I. February 2019

Home < > March 2019-1

18th February 2019, about noon in Tokyo

My director called me into the meeting room, which was rare. Suddenly, an earlier scene in which my co-worker Ben showed a noticeably impatient attitude toward our boss came to mind.

Should I be worried? My face doesn’t show emotions. Fight, flight or freeze? I always freeze as I wait for the danger to pass.

In the meeting room, I saw the little UFO on the round table. It’s the machine for phone conferences, but I have hardly used it and I just call it the UFO.

“Megu-san.” The HR manager Wendy’s voice came from the UFO. “We have something to tell you.”

I looked at my director Fred, who was calmly sitting before me.

“We are sorry, but we have decided not to extend your employment contract.”

My mouth immediately said “OK”, as if I had practiced this many times. My friends say I’m sometimes too imaginative. Every time I heard my boss narrating a story of staff dismissals, I automatically imagined my time on the chopping block. Some people break down, some begin a quarrel and some are calm. I chose to be calm. I didn’t know why.

“From tomorrow until the end of February, you will help Heather to take over your tasks. You have 19 annual days of leave left, so you can have them beginning on the 1st of March. OK?”

Relief softened my frozen heart. I have at least 30 days to find the next job. I know it’s my basic right, yet I thanked Wendy for that. My sister says I’m sometimes too soft.

“So, your last day with ITCM is the 31st of March, all right? Thanks for all your hard work, Megu-san.” Wendy was about to casually finish off the talk. She never saw this stabbed human bleeding on the earth. Was it because she was in Hong Kong and only communicating through the UFO?

“Wait!” I shouted in my mind. “May I…, may I ask the reason?” My voice came out.

Fred’s face became tense.

“May I ask the reason for my contract termination? I’m doing my tasks more efficiently compared to the past terms.”

“It’s the company’s decision,” was the director’s answer.

“Yes, Megu-san, the company has decided this,” echoed Wendy on planet Hong Kong.

They sounded as if the company had decided to discard an office PC. The company had decided to get rid of their office administrator, Megumi Ishikawa, who has never thrown a torn sock away without stitching it.

 “I understand it’s the company’s decision. May I ask you why the company has decided so, please?” said my shaky voice.

Fred and Wendy might know that my choked voice was not because of the shocking news. I am a stutterer. My throat is blocked even when I talk with my family.

“Give me the reason, please. I would have no objection.” In contrast to my words, my heart was trembling with the fear for what answer they might give.

Fred’s frown now looked apprehensive, just like my face when I feared my stutter.

“Megu, as I’ve said five times already, this is the company’s decision. That’s all.”

Wendy supported the director as if I was a retarded child who didn’t understand such a simple answer. The UFO stopped carrying her voice. I must give up. I can’t bear to fight.

“Is it your decision or Miyo’s?” Yet I turned to my director, who was from the United Kingdom.

“Wendy is in Hong Kong. It’s your decision or Miyo’s, isn’t it?” My voice was squeezed out from my blocked throat.

“It’s the company’s decision,” repeated Fred.

If I could speak more naturally, would my boss stop chanting this mantra? Or had he already consulted with his company lawyer and been advised not to give any reason to the poor employee?

“All right. I’ll ask Miyo to give me the reason,” I said in the end.

We stood up and left the meeting room quietly.

I can’t believe this. I’m an office computer, being dumped for no reason.

Before I could organize my thoughts, Sam, who resigned from this company last year, visited me. I hoped my face wasn’t showing any sombreness when his dark-grey coat appeared. He took off his coat, yet he was wearing dark grey underneath. It’s his inborn colour. The colour of a cloudy winter sky.

“Megu, I still don’t understand the explanation of the tax deduction,” said the anxious man. “According to the documents you’ve sent me, with one dependant, I’ll be taxed more.”

Perhaps, he can’t sleep until his question on the 2018 income tax certificate is fully answered. Miyo avoids Sam, saying “Everything is life-threatening for him”. But I have a different perspective from my manager. I am Japanese and Sam is Chinese-Canadian, but we are both cut from the same dark-grey cloth.

“That’s strange. The tax should become lower with one dependant.” I showed him the booklet of the monthly income tax rates. He examined it for a while.

“OK, I understood the calculation. It’s correct,” Sam nodded. “Probably, I should ask the tax office later. Will you be here next Monday?”

“Oh, I…” My brain wasn’t working well. Almost automatically, words spilled out. “Actually, I was just told that my contract won’t be extended after March. I’ll be here next week, but I’m not sure if I can…” My throat shut me up here.

