Today Was A Good Day To Quit
I had planned to treat myself to a taxi to work today. Q-Day, the day I was to quit my job.
Taking a taxi would give me an extra 20 minutes of sleep before the early shift, which starts at the not-so-early hour of 8am. I set my alarm accordingly.
But sometime during the night it started to rain. In Singapore, where it rains a lot, getting a taxi when it’s raining is virtually impossible. But I slept on, so tired I didn’t hear the rain until the alarm went off.
“Oh fuck,” was my first thought. Q-Day might not be as cruisy as I anticipated. I scrambled to throw some clothes on and make a coffee. I texted the taxi company at 7.10am. The reply took several minutes to arrive: “Sorry, there are no available taxis in your area. Please try again in 10 minutes.”
“Fuck,” I thought again. But 10 minutes is enough time to have toast. And I still had plenty of time to get to work.
I texted the taxi company again at 7.20am. The reply took an ominously long time to come back. Then it arrived. The “sorry” text again.
“Fuck,” I thought again, trying to work out if I could get to work on time if I waited another 10 minutes and sent another text. (The taxi company computer doesn’t send the request to the taxi drivers if you don’t wait the specified 10 minutes.)
My theory of Singapore is that the city only works when everyone is at work. When everyone is trying to get to work or get home, the place is a nightmare, crowded with sullen faces and bad manners. And people, lots of them.
It was still raining. When it rains you can’t get a taxi. I grabbed my flimsy umbrella and ran to the bus stop. Not my usual bus stop because the direct-to-work bus is unreliable. I ran to the bus stop that will get me to the MRT station. The trains run more regularly than buses. I can get to work in 30 minutes if the bus and trains align.
I got to the end of my street to see a bus pulling away from the bus stop. “Fuck,” I thought again. I get to the bus stop and wait. And wait. It’s now 7.40am.
Finally, a bus arrives. For some reason the bus driver is not in a hurry. He stops and waits for a lady with a red umbrella to run half a block to board the bus. He waits patiently for a break in the traffic before pulling out of the bus lane. (Most bus drivers just barge into the traffic in a pushy “might is right” kind of way.)
It’s 7.50am by the time I get to the train station. There is no way I’m going to get to work on time. I call a colleague to ask if he can cover for me. I say I’ll be 10 minutes late.
I run up the escalator to the platform, where a train is pulling away. “Fuck,” I think again. Then I see how crowded the train is and I tell myself I didn’t want to get on that one anyway. I hate crowds.
I walk to the end of the platform and stand behind the yellow line designed to keep commuters from crowding the door. A fat guy in a green t-shirt comes and stands in front of me. The screen says the next train will be along in six minutes. I watch the number on the screen count down from six to one. It seems to take six hours. In my job, being on time is crucial. Being on the early shift means taking over certain duties from London and New York. Being on time is super-critical.
Two more guys are standing in front of me now. I suppress my irritation. It will all be over in 20 minutes. Seven stops and then I can start apologising for my lateness and cleaning up any disasters that may have occurred.
“Please allow passengers to alight before boarding the train,” a smooth female voice says over the train station public announcement system. Must be another “be gracious” Singapore campaign, I think to myself.
Then the train glides slowly to the platform. It’s full. People are pressed against the doors, which slide open with a hiss. One of the guys in front of me inserts himself into the crush and the doors slide closed again, millimeters away from people’s faces.
“Fuck,” I think again.
The screen says another train will be along in two minutes. Just before it comes into view, the “please allow passengers to alight” message is played again. I am instantly suspicious. My eyes narrow. This may not be a “be gracious” campaign.
The train arrives. IT’S FUCKING FULL. Not one Singaporean is able to find enough squeeze-space to get on. I tamp down my annoyance again. There is nothing I can do but wait for the next one.
I go into a kind of trance as train after train glides up to the platform, each one full to the gills. So full they should be bulging. One or two people manage to board. But the fat guy in the green t-shirt is still stuck on the platform. He calls his office. I call mine.
Eight trains go past. Nine. The platform fills up. Alarmingly. I worry I’ll get pressed into the safety screen by the mass of humanity coming up the escalators. A lady in a brown sweater comes and stands too close to me. I am sweating, standing still. She is wearing a sweater. She annoys me even before she begins to push me. She inches closer until she’s touching me, pressing her sweatered chest against my sweaty arm. She backs away and then tries again. The third time pushes me over the edge.
“DON’T PUSH,” I say to her, so loudly even I’m surprised. She looks highly alarmed. There is no banter, no interaction, between strangers in public here.
