In With The New
Early retirement is on the agenda in this reflective complete story by Leonora Francis.
An inspiring story by Leonora Francis
WE were worlds apart, Laurence and me. He was very strait-laced, meticulous, serious and highly educated, whereas he’d insisted on many occasions that I was eccentric and generally quite mad.
Despite our differences, though, we supported each other. We teased each other, laughed, joked and had a thoroughly wonderful working relationship. He was my “bestie”, as they say these days. Though, typically, Laurence didn’t agree with the word bestie.
“Bestie is one of those new-fangled words, Shelly-Ann,” he told me one day, “and is totally inappropriate to what we are to each other. ‘Work colleagues’ is the correct term.”
“Would ‘bestie at work’ sound better?” I teased. I loved winding him up.
“No,” he said. “Bestie at work does not sound better. ‘Work bestie’ would, in fact, be marginally better, but it’s still not correct and grates on the ears. Now, stop bothering me. The report I’m writing is very complex.”
He gave me a tiny smile so I knew he felt quite chuffed that I had called him my
Laurence and I had worked well together for ten years. Now he was leaving and I was sure no-one could ever take his place . . .
bestie, but several weeks later I had a shock that threatened to change my working life dramatically.
I was working hard to reduce the workload, so I was quiet and getting on with things when, out of the blue, Laurence said, “It’s time for me to put down my pen, Shelly-Ann.” I turned round to look at him. “What’s wrong with you?” I said. “So put it down, then. You don’t have to ask my permission.”
“You don’t understand what I’m trying to say,” he said solemnly.
He looked me in the eye and I looked back, but I didn’t like what I saw in those blue eyes of his.
“What I mean,” he went on, “is that I’m ready to retire.”
Laurence had said on many occasions that he was going to retire, especially at instances when the workload had reached breaking point and we didn’t know where to start.
Sure this was simply another moment when he didn’t mean it, I dismissed his comment flippantly.
“Yeah, yeah.” I laughed and turned back to what I was doing.
“I mean it, Shelly-Ann. It’s time. I’ve been thinking about it for quite a while, you know, and I’ve just this minute decided to do it.”
The tone of his voice made me turn to him again. This time he sounded like he meant it. I tried to make a joke of it. “But you’re too young to retire. I’m older than you by two days, and if anyone should be retiring it should be me.”
“I’m serious, Shelly-Ann,” he assured me. “Before now the idea of retiring was quite a vague idea, but I was aware my subconscious was mulling it over. But quite suddenly, and extraordinarily, my conscious mind has indicated it’s the right thing to do. My mind’s made up. I’ll be e-mailing HR this afternoon.”
For the first time in the years we’d been together I clammed up. Completely. I didn’t know what to say. If he retired, who would I tease? Who would I go to get coffee with on my break? Who would help me with my spelling? Who
would check my grammar?
I’d told him teasingly on many occasions that he was my husband number two and that he shouldn’t forget it.
By retiring right now he was divorcing himself from me. Surely fifty-six was far too young to retire – wasn’t it?
I wanted to ask him all these questions, but for the life of me I couldn’t find the words without sounding selfish.
So I got on with my work, but found I was pushing paper from one side of the desk to the other and getting nowhere.
Some time later Laurence picked up on my mood. He was good at that. That was another thing – who would sense my moods like he did? Who would calm me down or take me for a coffee to recharge?
“Let’s go get a coffee,” he said as if reading my thoughts. “It’s time for an early break.”
“I’m not ready for my coffee,” I replied childishly. “You go without me.”
I admit it, I was very cross with him. I’d thought we would retire together and have a good shared bash. I loved my job because Laurence and I were a great team. I would hate my job if he left, I knew I would.
“Please, Shelly-Ann, don’t get cross. Come on. I’ll treat you.” How could I resist him? “All right,” I said reluctantly. Laurence smiled kindly as we walked side by side to the coffee shop. He didn’t say anything else about his retirement and nor did I.
Don’t get me wrong, I was itching to, but I wasn’t going to mention it again. If I left him in peace and didn’t mention the “R” word, maybe his subconscious would override his conscious mind and change his mind back.
LAURENCE had a good send-off. As was his way, he didn’t want too much of a fuss, so he held his retirement bash in a local pub.
Whilst I’d said I wouldn’t cry, I did. It was a good thing I had a decent reserve of tissues in my bag.
“I’m going to miss you, Laurence.” I sobbed. “It’s not going to be the same without you. I know I’m being selfish, but . . .”
I was sitting down as my legs were too wobbly. My bestie was leaving and I was overwrought.