Why did I tell this to him? I didn’t want him to mistake my confused face with the annoyance of his tax questions. Or, maybe I just wanted someone to know my pain.

“What?” Sam clicked his tongue. “How crazy! They always sack the helpful ones, huh?” His gloomy face showed his anger. People with dark-greyness know about sadness.

“This might be the last time you can visit me here, but it’s good we already know the calculation is correct.” I tried to smile. “When you get the answer from the taxation office, please let me know.”

Sam said he would. “Thank you for all your help.”

I wanted to cry. I liked my job here, helping my co-workers.

***

I came back to my desk and tried to open my Gmail account. When I input the password the third time, I read the error message closely.

“The password was changed one hour ago.”

My brain went blank. Now I see why Ben the IT engineer looked upset when he was given a task by our director. It must not have only been the UFO settings he had been asked to arrange. Ben could login to my Gmail account, as he took care of all the office computers.

“I can’t open my Gmail. Someone seems to have changed the password!” I turned to the office manager, Miyo. Her tanned face never looked pale, as she had seen countless staff dismissals in this office.

“Let’s go out for lunch. We need to talk,” she said. She knew that I brought my lunch box on Mondays. But I supposed she had something to say that she didn’t want the others to hear.

Miyo took me to the restaurant Daisho Suisan and ordered two Udon sets. She then opened her laptop computer on the dining table and told me to give her all the files which only I had access to. Most of the files were in our shared folder, but there were two files in my own folder.

“Please let me send an email to AFTUS,” I implored. I had to ask this before giving the two files to her. AFTUS was the company we outsourced our social insurance and accounting to.

“I’d like to say thanks to them.” I wanted someone fair to know how I was being dismissed. I trusted AFTUS, though my company ITCM had just decided to end the contract with the firm.

Miyo allowed me to write a message in her Gmail account, but instructed me to delete the sentence, “because I’m blocked from my own email account—” before it was sent.

A waiter came and placed our trays of Udon on the table. I had no appetite despite my empty stomach.

“I heard about your contract termination last night from Fred, and I was very shocked. I tried to stop him. I wrote that we would need at least three months to train the new assistant.” Miyo apologetically showed me her smartphone. I read her appeal there, but couldn’t see that she had put her heart in it.

“Megu-chan, did you talk with Fred or Hong Kong last weekend? …No? I don’t understand what they are thinking about.”

Her habitual criticism towards our director sounded insincere now. The more she condemned Fred and defended herself that she wasn’t an accomplice in the decision, the bigger my doubt grew. Her complaint about the new assistant’s training period also upset me, because I wanted her to be against the idea of my dismissal.

“Oh God!” Miyo gasped, seeing something her smartphone had just received. “Fred is saying you’ll work from home starting tomorrow. You don’t need to come to the office anymore.”

An Udon noodle fell from my chopsticks.

“But…there are things which I need to show to Heather…” I stammered, as if I had just been punched in my face.

They have blocked me from my Gmail account, and now they are banning me from the office. What is going on?

“I’ll try explaining to her by writing from home. But it’ll be hard.”

I shouldn’t be emotional, as Miyo doesn’t possess empathy. What she was afraid of right now was her own tasks in the office piling up from tomorrow. Heather was a new worker from Korea in our sales team. Miyo didn’t know about her other than she spoke good Japanese.

“It will be. Why is he harassing us?” sighed Miyo heavily. “He must know we need you.”

“He might really be harassing you.” I tried to make her take my side. “Probably, he really wants to get rid of you. So he kicks me out first and will remove you later!”

A man at the next table glanced at us, but I couldn’t stop.

“It must be a conspiracy. It must have been planned for a long time. Miyo-san, are you OK with this harassment? Are you going to do nothing when your only assistant is about to be removed so unfairly?”

I was now emotional.

Miyo had power. Her name was on the registration certificate of the company, the recruitment agency license and the office rent contract. Everywhere. She was the only CEO at the company that was Japanese and spoke the language. Without her, ITCM: IT Commerce Management JAPAN couldn’t manage their business.

“I know. I’m so angry with Fred and Hong Kong. But what can I do?” was the answer of the person who reigned over the company.

***

Entering the office, I felt the others’ eyes staring at the verdict labelled on my back: “Guilty”.

Calm down and just do what you have to do now, I told myself and started clearing my desk.

