Fired From The Burger Giant
"How are you Mr. Danga?” asked Malvern, one of the young men from the accounts department. He was talking to me while standing in the door way of his office, to my left, as I approached it along the passage from Ben’s office. I was so deep in thought and grief that I didn’t hear or see him. I walked past him, his hand outstretched to greet me, as if he wasn’t there. “Mr. Danga are you okay?” He continued but still there was no answer. He had to run after me wondering what was wrong with “Elder” as he and his friends affectionately called me. He wondered if I had suddenly lost my hearing or something terrible had happened at home. I couldn’t just ignore him, he thought, it wasn’t in my nature! When he reached me, he pulled my shoulder back gently and asked again with a look of great concern on his face. “What’s happening Elder, I’ve been calling you since I saw you leaving Ben’s office?” “Is everything okay?”
Malvern joined the company slightly over three years before this day with four other young men, straight from college. They joined as trainees in the company’s accounts department. As part of their training they were required to be familiar with all the company’s departments hence spend three months in each of the company’s main departments namely procurement, preparation & processing, retail, banking, maintenance & support services, and human resources. Though they were training for accounting positions, management felt that it was necessary for them to have an appreciation of all the company’s departments. This would give them a better understanding of the business as a whole. They would understand better the business workflow from procurement to banking and the resultant flow of accounting information that they would use in their department. This, management argued, would put them in a better position to execute their accounting duties effectively.
I was tasked with training the five young men when they came to our department. I took them through the routine duties from money collection at the shops through consolidation and banking to reconciliation and posting to the accounts department. They were very impressed by the way I introduced, explained and evaluated the practices of the department. They really liked spending time with me, both at work and off it when they could. They loved my soft spoken and easy to approach nature. The boys affectionately called me “Mudhara” which literally means “Elder” in our native Shona language. Every day, it would be: “Mudhara can you help me with this?” or “Mudhara let’s go for lunch now” or “Mudhara can we have a drink after work today?” We had such a wonderful time during their training such that we built lasting relationships. I was more than their trainer, I was their “Mudhara”, their “Elder”, their adoring father figure at work.
“I’m not fine at all sonny,” I replied “I have just lost my job!” “I have been fired sonny!” “Come on Elder, are you serious?!” He asked shocked by my words. “Why would I joke with something like this sonny?” “I’m very serious!” “Oh I’m very sorry to hear that Mudhara!” he said, not sure what to say to make me feel better, “What happened?” He continued. I, as briefly as I could, narrated to him what had happened from the offence, the charges preferred against me, the disciplinary hearing, the verdict and the final determination. He could see from how I spoke and my body language that I was devastated by the loss. He too was devastated but there was nothing he could do to help. He offered to buy me something to eat which I politely declined, I had no appetite! He took me to the stairs at the end of the passage and assured me that everything was going to be fine then we said our good byes.
My Walk Into Town
“Where do I go from here?” “Where do I start?” “Is it even possible to start all over again at this age?” The questions kept coming as I laboured down the stairs. I didn’t believe it was possible to start all over again. I was completely overwhelmed. It sure felt like the end of the world for me. I just wished the earth would open up, swallow me and take me out of my grief. “What value can you possibly add to a new employer at your age?” The small voice asked. “Anyone in their right senses will never employ you!” “Don’t even get me started on the rate of unemployment in the country!” It continued. I believed it, what it was saying seemed to make sense. My working life is over, I thought, long before retirement age.
While I was deep in a question and answer session with myself, I found myself at the main entrance to the head office. I was stepping out of that place for the very last time as one of them. Leaving behind a brand that I had served so loyally all my working life. A brand that felt like family. A brand that was a major part of my history and that of my family. One that I had shared so many good moments with. It was over and very painful. Only if I hadn’t done what I did, I could still be part of this huge brand. If only I knew it would get me into so much trouble, I would’ve acted differently for sure! “Crying over spilt milk will not help!” “You can’t undo what has already been done.” That voice whispered again.
The Burger Giant's head office is situated just under a kilometre outside Harare’s Central Business District. I didn’t feel like driving so I had taken the bus into town and a taxi to the place. Instead of taking a taxi again, I chose to walk back into town. I thought walking would give me some time to self-converse. I had a lot to talk about! I would catch a bus to take me back home at the bus station in town. I was so deep in conversation with myself that I didn’t pay any attention to the actual walk. I kind of suddenly found myself at the bus station, paying for the bus ticket, but not sure how I got there so to speak!
After paying for the ticket, I got on the bus and looked for an unoccupied seat close to the back of the bus. I wanted to continue my self-talk, at least until the bus filled up. “Baba OJ how are you?” asked Mrs Murehwa, our neighbour and friend, as she sat next to me on the bus. I’m known as Baba OJ in the neighbourhood. It literally means OJ’s dad. OJ is our first born son. “How is your Sammy?” She continued. “I haven’t seen her in a few days. How is she coping with your situation at work?” I hated that last question, it seemed everyone would ask me that at every chance. I summoned all my courage and forced a smile. “She is very fine. She seems to be coping much better I am.” I responded. “It’s me who is finding it very hard to deal with.” I continued.
I intentionally avoided telling her that my worst fears had been confirmed hours before. Even if I had told her, it didn’t matter to her, she considered the matter closed the day I received my guilty verdict. This is judging by how she responded when Sammy told her a few hours after I received the letter. She had come in and told me how sorry she was that I had lost my job. She had said she truly felt I was very unlucky to lose my job over something so trivial but didn’t see any chance of me getting my job back through mitigation. “When these large corporations want you out, they will get you out!” She had said while citing examples of recent cases where people were fired over something that was similarly trivial.
Mrs Murehwa is one person who is not afraid to speak her mind out. She will give you “what’s on her mind uncensored.” Seated next to me on the bus, she impressed upon me how bad the country’s economy was, not that I needed any reminding, and how it was almost impossible to find a job. She challenged me to “man up” instead of running into Sammy’s arms for comfort whenever I feel overwhelmed. “You‘ve to be strong and implement some austerity measures back home. Maybe sell your cars and consider starting a business with your wife.” I was lectured on just about anything from financial management and economics to faith, religion and spirituality. I hated her lectures. It was the longest trip I’ve ever taken from town to my neighbourhood in my whole life. Little did I know that those “on the bus lectures” were going to change my life forever. How priceless they’ve remained to this day!
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