“Missing someone you’ve worked with for the last ten years, eight hours a day and five days a week, is quite a normal emotion, Shelly-Ann.”
He took hold of my hand, squeezed it reassuringly then gave me one of his tiny, gentle smiles.
“We’ll still be besties,” he said with a twinkle in his eyes.
That he used the word bestie made a smile cross my lips.
“And you’re not being selfish, Shelly-Ann,” he continued. “In truth, I’m going to miss you, too. Very much. I’m going to miss your exuberance and your eccentric ways, and the fact that you tell everyone that you’re only thirty-seven.
“I’m going to miss the occasional Caribbean lunches you treat me to, and the way you sometimes sing out of tune at your desk. But I need time to myself. Time to travel the world. I never got the opportunity to travel when I was young and it’s time.”
I blew my nose into yet another tissue and straightened up. It seemed we were going to miss each other equally and for some reason that made me feel a lot better.
“I’m just jealous,” I teased, managing to smile.
“And so you should be,” he said. “On a more serious note, I know you’ll be all right without me, Shelly-Ann, as long as you use spellcheck!”
That made me laugh out loud.
I couldn’t handle two people’s jobs, though I tried my best. Typically, my employers only replaced Laurence two weeks after he left, when the work had piled up and had begun to topple over.
The new recruit was called Justin, that much I knew. He currently worked on the ninth floor, apparently, and for some inexplicable reason I was terribly nervous about meeting him.
Would he be understanding of my little eccentricities? Would he mind that I sometimes sang songs under my breath as I typed away? Only time would tell.
Justin turned up on a Tuesday morning. Late, I might add.
“Hello, Shelly-Ann,” he said. “I’m sorry I’m late. I was just upstairs tying up a few loose ends.”
He spoke well, but he was wearing jeans and trainers and a slightly wrinkled shirt. We were considered back-room staff so it was allowed, but Laurence had always worn a smart suit and I always wore corporate attire. Laurence and I had always preferred to look businesslike.
“Hello, Justin,” I replied, and indicated for him to sit in Laurence’s chair.
“This is for you,” he said, holding a coffee cup out for me. “Me?” “Yes. Laurence told me you like a skinny latte, so I fetched one for you before I came down.”
He gave me a smile. He was young enough to be my son, but that wasn’t what bothered me. What had Laurence been up to? So I went ahead and asked.
“Oh, Laurence came to see me before he retired,” Justin told me. “To fill me in, so to speak. He said that you’re very experienced and that I should take advantage of all your knowledge.” I was shocked. “Did he?” “Oh, yes, and he said what a lovely person you are, and I shouldn’t be afraid to ask if I need help.” A smile rose on my lips. “Did he now?” “Yes,” Justin continued. “I’m really pleased to have been given this opportunity to learn this job with you, Shelly-Ann. It’s one of the few jobs around here that’s transferable in the open market, and Laurence told me you’re one of the best.”
I felt quite chuffed. Typical Laurence, I thought. Still looking after me from afar. “And Laurence says . . .” I could sense Justin’s nervousness.
“Stop right there,” I said. “You’d better sit down before you fall down with all the excitement.”
He turned to me and smiled properly for the f irst time. His brown eyes had a twinkle to them. He was young and keen so I had a good feeling that he would do well here.
“I won’t be able to do any work unless I sit down and switch my computer on, will I?” he joked.
That made me laugh.
IGAVE Justin two f iles to begin with and by early afternoon he’d completed two solid reports. He didn’t do a bad job and I hardly had to edit them at all, so I gave him another f ile.
Mid-afternoon he turned to me. “Fancy a coffee?” I turned to smile at him. “Sure,” I replied. “Shall we go together?” he asked.
I raised my eyebrows in surprise.
“Did Laurence tell you about our afternoon forays to the coffee shop?” I asked.
Justin stared at me quizzically.
“No, he didn’t mention it,” he said. “I just thought that since it’s just the two of us we could have coffee together in the afternoon. It makes sense to look after each other, don’t you think?” I believed him. As we walked side by side to
I admit it, I was very cross with him “Laurence came to see me before he retired”
the coffee shop, I pondered on my situation. Laurence was gone now. He’d gone off to travel the world, which was his dream come true.
I wasn’t ready to retire just yet, and I’d been a fool to think I wouldn’t like my job just because Laurence wasn’t sitting at my side.
Now I’d met Justin I didn’t know what I’d been afraid of.
Out with the old and in with the new was what came to mind.
I imagined saying that to Laurence.
“Who are you calling old?” he would say, and he’d give me one of his tiny, gentle smiles. “And besides, you’re two days older than me.”