“Here is the cabinet key. These are the envelopes for the on-site workers’ monthly expense receipts.” I must tell everything to Miyo by the end of the day. “The tax certificates are in this box. You can ask Cynthia about the Ariba system. When you apply for work visas, see this blue file…”

Something shone in my boss’s round eye. I also heard her sniffle. Fred came near our desks and the office manager’s sob stopped. Perhaps, it was her allergy.

“She is very calm…” One colleague’s low voice reached my ear. I self-consciously assumed that they were talking about me. “…after receiving such sudden notice…”

They sounded as if they were praising my composure. The thought drove me to behave even cooler.

I noticed that my Skype account was still working. For some reason, they hadn’t changed the password of my Skype. Hurriedly, I typed a message to my co-worker Cynthia in the Hong Kong office.

“You’re leaving, Megu! What sad news! You’ve found a better company?” replied Cynthia.

“I’m sad too, but I must comply with the company’s decision.”

“What? Is it not your decision?”

“No, it can’t be mine. I’m such an enthusiastic worker, you know—”

“But…why?”

“What are you doing now?” Miyo interrupted my writing. “Wendy is asking.”

“Chatting with Cynthia on Skype,” I answered, still typing.

“Fred didn’t tell me the reason. I can guess it, though. I have kept suggesting to the company that—”

Fred came to Miyo’s desk again to whisper something. It’s so weird that the attention of both CEOs was fully on me today, though neither had ever noticed me cleaning the kitchen drain with an old toothbrush every Tuesday morning.

“Megu-chan, we never know when Wendy is sitting next to Cynthia. Better stop writing to her now,” Miyo instructed. “Wendy has kept asking me what you are doing now.”

“All right.” I stopped replying to Cynthia’s question asking what I had suggested to the company. Instead, I clicked the avatar of the Hong Kong HR manager. “I’ll show her what I’m doing right now.”

“Wendy, I’m writing to give thanks to you for the opportunity to work in ITCM…” I wrote to her.

Greeting my co-workers on my last day, how could this possibly be a sin?

“I truly appreciate all your hard work, Megu-san.” I read her response. These phoney words were still fine. Every employee who had worked with a passion deserved them.

I carried the shredder out to the meeting room so as not to disturb the recruiters’ telephone conversations. While I was shredding unnecessary papers, Fred came in.

“What are you doing?”

The ITCM CEOs’ agenda today must be titled “what Megu is doing”.

“I’m shredding unnecessary documents which contain staff members’ private information,” I answered.

Could this be any kind of offense?

The director’s mouth opened, but he said nothing. Why he looked so agitated, I didn’t know. Miyo had said that the tyrant enjoyed kicking out people who he disliked, but he didn’t look at all happy now.

At 6 p.m., sales workers and IT engineers left the office as though fleeing from some hidden explosive. In the vacant office, I pushed all my stuff in some bags: my untouched lunch box, mug, blanket, umbrella and picture of Ana. When Miyo and I were leaving the office, Fred said, “See you tomorrow, Miyo,” from his office. He said nothing to me.

19th February 2019

I didn’t wake up in the morning but not because I didn’t have to go to the office. I did not sleep a minute last night. My brain often fights stubbornly against rest. I know her well from our 37-year relationship. But unlike my tough brain, my body is fragile.

“You’ve got a sore throat? It must be from the stress! I’m so angry at your company!” My sister Rica’s email is boiling with rage. She was rather tranquil last night, though, when we talked on the phone.

“Megu, I read your message. Where are you now? Are you safe at home?”

Rica sounded so apprehensive that I pretended to be at home. In fact, I was still walking to my old, one-room apartment.

“Good. If you’re safe, it’s good,” my sister repeated. “Your company is that lousy one, right? I’m so relieved to hear that you’ve got out of such an awful place.”

I had told her about my company several times, so she probably remembered what had happened to a disobedient worker in the ITCM Hong Kong office. “The worker was informed of his dismissal in a café nearby the office. When he returned to the office, the door was locked and all his stuff had been thrown in the hallway,” Miyo had told me, as if it was a piece of amusing gossip.

“Yes, I’ve taken all my stuff back home. Ana’s picture too,” I assured her.

“That’s very good. I watched a movie today. In that movie, an honest man who stands up against the corrupt company CEOs is murdered by them. It was horrible.”

I dashed into my room and locked the door firmly. I lived alone. “That sounds like an awful movie.”

Rica made me promise that I would never fight against the company about the termination of my employment contract. “It’s not worth doing in return for your precious life,” she asserted.

