It was 6am on a cold, bleak Tuesday. The sun was struggling to climb above the dark clouds, and the sky was bathed in an eerie orange hue. Rain was on the way. As I dressed quietly so as not to waken my sleeping partner, I wondered how I was going to explain about taking yesterday off to my boss.
Would he understand what I had been through? How would he react? I knew he didn't like me because I was a renegade - I made no secret of hating my menial assembly job on the factory floor. So there was the possibility of anger and rage. I might even get dismissed.
But strangely enough I was calm. I simply didn't care what might happen this morning. And I was surprised at myself for thinking this, because for the past 12 years I had lived in daily fear of being laid off, or told off.
I greeted the bus driver with a cheery smile and he smiled back. A good sign. As I glanced at the passengers, sour and grim in the gray morning light, I wondered if any of them knew what was going on in my life right now.
Ray greeted me at the locker. "Where were you yesterday?" he said as we slipped on our overalls. "I can't remember when you were ever late or missed a day." He curled his lip in an unmistakable imitation of my boss and put on his best mock bullying voice: "Report to my office immediately!" We laughed, it was so perfect.
"Ray," I said, "there's something I want you to do for me right now."
I entered the factory floor and went to my station. There were the tools, all neatly lined up as I had left them on Friday afternoon. I did a quick inspection and checked they were all there, then took a deep breath. Now was the time.
But before I could turn to leave, the foreman approached me from around the next booth. "Mr Winzer wants to see you in his office right now," he barked, then hurried off. I climbed the steps to the office high above the factory floor. As I shut the reception door behind me, the sound of the factory sank to a hum. I waited in the hard backed chair. I could see my boss through the glass window, talking and gesturing to someone across his desk. Then the door opened and the visitor left.
"Come on in, quickly now," ordered my boss and went back behind his desk. "Close the door." I took a deep breath as I stood in front of his desk. It was just like my schooldays when I had to see the headmaster. I was reverting to type all that time ago, but swallowed my nervousness. This interview would be different to any other I had ever experienced.
"Yes?" he said without looking up, busily flipping through his papers. Hang on, I thought. It was him wanting to see me. But that didn't matter any longer. No more games. In a strong voice I said, "I quit."
He looked up, unsurprised. "When?" he asked. I was caught off guard... I hadn't expected acceptance quite so quickly. "Right now," I replied.
"No, everyone knows you can't do that," he said gruffly. "There's your superannuation term requirement which means you have to give a month's notice. And the union needs signing..." But I interrupted him with my hand and immediately he stopped talking: "I want to quit right now, and I don't care about any of that. I'm leaving right this minute."
His mouth dropped open. A feeling of power swept over me. He dropped back in his chair and looked at me quizzically in surprise. I went on to explain:
"I won the lottery in the weekend. I got over $35 milllion dollars cash which I collected in a ceremony at the lottery headquarters up state yesterday." As I talked I could feel the excitement coming back as I relived that adrenalin-producing day... the signing, the giant check I had to hold up for the press, the interviews. "That's why I didn't turn up yesterday, and in the excitement I'm sorry I forgot to tell anyone about it."
Now his face was a picture of astonishment as he took it all in. I continued, "All my tools are accounted for. My co-assembler Raymond White has checked and signed them off." He was speechless as I finished lamely, "Hope you can fill my place." Then I turned on my heel and left the office, to complete silence.
As a final parting move I left his door open, and smiled faintly to myself as I did it.
Down on the factory floor people were coming up to me with smiles of congratulations, shaking my hand, patting me on the back. The word had spread, and for a few short minutes I was center stage as I collected my gear from my locker. Then the room was quiet and I was alone, just me and my locker. I stared at the empty metal shelves which had been so much a part of my daily toil this last decade and more. And I knew I would never see them again.
There was very little I regretted as I walked along the yellow lines leading to the main exit. I would miss my friends, but I would still see them outside of work.
And I knew in a few short weeks we would have a happy little gathering as I revealed the plan for their trip. I smiled with excitement as I thought about it. Little did they know I had arranged a group tour for them to a Caribbean island for a week when they finished for the holidays. Paid for by me.
Outside my partner was waiting in the rental car we had ordered for the occasion. And as I left the grimy factory gates, I kept looking straight ahead, never looking back. I was free. My new life was about to begin, and I didn't know what might be in store for us.
All I knew, was that it was going to be good...very, VERY good.
(Part 2 tomorrow)
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