Leon went into David’s office at five to twelve.
The firing window. Five minutes before the scheduled break so the dismissed employee left without facing attention or questions. It kept them off the phone and didn’t mean facing supporters with their impending termination taking the brakes off their opinions.
Your job was to deliver a script as a conversation. A monologue performed sixty times a day, keeping the hunger and irritation from your voice as Caitlin from Cornwall told you about spending three months in Bali but couldn’t commit to three pounds a month.
There were orangutan whorehouses and whales washed ashore, with plastic wrapped around their intestines, but Caitlin was doing her part by sharing things online. You made vague noises of agreement but kept to the script.
Leon didn’t. His nasal, educated voice and fitted shirts gave him a swagger which was reflected in his calls. The constant hum of old sweat made him someone you didn’t spend too much with.
Eight hours of listening to people’s excuses wore thin. People assured you how much they cared. Raising awareness and sharing articles.
Likes and shares changed nothing. If you point these things out, you lose your job.
Leon gave the finger to the screen. He laughed at their excuses and got them to donate despite themselves.
On breaks, he boasted about coming to work straight from the beds of women he picked up online. He wafted his fingers under your nose, laughed as you recoiled.
Leon came out of the office, took his coat and left. We went out to smoke and added his name to the list.
Little Callum from Thetford
Big Joe from Brighton
Fabienne from Happisburgh
Charlotte from Cromer
Sam from Scratby
Ella from Loddon
Lunch ended. No one would raise funds to save Leon. People ignored or celebrated failure, and it was all forgotten about by the end of the day.
Instead, Simon from Shoreditch made excuses not to give his bank details.
I’m in a meeting.
I’m at work right now.
I’m at the hospital
I’m having a hypo and waiting for a phone call.
We knew all the excuses. With experience came nuance, and impressive excuses were shared with mocking glee. It was a way to undercut the power a potential supporter had over your day. You handled calls in the firm, gentle way a cowboy handled a panicked foal.
None of this mattered when you bumped into Leon.
The tailored shirt was yellowing and accommodated a small belly which strained at the buttons. He had thick stubble which looked like someone had glued a handful of tobacco to his cheeks and chin. The sole of his left foot flapped as he crossed the road.
‘How are you?’ he said.
Your phone betrayed you with its silence.
He laughed with the brash brightness which made you cringe, but pity made you accept his offer of a drink. You paid before it became an issue.
Work was good. You made commission last month but such canned sentiments don’t appeal to him, so you change the subject. He has a new girlfriend, living with her as it happens. The best bit is, she’s a police officer. Your expression made him bray and clap you on the back hard enough to make you cough.
Changing subjects again, he ranted about how unfair his firing was. You nod and smile in the right places, all the while remembering how you would cringe and feel a quiet envy at how he spoke to people for as long as he did.
You reassure him how much he’s missed.
The pitch fails. He grimaced and looked at you with contempt.
‘You’re not in a call now, so stop talking like one,’ he said.
His tone is sharp. You take in the stained bravado, weigh him up and realise you’re the one with the job right now.
‘No, but one of us will be tomorrow,’ you said.
His insults followed you as you walked out of the pub.
By the time you are home, Leon has faded, much like any bad call at work.
You presume you’ll never hear his name again.
Which was where you were wrong.
You are at lunch when Leon’s name comes up.
Dead. This drew your attention.
Sean has been direct debit blocked three times in the last session. This makes him keen to channel the anxiety into belittling someone else. He found the story online.
Leon was stabbed to death. The irony of his girlfriend being charged for it doesn’t escape you. Phil joked the shirt and body odour should have acted like Kevlar. You joke he’s settled the argument about the best way to a man’s heart.
Through the chest with a bread knife.
You talk about how many supporters you’ve gotten. Leon’s eulogy was a joke and a cigarette.
It was five to twelve. Phil got up from his chair and went into David’s office.