But my sister’s angry email this morning was heating my body even in the coldest season in Tokyo. I forgot the fear last night and sent an email to Miyo to give me written notice of my teleworking and permission for the next month’s annual leave.

“Please send me a letter giving a reason for my contract termination too,” I boldly added.

“I’ll send it to you later,” was the office manager’s reply.

Turning on the heater and putting a mug of cocoa on the table, I duly faced my small laptop computer to answer Miyo’s questions. Her questions were endless, mainly about January’s salary calculation. She even called me and we talked on the phone as if nothing had happened yesterday. There was not a single caring word from her.

“Oh,” said she once, stopping the discussion on accounting. “I almost forgot to remind you. You must cancel your commuter train pass, OK?”

Of course, it’s an important matter. The company shouldn’t spend money on anything unnecessary. So, I would really not go to the office anymore…

Suddenly, I felt nauseous and vomited in my toilet. Was I expecting any kind words from Miyo? Was I waiting for Fred to call me and apologise, that the decision had been a big mistake and would be taken back? Wake up, Megu!

In the evening, I went out to have my commuter pass cancelled.

“Because I don’t need this pass anymore— ”

It took a great effort to make this sad request. But the clerk in Ogikubo station customer centre mechanically calculated the refund and gave it to me.

“Here you are. I deleted the data from your Suica card.”

I couldn’t hide my shock when I saw the blank card. Dark music started to wrap itself around me. Can’t this clerk imagine there must have been a tragic story behind this cancellation? Wouldn’t he sense my sadness and ask me what is hurting me?

“Anything wrong?” asked the clerk, as if he cancelled commuters’ passes every day.

“No,” I weakly smiled. “Thank you.”

The music stopped with my melodramatic mood.

***

20th February 2019

I wrote to Miyo, “I’m ready for work!” before 9 a.m. to show her what a devoted worker I am even remotely. But I soon remembered that Miyo never showed up in the office until 10.30 a.m.

My sister’s message arrived earlier than my boss’s.

“They haven’t given you written notice yet?” She was so distrustful of my company. “They ignore your request and keep asking questions about their tasks? How convenient it is for them!”

The company is taking advantage of me, I know.

“Is your boss really going to pay you for your work this month?” she asked sceptically.

Indeed, that’s the question I had kept asking myself too. I remember Ronald Perry’s last salary wasn’t paid after his resignation from ITCM.

“If Ronald contacts you about his salary, just tell him to call me directly,” was Fred’s direction in September 2017. So when I received a message from Ronald, I wrote to him as directed. 

Apparently, Ronald didn’t contact his former boss, and his last salary is still being kept in our bank transfer holding list even today. AFTUS warned us that a monthly salary had to be provided “monthly”, but Fred never approved the payment.

“Because Ronald used some images from a website, ignoring their intellectual property rights, we are in trouble now. He has a huge debt to ITCM,” was the director’s reason.

“Salary is salary. Debt is debt. Unless there is an agreement which specifies debt deductions from the salary, the two things shouldn’t be mixed up,” was AFTUS’s advice.

No surprise that Fred disliked AFTUS.

I began imagining that Fred was directing Miyo not to pay my last salary because I had made a serious mistake in my tasks or something.

“Now I’m worried. I’ll ask Miyo again,” I replied to my sister.

“Yes. You must not answer her questions until she gives you written notice. Verbal notification is not trustworthy,” Rica insisted. “They’re the ones who suddenly kicked you out. How come they can ask for anything from you now? They are treating you like dirt!”

I sipped my hot cocoa and slowly put the mug on the table. Great. I’ve been discarded. I’m being taken advantage of and I’m being treated like dirt.

Here came Miyo’s email, asking me for the password of our HR account on Skype. Wednesday was the day I hated most because of the weekly Skype meeting.

“Could you please send me written instructions about my teleworking?” I wrote, instead of telling her the password. “It would take only a minute to write one sentence in an email.” I knew they could join the meeting from their individual accounts anyway.

“This is the first HR meeting for Heather and I want to introduce her to everyone. Please give me the password,” my boss repeated as if she hadn’t received my request.

She is completely looking down on me! My cheeks grew hot with a fever. I must not be rubbished anymore!

At 11 o’clock, the start time of the meeting, Miyo’s chilling email arrived.

“I’m so disappointed that you repeat your selfish request, knowing how busy we are here. You do not need to do anything until I tell you.”

