,

I would like to wholeheartedly commend your commitment to our company. For the last 5431 days, you have shown the utmost loyalty and dedication in your work. Not only have you completed your daily tasks, but you have stayed back for an extra 6 hours and worked overtime, despite today being both a Sunday and a national holiday. Keep up the excellent work. You are truly a valuable asset to the company.”

The same text message popped up on the screens of thirty other employees who worked along with him in the same section. They were all automated messages that had been set by the boss, who was probably fast asleep at 2 AM on a Monday. 

He got down from the office bus at 3 AM, right outside the gated community where he lived. Without taking his shoes off, he slept beside his wife, who had now become oblivious to nocturnal noise. 

The moans from the neighboring house kept him awake. It had been almost 15 years since the same noise had come from his bed. That was around the time when he began to work overtime, just after his marriage. 

Back then, everything seemed to fall in place. He had recently gotten married, and his wife had adjusted to the housewife life. Despite him prodding her to continue her job, she was satisfied with her new life. Three months after their marriage, she became pregnant. That was when his old boss began “motivating” a new culture of “doing more”. He left for work at 8 in the morning and returned at around 1 AM or 2 AM. He did get enough sleep; all he did was follow his old boss’ suggestion,

You travel for a total of ninety minutes per day. Just sleep during the bus ride. You stay at home for 5 hours. Sleep during those hours. Anyway, your wife is doing the household chores. There you go, you have six and a half hours of sleep per day. Anyway, the remaining time you spend here in the office. You don’t have to waste your time on things like bathing and brushing. As we follow an inclusive culture of accepting all magnitudes of stench, no one can send you out of office for having a bad breath. In this way, you give back maximum efficiency to our glorious company.”

That was his old boss who brought forth that “motivating” culture. Three months later, his wife got an abortion without telling him. She didn’t think he would find the time to be a father. 

To combat his depression, he began to stay long hours in the office in a bid to forget what his wife had done. Since then, for almost 15 years, he slaved at work while his bosses took credit. 

As he heard the moans increase from the neighboring house, he felt ashamed. He was relieved to be ashamed. It took him all those years to feel ashamed, but he decided that he had to balance his life again. 

On Monday, he called in sick and slept throughout the whole day. He woke up at around 10 PM on Monday and found his wife fast asleep.

He checked his phone and saw that his boss had spammed the same message to him throughout the day.

Take care of your health. The first priority of our employees is health. I hope and pray that your fever subsides quickly. Say, can you work from 10 PM onwards today, anyway it’s a mild fever, you will sleep throughout the day, and by 10 PM you will become fresh? I will add an extra ballpoint pen refill to your annual bonus if you work on sick leave days.”

He scoffed at the message and wrote his resignation email. 

On Wednesday morning, he went to the office at 9 AM. His boss was waiting for him in his cabin,

“You’re late today, eh?” his boss smirked.

The shift starts at 9 AM doesn’t it?” he replied.

“Yeah, but look at all your colleagues here. They got here at 6:30 AM. And some of them didn’t even go home, they slept under their desks.”

“Soon to be my ex-colleagues, you mean?”

A few drops of sweat ran down his boss’ face. He knew everything about the work to be done in the office. No other employee was close to his experience and knowledge. The boss had to make every attempt to keep a hold of him. He knew that he held all the cards, and his boss had no choice but to accept his demands.

He gave a list of his demands, and his boss began to sweat even more profusely. The same evening, he got ready to leave the office at 6 PM. His boss spoke,

Leaving early today eh?” his boss said.

He looked at his boss and didn’t utter a word. He left the office amidst the bewildered faces.

He had never felt this full of life in the last 15 years. He bought a rose bouquet and applied a bottle of cologne on his faded shirt. He reached home at 7 PM, his blood brimming with energy. This was the first time he had seen his wife awake on a weekday. A tent pitched inside his pants, and he loved the feeling of the blood rush. 

But as he laid his hands on her, she turned back sharply in utter shock. 

“You’re back early today?” she said.

I just wanted to spend some time with my wife.” he replied with a grin. 

She didn’t grin back; instead, her eyes searched him. Has something gone wrong? Was he trying to make amends for some mistake he made?

No dear, I just realized that I haven’t been a good husband. I’m trying to change it. Now come on, let’s get on with it.”

Her suspicion increased. But she didn’t say anything. He slowly began to get into her. She didn’t seem to enjoy it. That wasn’t the case fifteen years ago; she came onto him with a raging desire. But now, she feebly resisted his attempts. 

Despite his wife’s disinterest, he thought he could change her mind. But that night with her on the bed summed up his life’s dissatisfaction. She didn’t look into his eyes throughout their time on the bed and just laid flat on the bed. All those years back, when he was inside her, she pulled the bedsheet, or scratched him, or bit his shoulder, and showed her passion in some other way. But this time, her face faced the television, and her fists were let loose.

All these years of overworking and a sudden change, she wasn’t ready to accept it. But they both sat down to have dinner. The suspicion in her eyes was brimming, but she remained silent. She slowly ate her food without taking her eyes off of him. He ate his food without looking at her. 

This wasn’t how it was fifteen years ago, how did I allow my life to become like this?” he thought.

Right then, he received a text message from his boss,

If you take your resignation back, I will add 2 extra ballpoint pen refills to your annual bonus. I’m afraid I can’t accommodate your other requests as the higher management feels you still need to prove yourself further.”

“Done, I’ll take it back.” he continued eating without looking into her eyes, she continued eating without looking at her food.

July 01, 2021 16:54

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Vijeni Selvam
03:53 Jul 08, 2021

Nicely written!


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Blue Green
06:13 Jul 02, 2021

This is very well written, but what a depressing story! A warning to how subservience to a toxic work culture can destroy a personal life.


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