Corporate Kunta….or Toby?

The slightest of knocks on my door on a bright South African Monday morning, then she waltzes in. Or rather, she barges in. There is no grace in her movement – just force.

“How far are you now?” she asks, cocking her head to one side. It’s not a bad head, really. It’s nice and oval, and on a good day I would cradle it on my lap and stroke that silky-looking hair until she sleeps. No, it’s definitely not a bad head, I decide. It’s just huge. Oh God, but the size of it though…

I realise that I have been looking at her for some moments now. She frowns, her slit of a mouth beginning to downturn in annoyance. She is just not the most patient of people.

Finally it dawns on me what she is talking about. The van Tonder report.

“Oh”, says I, jumping off my chair, scattering my orderly arrangement of paraphernalia on my desk. I grab the relevant file, just behind me in the ‘outgoing’ cubicle. “Here we go”, I say as I hand it to her, smiling.

She utters the briefest, most silent of ‘thanks’, then she barges out, leaving my office door wide open. A smell of disinfectant immediately permeates my whole office space. I sigh. I get up and close the door. She knows that my office if directly opposite the loo. I keep it closed for that reason. I don’t think that she cares much though.

As I sit down, a brutal force kicks the door open again. If there had been the slightest bit of courtesy shown before, it has evaporated.

“There is nothing in here”, she hisses, throwing the file right at me. I catch it awkwardly, like a rugby ball. Her voice rises by ten octaves. “I TOLD you SPECIFICALLY that this rePORT is URGEN’. Have you started at ALL?”

If Goodluck Jonathan and his fellow countrymen don’t catch these booming words out there in West Africa, then I don’t know who does. I am very self-aware now. And a bit panicky.

“I did the report Annie”, I blabber.

“Well it’s not in here.” A painted fingernail taps my desk. “How many times have I told you to work with the file ALL THE TIME?”

I open the file. There is nothing in there. Real panic sets in. Did I imagine those three hours spent drafting that report?

Then I see the sticky note. It’s written in Zulu. It’s from myself to myself. It says something to this effect:

Update date of report, print and give to Annie.

Oh yes – I was going to do that at 10:00 today because it is only by that time that she is available to see me. She never wants to talk to me before 10:00.

I glance at my computer watch – 09:37.

“I was going to…” I start in explanation, then slide to a halt as she angily fixes her lazy right eye on me. I reach for my mouse, click click, and hear the whirr of the printer. Then I realise that I have not corrected the date.

“Oh shit, the date is still wrong”, I say, but she already has her hand stretched out.

“Just give that to me quickly?”, she snaps. I comply. That was not a question. “Send me the electronic version NOW?” says she. Still not a question.

She bursts out. The door is left wide open.

I sit and try to collect myself for a few minutes. The day has suddenly became drab. I don’t mind the toilet smell anymore. I have just been chastised. Whupped senseless. The reason is still unclear, but I have been ridden over in the most roughshod of fashions. You would think I would be used to this by now – even Kunta Kinte finally accepted the name Toby. But I am failing to. Why?

I breathe in deeply, breathe out, and then put my earphones on. I know I won’t do anything meaningful anymore for at least an hour. I start playing some 2pac. His anger makes me forget my own frustrations.

I think of the millions of us in the corporate world who take such bs day in and day out. All of us, paying our dues. Harbouring secret ambitions of grandeur as we hustle on, heads bent in acquiescence, posture one of humble servitude as we attend faithfully to the bidding of the master. In blind obedience do we scurry around, creating, mending, fixing, and tweaking at our master’s business. We are the grease, and our masters the cogs – they engage while we smoothen the process.

We must take it – it is our lot.

For if we quit, the question shall be asked: Bazodlani ndoda abantwana? What will the children eat?


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