Funnily, being called “selfish” didn’t hit me. I was always sick of acting “selflessly” in this society. My concern was that I might have to fight against my company. If my salary wasn’t paid, I must ask for legal help. It’s not about the money but about my rights and dignity. This simple thought was already perturbing me.

Hurriedly, I searched online for Tokyo Labour Union and called the number.

“I can’t trust my company, so I wanted written notice. But I’m afraid that my manager is now angry at me and she might not pay my February and March salary.” I explained the situation. “I don’t want to make this into a big thing. What should I do?”

“I totally understand your worry, especially after you have seen another employee not receiving his last month of salary.” The union consultant sounded sympathetic. “Since you would like to avoid a conflict, you’d better do everything you’re asked by your company for now,” was his advice.

“Yes, I should,” I agreed, just like I had agreed with Rica’s contradictory advice a short time ago. When my anxiety spikes, I’m as gullible as a 6-year-old.

“Hearing your story, your company is not a respectful one. But this issue shouldn’t become big. Let’s try to harmonize with them, OK?”

“OK.”

I’m a peace lover. I’m good at harmonizing with others.

“Please call again if your last month of salary is not properly paid. My name is Ikuta.”

Soon after finishing the phone talk, I wrote to Miyo to harmonize.

“Miyo-san, I’m sorry about my previous message. I was so selfish. I didn’t mean to trouble you and Heather.”

“That’s OK, Megu-chan. Things are hard here and I’ve been at management meetings continually. I’m so tired. I want you to have a little rest now too,” my boss replied.

Have a little REST?

It’s only the second day of my long period of unrest. I lay my head on the table, hoping my brain would indulge in some rest. In a minute, my eyes were wide open.

Could anyone help me have a little rest, please?

21st February 2019

I wonder who is watering the pothos plant in the office.

“Here is the new password of your Google account,” Ben says in my imaginary phone talk with him. “Please come back to the office, Megu-san. We all miss you. The pothos as well. Miyo-san never waters it.”

At noon, I went to a local clinic because of my sore throat. The doctor said I had caught a cold as the weather had been freezing. He prescribed some medication. I wanted to tell him that I couldn’t sleep, but my throat was blocked. It always shuts out any calls for help.

Miyo’s questions today were mainly about residence tax.

“Why are Alex’s, Rie’s and Simon’s taxes not deducted from their salary?” she asked.

“Probably because they are not billed,” I answered. “Those who have already paid the full amount for this term, or those who didn’t have income last year, are not billed.” Or their bills hadn’t arrived in the office yet. Had I been in the office, I could have easily checked their records and called the local council to make sure. It’s frustrating.

I was almost glad that I had got a sore throat. I could ask Miyo to write instead of calling my private phone. Seriously, I might puke again if I heard her voice.

After lunch, I took some medicine and tried to sleep. Miyo would be away for a few hours for lunch.

“I can’t sleep…” the anxious voice said in my shallow dream.

Eleven-year-old Megu was in her pyjamas, standing at the living-room door under the dim light. The hour hand on the clock above dad’s futon was pointing at 4 a.m.

“Megu, it’s too early to get up.” Dad turned around from the TV screen. It must be Sunday morning. He had stayed up to watch some sports matches. “I’m going to bed now. So you go back to sleep too.”

I can’t believe him saying “sleep”, as if it’s as easy to do as breathing.

“But dad, I cannot sleep,” I repeated. I had been trying to sleep since 9 p.m. last night. I was afraid that I would never be able to sleep and I would eventually die. The fear further prevented me from sleeping.

“If you can’t sleep, just lie down and close your eyes,” advised my father. “Just rest your body, OK?”

OK… Just rest my body.

I raised my head and saw the heater had automatically turned off. It was before 3 p.m. I did finally sleep for an hour at my table. Before checking my email box, I took my clothes in from the cold balcony. Tomorrow would be sunny too, as I saw the red sky in the west.

***

22nd February 2019

I slept for four hours last night. Fred’s hostile face didn’t appear in my dream, yet I can’t remember his smile anymore. It’s a funny story now, but when I first met Fred at my job interview, I instantly trusted him. I thought of my former colleague Fred, who stuttered when he pronounced any words which included the t sound. That Fred was a warm-hearted, genius software developer and my secret hero.

When the questions from Miyo paused, I started a job search on the internet. Though I have savings to survive for a while, I can’t stay pitying myself forever.

It’s Friday, the day I liked most in the week. The reason wasn’t because the weekend was coming, but because I went to a local sports club to join the ballet class on Fridays. But I wasn’t going there tonight. Instead, I was going to Michelle Layne to register my C.V.

