In other words, every inch of his head and body emanated the look and confidence of a shrewd corporate chief.
He had managed to convince his local sponsor into investing a few hundred thousand dollars in a new agency, and had personally supervised the furnishing of its office. He liked black and ordered lovely black leather couches for his suite. Even the transplanted tuft on the front portion of his pate was dyed black, although his natural hair was brown.
The first nine months he ran the office in true boss-like manner. Everybody, he insisted, was to address everybody with a mister before the first or last name. When some of the harder working staff began to repeatedly arrive a little late in the mornings, because they had been repeatedly working late into the night, he installed the latest timekeeping machine available in the market, which even printed a good fortune prediction alongside the punched time (no predictions, good or bad, were seen alongside the times of those over 15 minutes late). Every high and low employee, except the boss, had to stand in helpless submission before this machine twice a day, and use it to punch in and punch out, and, when no one was looking, punch on.
The machine lasted eight days. For some strange reason, since its appearance those harder working staff seemed to be as punctual in their leaving the office as in their arriving. At the stroke of 5 pm on the office clock, everyone dropped their pens, or fingers from the keyboards, stood up as if on cue, and walked to the punching machine.
After several days of perplexity observing the whole staff (except the office boy, who always had to stay back to lock the office after the boss leaves, which was always around 9 pm) queue up in front of the timekeeper every evening at precisely the same time to punch out, it seemed to have dawned on him some faint light that the new device might perhaps be the culprit behind the recent reduction in the volume of actual work done in the office.
Anyway, after several failed attempts to regenerate employee enthusiasm and after the consequent several near attempts to split his precious tuft, he caved in to the silent revolt.
One year of operations was coming to a close, and the account books still looked dismal. The sponsor had given the boss a whole year of unlimited funds to prove himself, and the pressure was now mounting. About three months before the end of the fiscal year, the idea suddenly struck him that a possible cost cutting scrutiny into the office kitchen expenditure was probably the one remaining area he hadn’t looked into in trying to salvage the company from closure.
The circular read: ‘Please note that coffee will hereafter not be served any time in the office for staff, and is for the use of guests only. Staff, however, may help themselves to tea, subject to a limit of two cups in the morning and one cup in the evening.’
Surprisingly, not a syllable of a protest was heard from any coffee drinker, not even from Antoinette, our Lebanese secretary, a hardened caffeine addict. Instead, the next day, the office pantry was stocked with new bottles – Gold Café, Maxwell, Davidoff, Polson – each neatly labeled with the owner’s name.
The sponsor of the agency, a highly sensible and educated Arab – a double doctorate holder from Harvard, we were told – came to the office on a rare visit shortly after the circular was issued. Sulemani was the sponsor’s favorite beverage, but on that particular day he opted for coffee d’ lait, and on that very day the last teaspoonful of Nescafe in the official coffee jar had already been consumed an hour before by an earlier guest.
The office boy came back to the boss’ suite, and the dumb creature instead of going first to the accountant for some petty cash and rushing off to the nearest grocery…yes, instead of doing that, he said loudly to his boss,
‘Sir, only Miss Anita’s and Mr Cherian’s and Miss Antoinette’s and Mr Ashok’s coffees are available, sir.’
And that was the precise moment the boss’ coffee beans were spilt.
The sponsor got to hear the whole story of how coffee was expected to play a very substantive role in ensuring a favorable balance sheet. A couple of days later, he invited the boss to his office, and nothing is known to this day what actually transpired between them. But the boss came back to the office smiling, yea, smiling, and full of beans, contrary to all our expectations. He told us: ‘I’ve been offered a new and important assignment, guys. And it’s across the ocean. In Brazil.’
He couldn’t even wait to accept a sincere farewell party from his staff. So greatly was the urgency of the assignment pressed upon him by the sponsor that three days after he announced his new job, he had left the country.
The sponsor brought in a new general manager. He wore no gold-rimmed spectacles and his hair was bushy and unkempt. But after another six months of operations, the company was in the black for the first time, and continued to be so for a few years more.
Seven years later, after most of us had left the agency, one of our old colleagues told me he had heard from an employee of the sponsor that the old boss was still somewhere in South America. It seemed he was a supervisor in some import-export company dealing in roasted coffea arabica seeds.