‘Could you please give me another 30 mins?’ Radha asked her with exquisite politeness.
Pratiksha frowned with annoyance, and muttered ‘okay’. As if she had a choice.
‘You have the forms I sent you, right?’ she asked Radha, but Radha had already disconnected.
Time seemed to stand still. Everyone was busy working, with occasional eruptions of laughter or office banter. Everyone ignored her. Once she smiled at one of Ahmed’s jokes and slightly turned her head in the hope of connecting with someone, but no one met her eyes.
Someone clapped her gently on the back. ‘All the best Pratiksha. Keep in touch.’ It was Simoné. Of all people.
‘You’re off early?’ She so wanted to slap Simoné’s fat ass.
‘I need to. School play.’
Why not? Boss would have so benevolently assented when Simoné asked her for permission to leave early, in her usual simpering way.
‘You keep in touch, okay?’ Simoné repeated and started to walk away fast, her expensive shoes making a tiny pitter-patter sound, as if the school play would not start if she didn’t make it on time.
‘Of course Simoné. I will,’ Pratiksha called after Simoné, speaking louder than required. The extra volume did have some effect. Two of her colleagues moved their necks a bit. She would never keep in touch with Simoné, of course. Simoné had done more to mess up her life at Harvey’s than anyone else, except Boss of course.
She decided to get herself another coffee, even though Boss’s cabin was on the way. She made it safely to the orange and brown monster, but on her way back, Cappuccino in hand, she was spotted. Pratiksha wanted to ignore the wave which beckoned her inside. I’ll come back later to say goodbye, but right now, I’d like to enjoy my coffee in peace, before it gets cold, she wanted to say. She opened the door gently and went inside. How could a working cabin be so spick and span?
‘I’m going to miss you so much.’ Pratiksha tried not to stare at Boss’s bright pink lipstick, but failed, as she had failed many times in the past. Should she tell Boss before she finally left that the lipstick was two shades too bright and made her look silly? Sort of like a middle-aged whore. If only she could bring herself to say that, she was sure that Boss’s painted mouth would go agape like a gold fish and it would be so funny!
‘I’m going to miss you too Ma’am. In fact, I will miss everyone here.’ Pratiksha’s voice almost sounded sincere.
Boss gave her a knowing smile and adjusted a wispy tendril of perfectly dyed hair which was out of place. ‘Always remember what I told you. Attention to detail. If you get that right, you will go places.’
I am not a fucking twenty seven year old to be told that, Pratiksha wanted to scream. She had been, for all practical purposes, number two in the department, being not so much younger than Boss.
‘Yes Ma’am,’ she said.
‘You’ll be there for the house warming, right?’
‘Of course. I so want to see your new flat. Everyone’s been raving about it.’
‘I wish I hadn’t got carried away. I’m totally broke.’
‘I’m sure it’s all worth it.’
Pratiksha’s mobile rang. ‘It’s Radha. For my exit interview. It was supposed to have been twenty minutes ago.’
‘HR is always like that. They are so slow and inefficient.’
Hopefully they would be civilised and hear her out, Pratiksha hoped. Radha had been involved in her recruitment and she ought to remember some of the promises made when she was poached from her previous job.
‘Tell them all that you think is relevant. It will be useful for everyone, including me.’
‘Of course Ma’am, but I’ve already told you whatever I had to say.’ Pratiksha walked out quickly clutching her lukewarm Cappuccino.
Radha had brought someone else with her, which was unusual. Wasn’t an exit interview meant to be a one-on-one thing, something like a confession in a Catholic church? Pratiksha tried to imagine Simoné at confession, kneeling and blurting out her sins to a potbellied clergyman and it made her smile. Radha smiled back.
‘This is Selvi, she will do your exit interview. I have this meeting I cannot get out of.’ Radha practically ran away before Pratiksha could say a word.
What the fuck? Selvi looked as if she were still in college. What was the message being conveyed to her by having her exit interview taken by someone so junior? That whatever she had to say would be ignored?
Selvi gave her an encouraging smile and took out a sheaf of forms. ‘I’ve gone through your responses. Shall we start?’ Who the hell gave Selvi the right to sound so confident, especially when she had such a pronounced south Indian accent and was so young?
‘You’ve written that you felt suffocated on account of the way you were treated by your boss. Did you say this directly to your boss?’
‘Yes I did. Smothered was the word I used, not suffocated.’
‘Yes, yes, but did you tell her that?’
‘And what was the response?’
Boss had smiled at that. ‘I had already put in my papers, so it didn’t matter. Also, I think Mandira felt threatened by me and so she made my life miserable.’
‘Why didn’t you discuss it with her before putting in your papers? It may have made a difference.’
‘I don’t think so.’
Why do you, Selvi’s lips formed the words, but she didn’t. Instead she started to read from the forms which Pratiksha had completed.
‘Mandira has a patronising attitude towards everyone in the department. She micro-manages things and there is little freedom while executing. She refuses to differentiate between someone with five years’ experience and someone with fifteen. She encourages everyone to call her Ma’am or Boss even though the rest of the organisation is on a first name basis. There is no proper hierarchy within the department and everyone directly reports to Mandira. She used to get my reportees to ignore me and talk to her directly. Later she took away my assistants and made me do a lot of junior level work.’
‘Hmm, but everyone likes her.’ Selvi gave her an odd look. Why are you an exception? The unspoken words hung in the air like an accusation.
Pratiksha smiled. There was a lot more she could have written, but now she was glad she didn’t. What a waste!
‘I wish you had discussed all this beforehand. It would have’
‘Never mind. I’m sure you’ll pass on my feedback to Mandira and the CEO.’
‘Of course.’ What on earth would that achieve? Selvi seemed to wonder.
She got back to her work area and to an air of expectancy.
‘She’s here,’ Ahmed shouted.
Someone picked up the phone and said ‘Ma’am, she’s back.’
Boss came marching in, carrying a large box, gift wrapped in pink.
‘Did you think we would let you go just like that?’ Boss demanded.
It matches the colour of your lipstick, Pratiksha wanted to say.
‘So how long have you been with us?’ Boss enquired.
‘Almost two years.’ Everyone else was a long-timer. Boss herself had been with the organisation for over twenty years.
‘Times flies,’ Boss said. Everyone nodded.
Ahmed came close and whispered in her ear. ‘Boss really liked you. She hates to see you leave. If you change your mind even now.’ Pratiksha gave Ahmed an incredulous look.
Boss is so sweet, even after Pratiksha said so many things to her face, she’s giving her a farewell gift, they all seemed to be thinking.
Take a deep breath, deep, deep breath, she told herself. This too shall pass. And it did.
‘We’ll see you next week at the house warming,’ they told her in turns. Pratiksha kept nodding, though she was pretty sure that she wouldn’t go.
Finally it was over and she walked out, clutching a box with her personal effects. Ahmed came running after her.
‘Listen, you’re attending the house warming next week, aren’t you?’
‘Yes of course. Definitely.’ One more white lie didn’t matter. They wouldn’t miss her.
‘We’re pooling in money to buy Boss a gift. You want to contribute?’ Ahmed had a playful smile on his face.
If she was planning to attend the house warming, she would want to contribute, wouldn’t she? On the other hand, if she was planning to bunk, she wouldn’t.
‘Of course. This is so convenient. I was wondering what I could get her. Pooling is such a good idea. Pratiksha parted with two crisp thousand rupees notes that were still warm from the ATM and walked away quickly before Ahmed or anyone else could make any other demand on her.