Michelle Layne was a giant recruitment agency, specializing in global businesses. I knew the company because Hanna the recruiter got a job there after ITCM. When I was waiting at the entrance of the ML office, which was ten times larger than ITCM’s, Hanna appeared from the hallway.

It’s Murphy’s Law. I shouldn’t be upset.

“Megu!” Hanna looked surprised to see me. “What are you doing here?”

“Hi! You look great, Hanna. I’m…looking for a job,” I said at once.

We chewed the fat there, and for a moment I felt as if I was just a job seeker who wanted to move to a better workplace. No one knew that I had been suddenly dismissed and desperate for new opportunities.

No. I must not tell that I was expelled. That would give them the wrong impression. But if I said that I had decided to quit my job, I might be seen as an irresponsible person. It’s a dilemma.

“So, your last day in your current office is the 31st of March. Has this already been fixed?” asked my interviewer, a young, friendly woman, in the meeting room.

“Yes, my boss and I have decided so,” I answered, feeling guilty.

“Good. Now, may I ask you the reason why you want to leave ITCM JAPAN?”

I had no difficulty answering this question because I could tell the truth, though I had never decided to leave the company. “I have been placed in a stressful position between the company managers and the workers.” I suddenly became fluent in English. Only sometimes, stronger emotions make me less conscious of my stutter.

“I couldn’t bear how the company treats its workers. I occasionally suggested that workers are not the company’s business tools. But I wasn’t listened to.”

I saw my interviewer nodding and felt encouraged. “—So, I have decided to leave there.”

What a liar I am! In fact, I had never given up on my company.

When I left the ML’s office in Kamiyacho, the freezing night had already fallen over the skyscrapers. Another sunny day was ending, without shedding a single light inside me.

23rd February 2019

Medication has been keeping my relentlessly active brain from self-destructing. I now understand drug addiction.

I sent a message to Ms Natsu, the organizer of the chorus group which I belonged to, telling her that I couldn’t join the practice today.

“We’ll miss you today, Megu-san. Hope your throat gets better soon,” Ms Natsu replied.

I suddenly missed her too. When we are weak, we crave kindness.

But I was still unsettled. Even the sympathy from millions of people wouldn’t clear this heavy fog in my heart. It was getting thicker and pushing hard against my body from the inside. Vacant time unleashed my negative imagination. I thought of Elle’s email which came this morning. Elle was a recruiter from the Philippines, the youngest of the staff in ITCM.

“I’m so sorry about what has happened to you, Megu,” her message had said. “Let me know if you need any help with your job search.”

I appreciated her offer but at the same time felt horrified by the thought of becoming a candidate of ITCM. Had Fred instructed Elle to send the message to me? I wondered. Was he still trying to use me for his business, just like he did to Jim?

Jim’s employment contract wasn’t extended last September because Fred judged that he hadn’t performed well as a recruiter. According to the other recruiters, Jim had made a recent complaint against his manager Karen that she had contacted one of his candidates and made them a job offer while Jim had been sent away to help IT engineers. Recruiters are given a bonus from ITCM when their candidates get a job. Also, when all the recruiters had had a meeting with the Hong Kong managers, Jim had been the one most critical of Karen.

“He spoke out on behalf of us,” Yumi the recruiter had told me after the meeting. “I hope nothing will happen to him because of that.”

Actually, something unusual had begun happening since a week before his dismissal. Fred had suddenly started to give Jim an intensive drilling while sitting beside him. It had continued every day for a week.

“All right? This was YOUR job that you had to do, Jim. You didn’t do it properly!”

As everyone in the small office became statues, I also tried to focus on my tasks despite the growling from Fred. I supposed that Fred was going to promote Jim, so he wanted to show everyone how much expectation the company was placing on the junior recruiter in his second year.

When Jim’s contract was simply terminated, I was slow to comprehend the meaning of Fred’s recent drilling. We can’t expect workers to improve after only a week of training. Was it merely a performance to justify Jim’s dismissal? But who could have argued with the director about his decision in this small company? All we could do was encourage the shattered boy to move on.

However, two months after his farewell, Fred was given a job from a client and Jim was offered the “talent-acquisition consultant” position to be sent to the client’s site. Had Fred introduced Jim, who he had just fired for his poor performance, to the client as a very good recruiter? “It’s obvious that Jim’s dismissal was because of his criticisms against Karen. He’ll decline the offer. It’s too convenient for ITCM!” the workers gossiped in the office.

