The call centre was located in the most desolate town in northern England. At one time it had been a thriving industrial town, but now all it had was the call centre which employed over two thousand people.
The receptionist gave Ujjwal a cold stare as she printed their visitors’ passes. ‘She usually smiles at me,’ Ujjwal muttered to Venky and Pritam as they walked towards the conference room. It was not just the receptionist. The three men drew angry looks from everyone they passed.
John was already inside the conference room.
‘Hello Ujjwal!’ He mispronounced the name exactly as he had done on the last two occasions.
‘Good to see you again John. Can I introduce my colleagues Pritam and Venky?’
They declined the offer of coffee and tea.
‘We’ll stick with the same story.’ John told Ujjwal blandly.
‘Hmm, I somehow get the feeling that the people here suspect something.’ Ujjwal told John, scanning his face for a lie as he did so.
‘We haven’t told anyone anything and my instructions are to stick with the same story,’ John reiterated, as poker-faced as ever.
Ujjwal didn’t care. Word always got around sooner or later. And it was John’s problem, not his.
‘Shall I call in Peter and James?’
‘Why not? All five hundred seats are under them, right?’
John went over to the telephone and dialed. While he was on the phone, Venky checked his phone once again for messages.
‘Ujjwal, can I make a quick phone call?’
‘They’ll be here any moment.’
‘I’ll be quick. This is important.’ Without waiting for Ujjwal’s consent, Venky ran out of the room, dialing as he went out. His wife did not answer the phone. Either they were still in the hospital or she was still mad at him. He was about to leave a message when he heard footsteps approaching. He rushed inside but the footsteps just went past. It was another five minutes before Peter and James entered the conference room.
The introductions were brief. These men are here to assess our software and propose something better than what we have. Don’t you think its time we replaced the shit systems we are using?
Peter and James laughed easily. Of course, they need to be replaced. They then went about their tasks professionally and systematically. The visitors were introduced to various team leads. This is how we capture data, these are our servers, he does this and she does that. They took copious notes.
Venky’s mobile made a beep. ‘Doctor says no worry. Antibiotics given. No school for a week,’ the sms said. Venky considered calling back, but Ujjwal read his thoughts and frowned at him.
Soon it was time for lunch. They trooped off to the staff canteen which was crowded. On the way, Venky tried calling home, but got no answer.
‘Did John say he would join us?’
‘He said he would try, but we shouldn’t wait for him.’
Venky was a vegetarian. Would he like a cheese sandwich? But Venky couldn’t stomach the taste of cheese. He picked up a hummus sandwich instead.
As they walked in a single file past a group of men sharing a good joke, one of them put his foot out and caught Pritam, who went down with a thud. The culprit got up and helped Pritam to his feet.
‘Sorry mate,’ he solicitously told Pritam as he gathered his box-wrapped tuna sandwich and bottled orange juice from the floor. ‘Too bloody absent-minded. Too many things to think off. Mortgage, school-fees, brushing up my CV …….’
‘Bloody thieves,’ someone muttered. There was a muted giggle from behind. Neither James nor Peter said a word.
They went to their seats and quietly ate their lunch. Venky’s mobile beeped again. ‘Please call me now,’ the message said.