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Two Square Meters of Success

The cubicle no longer breathed the shiny promise it once held all those years ago. The partitions had become the grey walls of his cell, drably accentuating the growing knowledge that he would never escape from this depressing prison. He could have sworn that every year they grew higher, inching themselves upwards as if they too were in on the plan to isolate him from the rest of them. The surface of his desk, as always strewn with empty chocolate wrappers and unnecessary Post-It notes, was witness to a waste much bigger than one of paper alone. It seemed to mark a trail of decline that had simply become his life.
There was no picture frame on George Green’s desk of a happy family, a wife who would be waiting for him at home, or kids who wanted to be taken to the park to play ball. There was nothing more than his smudged computer monitor, a sticky keyboard and a telephone, that once, not even all that long ago, was still his connection to the outside world, his sales tool, his instrument of achievement.
Day after day George looked out from behind his computer screen, to watch them standing by the coffee machine. They appeared to huddle, heads together, all of them bent towards one another in a deliberate attempt to hide their words from him. He knew what they were doing. He could hear their whispered conversation and their subdued giggles, even if he couldn’t make out the actual words. “George is an idiot.” “George doesn’t have what it takes.” “No wonder Mr. Cooper gave the promotion to Cathie instead of him.” “What a looser!”
George had been on to them for twelve years. They had conspired against him ever since he first set foot on the sales floor of Duncan & Cooper Insurance Company. He was hired straight out of college, honor student, top of his class. Old Mr. Duncan himself had conducted the interview and had assured him he was a young man with a bright future, for whom the ladder of success would be all too easy to climb.
On that first day, he was led to his cubicle by Sondra, the black, overweight and hip-swinging secretary, on whose entire being the long years of employment with this company were etched like the grooves on a record. He followed, feeling every pair of eyes in the room on him, and his chest had filled with a justifiable pride that lightened his every step. “This will be your work station, Mr. Green,” Sondra had pointed out, “and take a piece of advice from someone who knows what she’s talking about. The faster you consider these two square meters the center of your universe, the faster you’ll be promoted out of them.”
Every day, his colleagues watched him walk from the front door of the office to his desk with enthusiasm. A tall man, dark eyes, shiny brown hair always neatly jelled into place, a thin, clean mustache, impeccably trimmed, and always a whiff of the right aftershave as he walked passed. Something of a modern Errol Flynn, George was. He had a smile that ignited many a heart at Duncan & Cooper during those first few months, but nothing ever came of it. Lydia, the receptionist, remembered the embarrassed shuffling by the copy machine as if it happened only yesterday, her eager anticipation, and George making a mess of asking her out to the movies. She’d felt sorry for him, and he knew it.
Now, whenever she walked passed his work station, she clearly noticed the involuntary stiffening of the muscles in his neck, the awkward silence, the way he invariably hunched over his desk like a scared, little schoolboy, unwilling to share the answers with his friends. There hung an uncomfortable scent of defeat over George Green’s desk, as if he had become the grey of his partitions, the smudges on his screen, the discarded notes in the waste paper basket. George Green had let his life and his promising career slip from his fingers.
Mr. Duncan never made a mistake when he hired a sales person. For forty three years he’d never made a single misjudgment of character. You could bank on it, the man was solid gold. The entire financial success of Duncan & Cooper – and it was quite substantial – balanced on the strength of its sales team. And he hadn’t made a mistake with George Green either, because George Green had been the best hire he’d ever made. George Green would make senior partner within ten years. George Green would lead the company into the future. But George Green lost it along the way. Whatever sparkle George had brought to the interview, when a year later, at the ripe old age of seventy eight, Mr. Duncan surrendered his life to the devastating effects of a massive stroke, he took George Green’s sparkle with him. Once a brilliant protégé, the young man appeared to have been left abandoned and exposed.
Perhaps Mr. Cooper hung on to George as a kind of reminder that his late father-in-law had not been infallible after all, that even great men make big mistakes. Or perhaps George had simply become invisible, hiding as he did inside his grey, depressing, little world, blending into the background and confirming the whispered noises he could so clearly make out by the coffee machine.
Two square meters of promise, a sparkling cubicle that once contained the future now held nothing more than the essence of an uneasy and lonely man.

Clara Mertens


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