Jim decided to accept the offer. “I want to keep my career,” explained he, who had been helping a removal company as a part-time worker. His salary was increased and so was ITCM’s profit.

In ITCM, people are simply traded.

A bunch of laughter came up from downstairs. Whoever lived there must be a happy person because I heard him and probably his friends laughing almost every night. I should stop being paranoid and be happy too.

I watched comedy on YouTube, but nothing made me laugh. Before long, I gave up on being happy and closed the YouTube window. The Skype window appeared on my desktop instead. I had got a message from Kim, my American friend. Our last conversation had been recorded on 16th February. Ironically, the topic was the managers in ITCM.

“Usual business shenanigans,” Kim had said to my description of Miyo’s magical ability to never use up her days of paid annual leave however many holidays she took.

“Hi Kim, I have news—” I wrote, speculating that I might be punished for my criticism of Fred and Miyo here. Maybe they had asked Ben to hack my private Skype account.

“This Monday, I was called by Fred and told that my employment contract won’t be extended…”

Once I started typing, the grey fog in my heart started streaming out through my fingers. I was never willing to tell this story to anyone, because I would be mistaken as a troublemaker who was annoyed by her employer. A dismissed person would never be appreciated in Japan. But I knew I wouldn’t be seen like that by my American friend.

***

24th February 2019

Kim wrote back to me to cheer me up.

“They really didn’t appreciate you asking the reason for why the contract ended, did they? But I think you have a personal right to know.”

I recalled my timorous voice asking the question to Fred in the meeting room. Oddly, he had looked more frightened than me by the question. His blue eyes had seen me as if I was a sort of vermin still alive despite his strong chemical spray.

“I would have been so irate! I can barely keep my cool in those situations. You sound very good at keeping calm, even when you’re ready to break.”

Kim knew how angry I was, and how chagrined and defeated I felt. So she praised me. I had been desperate to be understood by someone like her.

I clicked Ami’s Skype avatar to tell the news to her too. She is my old friend who lives in Hokkaido. Our friendship would never be affected by whether I was dismissed or promoted by my employer.

25th February 2019

Despite my repetitive request, Miyo had issued only the written notice of my annual leave in March so far. What about the instruction of teleworking and the reason for my contract termination? To this question, she replied, “Megu-chan, I’ll make sure that your February salary will be fully paid.”

I guess she is going to fool me like this forever. Probably ITCM can’t find any fair reason of my dismissal and they know that instructing me to work from home from the next day of my sudden dismissal is morally wrong, so they don’t want to give me any written evidence of what they’ve done to me.

My Gmail account concerned me too. It was still active, though I was no longer able to access it. Yumi, the former ITCM recruiter, had tested it for me.

“Seems like the emails addressed to Megu-san are being transferred to Heather,” she had said. “I received a reply from Heather.”

According to her, my name wasn’t mentioned in Heather’s response. When I worked in the ITCM office, I received quite a few messages from on-site workers every day. They must be wondering what had happened to me.

In the afternoon, I had a phone interview with a Korean company, Golden Box Holdings. As a stutterer, I feared the telephone. But I had no choice because the head office of the company was in Korea.

“You sound like a quite reliable person and your English is very good.” The interviewer’s comment at the end of the talk was unexpected.

I started to imagine my new life in Korea. I had only been to Incheon Airport before, but I had felt at home there. People were kind, the food was delicious and I’d heard that the language was not so hard to learn. In two years, I would probably be trilingual and come back to impress Heather.

***

26th February 2019

Miyo’s messages have been getting to be more like complaints than questions.

“It’s been so busy. Heather can’t do anything yet. I stayed until late last Friday.”

To these comments, I take time to think how I should reply.

“I can come to the office and finish all the tasks by 5 p.m. for you. But you are the one who doesn’t allow me to do so, aren’t you?” My inner voice cries out.

“Otsukaresama-desu,” is my actual reply.

It’s another cold, sunny day. The faint scent of plum flowers reached my nose as they tried to paint my window with the pink colour. But I drew the dark shutter over them, refusing to see the early spring. I looked around my room, which had been my whole world since 18th February. There were only four pieces of furniture: a small bookshelf, a low table, a low chest and a bed. My kitchen was about three square meters. An unused microwave was on a one-door fridge beside the sink. I didn’t have a TV, a washing machine, a rice cooker, an electric kettle nor a vacuum cleaner, as I liked a simple life.

