Just Call Me Sir
To his face people called him Sir, behind his back people also called him Sir, not out a sense of respect for the man but because even when he wasn’t in front of you, there was no guarantee that he wasn’t listening. Sir had inherited this title from his late parents and with it, several billion dollars invested in the family company, IsioTech. He wore it with the arrogant pride of a second-hand car salesman displaying his latest second-hand models and though the seats were stiff and the armrests were broken, Sir presented himself with the flare of a businessman who never had to work a day in his life.
Sir slid into his favorite chair, the one with the red leather and gold trim, and leaned his boots up onto his desk, smudging polish residue onto the carved timber. He picked at the pile of papers before him, absentmindedly straightening his tie embroidered with an interlocking I and T.
Shifting the paperwork, Sir noticed a package no bigger than a cigarette case lodged behind a few dusty volumes and less dusty magazines. There was a tag on the side of the silver wrapping that just read: a gift to you. Sir studied the tiny parcel. It wasn’t much of a present but it was about time his staff showed him a little respect or perhaps it was from his wife or that pretty blonde woman he’d met at the cinema. With a few strokes, he ripped open the box to reveal a single chocolate bar in gold leaf foil emblazoned with the words 24 hours. Weird name for a chocolate bar. Sir sighed and leaned further back in his chair. The chocolate couldn’t have cost more than $5. Surely giving him a complete box of the things was the least someone could do. Sir stuffed the bar into his mouth whole, wiping off the chocolate smudges with the cuff of his tailored jacket. Nothing special. It reminded Sir of the grand bars his father would send him as a child when he was away at business meetings. They were one of the contributing factors to the slight chin that was growing under his other two chins. Sir threw the wrapper to the ground and reached for a magazine.
Pain. Searing, white-hot pain. Sir yelled and fell off his chair, grabbing at his throat. In the fall, he toppled over a mug of wine that splattered blood-like stains onto the walls and floor. Acid was bubbling under his tongue, blistering his sensitive gums. Sir rolled onto his side, coughing and spluttering. Was this an allergic reaction or just a digestive reaction from the five eggs he’d had for breakfast? His wife had said that five eggs were excessive whatever that meant. Bile was rising up Sir’s esophagus, he wretched, clawing at his stiff collar. It couldn’t have been something in that mysteriously unmarked, unnamed present. That was a gift. It was terribly impolite to send someone a poisoned gift and besides everyone loved him. He paid his worker's minimal wage, he supervised them, he remembered his wife’s birthday most years and he’d told that woman in the cinema that she was quite a hotty, which he thought was a rather generous compliment considering she had been around twenty-nine. Another burst of pain and Sir let out a gurgling scream.
The door to his office swung open. About time. A woman in a blue apron pushing a cart of cleaning supplies poked her head inside, she didn’t seem keen to approach any further.
“Are you alright, Sir?”
“Do I like alright, woman?” Sir’s forehead glistened with sweat, his mouth was a scorpion’s nest, the agony was unbearable. Then, just like a water faucet, it shut off. Sir’s vision focussed. He sat up, wiping his brow and cursing obscenities at the cleaner.
“Well don’t just stand there.” Sir pointed at the wine splatter, “Do I pay you to stand around?” The woman hurriedly pushed her cart into the room, flattening her apron and adjusting her yellow gloves. The cleaner wasn’t bad looking. Sir liked blondes even Hispanic blondes though he’d never actually date one of course. Surreptitiously, Sir slipped off his wedding ring and dropped it into his jacket pocket.
I saw that.
“What did you say?” Sir stared at the cleaner who was bent over with a spray bottle and, whatever cloth women use to wipe stuff down with.
“Nothing, Sir.” The cleaner straightened up and returned the bottle to her trolley. “Anything else I can do for you?”
I feel sorry for that poor man’s wife.
“Excuse me?” The cleaner’s eyebrows furrowed.
“I didn’t say anything.” She wheeled out of the room, leaving the door ajar. Sir rubbed his head. It wasn’t hurting anymore but something felt different. He waited a few seconds before hurrying out of his office after her. The cleaner was gone.
Out of nowhere, a man rushed past him carrying a stack of papers. Their shoulder’s collided and the air filled with fluttering pages of graphs and sales prices.
“Watch where you’re going?” Sir rubbed his shoulder.
That man’s such an asshole.
“What was that?” Sir grabbed the man and shook him roughly.
“Nothing, nothing, I didn’t say anything.” His voice was squeaky and adolescent as if he’d never been through puberty. What a pathetic scrawny thing he was.
I wonder if I can file this under workplace assault.
Sir released the man quickly. He hated paperwork.
“Get on your way.” Sir left the man to pick up his papers, massaging his temple. What was wrong with him? Sir pressed the down button on the elevator. What he needed now was a cup of coffee and maybe a muffin from the bakery across the street. The door dinged open. Sir wedged himself between the other occupants who stepped back to accommodate him.
Oh crap, it’s the boss. I should have used the stairs. This guy’s taking up all the room in here. Is that chocolate on his face? What does he even do at this company? I need to retire.
