In With The New

Early re­tire­ment is on the agenda in this re­flec­tive com­plete story by Leonora Fran­cis.

The People's Friend Special - - CONTENTS -

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.”

The End.

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