As I looked around, I saw only the fridge busily working away while making a humming noise. As long as it had something inside to chill, it couldn’t have a rest. Isn’t it a little unfair when the other appliances such as the air conditioner and the hair dryer are switched off now?

I had read an article in a magazine introducing a “life without a fridge” during my wait in the bank a few months ago. Along with the idea of letting go of the electrical machine, I was fascinated by the picture of glass jars with colourful food. They looked pretty beside the green plants.

I suddenly had a clear vision. I’m going to sell my fridge and buy a small cupboard instead. From now on, my food would be stored in glass jars in the cupboard!

“Do you have any empty glass jars of strawberry jam or anything?” I called my sister.

“No, I don’t. But mum might have some. Why?” Rica asked.

I was already excited with my plan, but I wouldn’t reveal it too soon.

***

27th February 2019

“Sorry letters” from the companies where I’ve sent my C.V. don’t hurt me so much. Yet I’ve been feeling like I’m junk ever since I was expelled from ITCM. Probably, no one wants me.

“We are sorry. We are looking for someone who has at least three years of experience as an HR officer,” these letters say. Fair enough. I glance at my notebook, which I’ve filled with everything I learned about labour law from my HR role for the last two and half years. Since 18th February, I haven’t touched it.

This morning, I felt especially miserable. I went out for a short stroll and ended up walking for hours. Kichijoji was my sister’s favourite shopping place, but I wasn’t excited to reach there today. I actually turned around as soon as I arrived, even without going inside a mall, although I got some free pocket tissues from a man who was touting at the entrance of the mall. The real-estate advertisement attached to the tissue said, “What a Happy Life!”

I felt quite unhappy.

It happened when I came home and started cooking. A tiny black spot ran through the edge of my vision. Quickly, I looked at the white wall where I had seen the spot, but there was nothing there. No flies should be around in February. I had finally started seeing floaters!

I pictured myself being unable to get a job for many months, suffering from myodesopsia and depression. My stutter would become worse and I would begin fearing the outside world. If I couldn’t go out for job interviews, I would never get a job. Falling in the gutter, I wouldn’t be able to get out! Rica would eventually reveal how I was fired by my company to our parents and they would get distressed.

“Why didn’t Megu stop bothering her managers by suggesting whatever it was until she was fired?” mum would cry.

“Why doesn’t Megu make an effort to look for her next company, instead of hiding in her room? She shouldn’t be afraid of job interviews at her age,” my frustrated dad would say.

I would have to think about how to kill myself or go somewhere far away to escape from them. I couldn’t bear my parents’ worry. But I wouldn’t like to die yet. Maybe I’ll go to New Zealand and become a cleaner in a country hotel like I did in my 20’s. This time, I won’t tell anyone where I’m going, and I will never see my family until I die….

A tiny dark thing flew over my dinner plate. It was indeed a fly!

I didn’t think it was particularly warm today, but there was a fly in my room. It wasn’t an eye floater after all. Instantly, my future vision of life in New Zealand faded away.

***

28th February 2019

GB Holdings said that they would like to work with me. After reading their email, I felt hopeful. I could even be kind to those who had hurt me.

“Thank you so much for everything.” I wrote to Miyo, as today was my last day working for ITCM. “I’ll be on leave from tomorrow, but if you have questions regarding our tasks, please feel free to ask.”

If I’m going to work for the Korean company, I can keep my career as an office administration worker. I would be able to forget ITCM soon.

“Thanks, Megu-chan,” my boss replied. “Heather is doing all right here, except she has already booked a US tour in April, our busiest time!”

I wondered if Miyo had forgotten about my plan to go to Taiwan in March.

“Heather thought she would be fired, because she wasn’t good in the sales team. So she has booked a two-week tour!” my manager blithely went on.

I hadn’t thought that I would be fired, as I was a capable worker. So I had booked a three-day Taiwan tour, which would have been the longest holiday I had ever taken, and I cancelled it after the dismissal. Thinking of my new passport for the trip, my anger was gradually coming back. No! This was not the time to wallow in my grievances!

I shut my email box and opened the Jimoty website. I was going to put in an advertisement there for my fridge and microwave. It was fun to imagine that someone would be looking for the things which I had used and maintained well. When I was small, I named everything I had. My toys, pillow, chopsticks, socks, pencils…even one section of a chest of drawers had its name.

“Don’t worry. Your next owner should be a kind person too,” I said to my microwave and fridge while I was cleaning them with a rag.

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