“I am not pushing,” she says, loudly and indignantly, making me feel, just a little, like I’m in the wrong. But I’m pretty cranky. With her and with the whole situation.
“DON’T PUSH,” I say again.”WE ARE ALL WAITING HERE.”
Sweater lady pouts and fades back into the crowd. It’s 8.15am. Another full train pulls up.
“FUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUCK,” I think to myself, then bolt for the stairs.
I call my boss. My voice is wobbly as I tell him I can’t get to work. Tears well up in my eyes as I walk through the rain, towards the bus stop. The boss is calm but confused. “I can’t get a taxi, I can’t get on the train and I don’t know how to get a bus from here,” I wail. “I’m going to get a bus home so I can get the bus into work.” He asks who’s covering things in the office, says OK, hangs up and I keep walking through the rain.
Then my phone rings. It’s the boss calling back. He says he can see a train station from his place and the trains aren’t full. He tells me to go back to the train station. He tells me to get on a train going in the other direction, towards the airport, to a train station that will be receiving less-crowded trains.
“Fuck,” I think. “Why didn’t I think of that?”
I’m wet and sweaty now, from walking in the rain with a flimsy umbrella. I head back to the station. I get to the top of the escalator to find the platform empty. WTF? A non-crowded train must have come through. I take my place at the yellow line, at the end of the platform. A crowded train pulls up. I take a deep breath and cross to the other side of the platform and wait there.
I get on a blissfully non-crowded train, heading away from the city centre and towards the airport. At the first stop there’s a crowded train on the opposite platform. I stay on the train. Same thing at the next platform, and the next. Quite close to the airport, four stops further from my office than usual, I get off the train and go wait on the other platform.
Finally — success! A non-crowded train. It’s 8.45am. It fills up quickly and I’m trapped in the middle of the carriage.
“Are you on a train yet?” my boss texts me. “Yes,” I reply. “But the way today’s going, I’m worried I won’t be able to get off.”
My boss texts back a friendly “LOL”.
I get to work at 9.16am. I feel sick and exhausted. I need to pee and I’m thirsty and I want a coffee. But, under the circumstances, all I can do is sit at my desk and frantically fix things. And apologise to the people who covered for me. I’m stuck there for hours before I can even get to the loo.
My lovely boss, who is doing the late shift today, arrives with two boxes of doughnuts. He says I sounded a bit stressed when I called him. There are six different types of chocolate doughnuts. I thought I was going to get a bollocking for being such a ninny. But instead, I just get his sweetheart side. Today of all days, when I’m planning the “it’s not you it’s me” talk with him.
I sit at my desk, worrying about how I will support my family, how stupid it is to give up a good income, a nice house, health insurance to bugger off to northern Thailand to somehow sell my services online to who-knows-who. Last night it all seemed so clear. Today, with the prospect of having to explain it to a responsible adult, it seems stupid, selfish, reckless and irresponsible.
“Oh goodie,” the guy next to me exclaims. “We just got paid.”
“Fuck,” I think again. I had chosen that as the trigger for the talk with the boss. I opened up my e-payslip and saw that yes, I did get a US$2,000 referral bonus for telling an old mate about a job opening. I had postponed Q-Day for three weeks after a girl from HR told me in the ladies that I was due for the bonus. I didn’t get anything in writing and I didn’t want to quit and lose rights to so much free money.
Butterflies start mambo-ing in my tummy. I feel a bit ill. I decide to quit after lunch.
After lunch I decide to quit at 5pm.
At 2pm I think I might quit now. But one of my boss’s doughnuts is not sitting well in my stomach. I decide to leave it til 3pm.
At 3pm I think the last two hours of work might be horrible if I have to sit two desks away from a boss who now hates me.
At 4pm I get busy.
At 4.20 I finish being busy. I wonder if I quit too late, the HR girls might have to stay back. I sent my boss a message, asking if he’s got time for a quick chat. He replies “sure” and starts putting his shoes back on. I feel giddy… a little bit out-of-body.
I lead the way to the conference room. He sits down with a sincere look of inquiry on his face. I take a deep breath ….
And I tell him we’re leaving Singapore and, therefore, quitting.
And then, suddenly, it’s over. I’m back at my desk. He’s in the conference room with his boss. Then he’s around the corner talking to the HR girls.
I Google “play free online games”, mute my computer and start matching rows of coloured things. A few minutes before 5pm, I post a Facebook message saying I’d just quit and Darling Man, Miss M and I would be heading to Chiang Mai in a month. I log off, power down, bellow a general “see you Monday” and leave.
“Fuck,” I think. “I did it.”
(Sorry for swearing. But it was that kind of day.)
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10 years ago