I stand outside of the grey corrugated building, the sign is a mixture of dark green and bright orange. The letters are formed in a way that was popular at the time, starting big at one end and narrowing at the other. The lime green shutter is up and the lime green metal doors, encasing the glass don't seem as inviting as they once did. I am 25 years old and I dread walking through those doors.
I have been married a year and a bit my career is progressing well or was until the change of manager that took place a few weeks ago. Now all I want to do is hide away and not enter this place, but I cant, my wife and I depend on the money I make to continue our dream of starting a family. I pull deeply on my cigarette trying desperately to make it last a little longer than it will, and toss it to the floor. I stuff my hands in my pockets and walk through the doors and into my own personnel hell.
The room falls silent as I enter the staff room and I take my jacket off. I fasten my lime green clip on tie I’ve just taken from my locker onto my grey stripped shirt. I look at the staff around me and wish them a good morning but I get no reply. They are different from me but no better than me. We are all salesmen, me recently having demoted myself from Trainee manager in the hope I would escape my tormentor but it wasn't to be. My request for a transfer was turned down straight away by him, my tormentor. I'm stuck here with him and them. I open the door and hear them talking as I leave but I don't turn back. I head down to the shop floor where the ritual humiliation begins once again.
The others are huddled together at the counter, a wave of cigarette smoke wafts towards me. They are looking at the stats of the latest sales. I don't need to I know I'm top, its the only way I can get back at him, my boss, it drives him insane that I wont break, he doesn't know how close I am now. He needs me and my sales and we both know it.
He leaves his office and walks to the counter, they separate from each other and make space for him like the lemmings that they are. He watches me as he stands there smoking a cigarette and a cup of black coffee in his other hand trying to see any sign of weakness from me that he can pounce on but I give him nothing. I stand there and stare back at him, yet inside all I want to do is turn around and walk out of the door.
The daily briefing starts, targets are given and names are called but I don't know what’s being said I'm guessing, as I always do. They are all speaking Urdu like they do everyday. I'm the only white person here and it shows. I get no sympathy. I'm being tormented and bullied into quitting but I won’t let them win, I won’t let him win. I do what only I can do and that's selling as much as I can.
"Hey cunt" He calls "Yes you white cunt, more sales today" He laughs and they all join in laughing and pointing at me the white cunt in the store. I smile back and hope that one day I can escape from here and leave this hell.
We have spent three weeks looking at suites for the new house, after visiting every furniture shop around us we finally narrow it down to two. The kids are tired and bored but they have been well behaved. We park in the car park and wander towards the shop in front of us. The evening has gotten dark and there is a chill in the air. The lights shine brightly from the shop windows and invite us into them in the hope we shall once more spend money.
We walk around the shop for a few moments but nothing catches our eye. We know what we are looking for but we cannot see it here, not yet. The salesman approaches us and I recognise him straight away. A shiver passes down my spine, it can’t be can it? After all these years is it really him?
He looks no different, the teeth are still yellow, the skin a light brown. His hair is still styled into a quiff but greyer than it was, not the jet black I remember. He stoops as he walks now but I'm struggling to control the anger I feel building up in me. My wife notices something is wrong and asks him for a moment. He nods and smiles at me, I know he now knows who I am and I watch him walk away across the shop floor.
I sit on a settee to gather my thoughts, the memories are flooding through me, this is a different time, a different place but the anger the hatred and most of all the fear is still there.
"Its him" I whisper
"Who? " My wife asks
"John Janoo" The anger in my voice gives way to my true feelings
"No way" she exclaims shocked
"Yeah way" I whisper my reply
"Do you want to go?" She asks
"No I reply, let’s just buy the suite and get put of here"
We've spent too long looking for suites and I'm fed up with traipsing around the shops, we came here for a reason and I will be damned if I will let him get away with it again.
He comes back towards us and holds out his hand a smile on his face.
"Anthony it’s been a long time its good to see you" There is a fake warmth in his voice and I spot it instantly
I had to make a split decision of what I was going to do, my kids where there so berating him was out of the question. I wanted to tell him what I really thought of him, I wanted to tell him about all the misery he had caused me but I didn't. I shook his hand and said hello.
There was something about him, his aura of power had gone, disappeared, the man I had known and feared 14 years before wasn't the man standing in front of me now. He was older, well into his 60's, the way he carried himself had changed. Where once he had stood proud and tall he was now stooped and shuffled as he walked. As much I didn't want to I could feel myself feeling sorry for him. The man who caused me so much pain was here in front of me and I couldn’t help but pity him.
We ordered the suite, my wife organised the paperwork, whilst I sat and chatted with him and the manager of the store. I have no idea why I did this, I really don’t. No matter how much I hated the man this wasn’t the same person who was in front of me and I needed to let him see what I had become. I didn’t think of him all the time but whenever I came across someone like him the memories would come back and it would be all too real once again..
There was a sense of guilt about the way he spoke about those days, as if he realised what he did back then was wrong. Does it excuse it? No it doesn’t but he was a victim of those times as much as I was. There was no HR back in those days it was the way things were, does it make it right? Of course it doesn’t but what I saw yesterday was a man who was living with his past and finding it difficult to do so. It was so obvious he had regrets with his life, the way he had treated people. He wasn’t a manager anymore, he was a salesman in a settee shop, trying to earn money and being told what to do by someone who was in his 20's. That was enough to convince me he was suffering every single day he walked through the door.
The other salesman hovered around us listening in on our conversation, every now and then he would say to one of them how good I was at sales and ask me to tell them how good he was at his job. I didn’t I just smiled and nodded He was playing a game, trying to recover past glories, trying to show these men so much younger than him that he was once a big shot, a real power player, not the old man shuffling around the store scratching a living.
I felt sorry for him, all these years Id not let go of my hatred for him or the pain he caused me. Here was my opportunity to tell him what a b#####d he had been to me and yet I couldn’t do it. I was looking at a man living in the past, a man who would never cause anyone the problems he caused me all those years ago. But more than that I saw the way that he was held in contempt by the people he worked with, his reputation meaning nothing to them and yet everything to him.
As I left the store I heard him say to another salesman "He was like a son to me that boy" I shook my head and shuddered at the thought as I got into the car. I didn’t turn back because I knew what I would see.
I was never a son to John Janoo I was someone he bullied. I’ve never forgotten those days and the way he treated me, he made me the manager I am today. I learnt from his mistakes. Oh I’m not perfect I’m not saying I am but seeing him today I finally let it go. I thirsted for revenge, if it had been today he would have been long gone as HR would have been there to help me but it didn’t exist in those days. I had no one and he knew it and revealed in it.
As he potters around his store looking every bit the old man he has become I realise that Karma works in very different ways. I thought I wanted revenge and yet I walked away from that store pitying him, and that must hurt him more than anything else as I’m sure he could see it in my eyes. That the boy he bullied didn’t break and made something of his life and is for all wants and purposes is at peace with himself far more than he ever will be.
When I think of him now I won’t remember the man I worked with but the old man who is desperately sad at the turn his life has taken and Ill take comfort from that. It’s not about revenge anymore, it’s about being able to let go of past memories, the ones that hurt us and realising that if we learn from them we won’t become the one thing we fear more anything else. We won’t become like them.