The young assistant was looking at her boss: Emil was walking briskly in front of her, heading towards the meeting room at the end of the hallway. His dark navy suit and leather briefcase gave him a formal and dignified look, complemented by the grey colour of his hair.
He was in his early thirties — the youngest director in the firm’s history. But the stress of the job had left its mark, easily adding another ten years and a few pounds to his look. The one thing that remained unchanged through the years were his eyes — dark green, knowledgeable and always full of life.
He was the best boss Cecile ever worked for: hard-working, organised and respectful to his employees. And now, seeing him marching down to what could be his last meeting in the firm was tearing her up.
“How are you so calm right now?”
He slowed down for a moment and looked at her over his shoulder.
“Why should I worry?”
Feeling ashamed, Cecile’s gaze moved to the floor. How could she possibly say to him “I don’t know… Maybe because we might be unemployed in a few hours?”
The silence was weighing heavily in the air, but Emil decided to spare her the embarrassment.
“You can say it. You’re afraid we might be losing our jobs.”
“Well… Yes.” Her eyes were still fixated on the floor, too embarrassed to meet his gaze.
“Don’t worry about it, I have a plan.”
Cecile looked up.
“What’s the plan?”, she asked, feeling hopeful for the first time since the quarterly reports came in.
“Let’s focus on what’s ahead of us. We can talk about it later.”
They went into the conference room and took their seats. Cecile studied the people around the table. Most of them seemed too caught up in making plans for their retirement to care about this meeting.
At the other end of the table, however, Karl was looking especially comfortable, sporting a smug smile on his face. Three years ago, he went up against Emil for the Sales Director position and lost. He’s hated him for it ever since, and now, his chance to shine might be an hour or two away.
The meeting began and Cecile was running around the room, handing out reports, refilling cups of coffee and manning the projector, as Emil was going over the numbers. The frustration of the room grew with each PowerPoint slide, as people realised the losses sustained over the last quarter. The boiling point hit when she was eventually asked to step out of the room.
She closed the door behind her and listened closely. At first, the murmurs on the other side of it were impossible to decipher, but as the voices turned to shouts, she quickly realised this was the end of the line for her and her boss.
A few minutes later, Emil walked out of the room. As the old saying had it, he was ‘bloodied, but unbowed.’ He made no efforts to start a conversation and Cecile respected his choice. She followed him closely to his office, and in the sustained silence, started packing her belongings beside him.
Off her small desk, she took the picture of Shelly, her frenchie bulldog, and the weeping fig Emil bought for her half a year ago. The company-issued computer, notebooks, pens and calendars would have to stay. When no one was looking, she stashed one of the brand new notebooks and her favourite pen at the bottom of the box, hidden poorly behind Shelly’s content smile.
She felt tears running down her cheeks, as she realised that all those years of hard work amounted to the few items placed in an oversized cardboard box. She ran to the bathroom and cried for what felt like an eternity.
When she came back, after some deep breaths, she mustered the courage to speak. Going up to Emil, who was done packing his equally lacklustre box, she asked “So, you said you had a plan?”
“Ah… Yes. I do.” He looked into her eyes and a playful smile took over his face: “But let’s focus on what’s ahead of us.”