Sir glanced around at the people beside him. None of their mouths were moving, none of them were looking at him. He turned around and recognized his friend John Stanwyck who was clutching a briefcase to his chest. They had gone to school together. Sir was always the popular one but he remembered John with a degree of fondness that he felt about few others. John had been Sir’s best man at all three of his weddings though he’d failed to speak at the fourth due to a spinal injury that now left him in that wheelchair.
“John.” The elevator doors dinned open on the ground floor and the lift emptied.
“Hey,” John wheeled himself out onto the carpeted foyer.
“Pardon?” John spun to face Sir.
“I didn’t speak. What do you want?”
Please don’t want anything. I can’t believe I was friends with this guy throughout all of high school. At least his dad paid well.
“What?” Sir stared at John in his wheelchair. Or was it Joshua. He looked back expectantly at Sir. “Did my dad pay you to be my friend?” Joshua’s/John’s eyes widened.
“You know about that? Well, yeah I guess.” He shifted awkwardly in his wheelchair, scratching at the black stubble on his chin. A few people stared.
What’s Sir doing down here? Is that chocolate on his chin? That guy could really lose a few pounds.
Sir staggered. He leaned against a wall and wiped the remainders of chocolate off his face. Nobody was speaking to him so why could he hear voices? What had John or Joshua meant? He’d been popular in school, he had friends. John had been his friend. They’d played tag in the backyard of Sir’s family mansion and stole liquor from his wine cellar in eighth grade. They’d spat it out and ended up just drinking lemonade. John was eyeing him with a mixture of suspicion and could that be resentment? No, it couldn’t. They were friends, they were business partners.
“There you are.”
A woman tapped him on the shoulder.
“Margaret, what are you doing here?” Was it her birthday today? He’d written it down in his calendar to remember. Or anniversary, no, it hadn’t been a year yet, had it?
“I was going to call but my phone died and I was driving past here anyway. I’m going out tonight with some friends, don’t wait up for me.” Margaret was wearing her bright red lipstick today with shoes and a dress the same color. The dress was tight fitted, the shoes high.
“Again?” It had been three days now since they’d spent a night together. A mansion wasn’t meant for one.
Yeah, you heard me, pig and I don’t intend to stop. He’s more attractive than you and richer anyways. Better start planning your fifth wedding.
Sir rubbed his temple furiously. What were these voices? What was he hearing?
“I, I,” Sir spluttered. The people in the foyer frowned at him. People who were his business colleagues, workmates, people he had beer with every Christmas, people his father had employed, people he had employed, a receptionist that to be fair he had tried to fire but whatever the courts said, it had been on just grounds. She looked like a terrorist in that headpiece.
Haha looks like he’s going to have a fit. He looks really pale. I hope he’s having a heart attack. That racist bastard. Why can’t he die like his old dad already?
Sir stared at John or Joshua and his wife who might not be his wife for much longer. That cursed woman. They stared back.
He’s such a loser. It looks like he’s having a panic attack. Is that chocolate on his sleeve? He should rot in jail. I can’t wait until I can quit this job.
Sir fell onto his knees, grabbing at his hair, squeezing both palms tightly around his ears.
What’s wrong with him? What a freak. Guess he inherited his father’s madness. Just jump off a bridge already. I hate my job.
The silent room rang in Sir’s head like a choir of bagpipes on a Sunday morning. It was a different type of pain. Not the acid pain he’d felt in his office, not the digestive pain from overeating, not the distant pain he’d felt as a kid whenever he received a chocolate bar in the post, this pain was different. Everyone loved him. He was rich, he was powerful, he told funny stories in the bar about his trip to China and Japan so then what were these voices? No, he had a feeling he knew that; the question was why were these voices?
Why is he staring at me? Why is his face so white? He tried to fire me yesterday because my skirt was too long. What a pervert. Fifteen years and he still gets my name wrong. I should never have married him. I don’t know why anyone would. Go to hell.
Sir’s nails cut into his forehead, engraving crescent moons onto his wrinkled skull. But the pain was not in his head, it was in his heart. When would this end? Perhaps it really was a heart attack. Or perhaps, there was the smallest chance, a tiny possibility, that no one actually did love him.
Her name was Christine, not that anyone bothered to use it. They only talked to her if they wanted something to be cleaned. They called her woman or cleaner or just hey you. She’d worked at IsioTech for almost a decade since she was eighteen. It didn’t pay well; she wasn’t treated well but it was preferable to moving back with her parents.
She worked seven days a week in seven different places, putting everything she earnt towards her university degree in experimental biology and neuroscience. She was not a dumb blonde; she was not a high school dropout. Christine had inherited no title from her parents, no money, nothing but a scar on her upper forearm from a plate thrown at her when she was five, and a deep hatred for the rich that gave nothing to the world.
She watched with barely concealed amusement as Mr. Isio spluttered and moaned on the foyer carpet, clutching his head.
To his face people called him Sir, behind his back people also called him Sir, but in their heads people could call him whatever they pleased. Christine stuck a golden wrapper back into her apron pocket and without anyone noticing, slipped out of the building and down the street. Trial One had been successful.
Time for her next test subject.