Bittersweet Dragon Butterfly – Part I: Prelude

Photo credit: Phil Hearing on Unplash

Big Retail Corp.’s digital side business was a bit of a weird place. Imagine a supermarket, but then in a warehouse. You have this warehouse full of store shelves, marked with lettercodes. Instead of a welcoming presence, this place is rather dark and built for efficiency. At least, that last bit they wish, as it never seemed efficient enough for the managers. Whether it was the order picking work or filling the shelves, everything seemed to have a time limit. When you had to fill the pathway with chips, you would get a time limit of about 30 minutes to fill everything. Every pathway was filled at about the same time, in the meantime there was no-one doing the order picking. The building was split-up in a part for non-perishable goods, a part for vegetables and fruits and a cooling department which held products you can store for a while as well as fruits and vegetables. And also a place they called the ‘fishbowl’, this was the commando post of the fine and dandy gentlemen and women who guarded the employees against laziness and procrastination. Oh my, such pleasure!

The order picking was to be done be done with carts which had a bottom, middle and top compartment. Usually, you could fit six regular crates on it. The regular red crates could fit about one crate of bottled beer. Besides this, there were black cooling boxes. You get an order on paper, which you can scan to get the shopping list on your PDA. That’s how you went a-beepin’ through the grim waremarket. Humour was the path to solace. The hierarchy, the people were split up between drivers, shoppers and senior shoppers. This is besides the team leaders and managers who, shit on the workers, *ahem*, gave orders to all the beautiful and lovely people. Now, the shoppers are for a part Polish and part Dutch. You don’t need to know any Dutch to do this kind of work, just a bit of grunting in English would do. And that was where I came in handy, with my language skills. Let us move on.

Now, it was nearing the end of the year and I already received some castigation for being a slow donkey. About two weeks before that, one of these manager-dudes saw how slow I was at filling the shelves. I was doing the tea shelves, with a million variants of one specific brand. He would show me how slow I was working and then he made some spastic movements, showing what he wanted to see. I got the warning that, in the case I wouldn’t speed up, he would fire me. He said that, in the next week, he would get one of his boys to watch over me to observe if I actually sped up. At first I was shocked, but I kept cool. From the inside it was a maelstrom, on the outside nothing seemed wrong. I actually talked about it with colleagues, releasing the stress from the action. I came to the conclusion that it was a false projection of power, as I a) am not in the probation period anymore and b) getting one of his boys to check on me would be a big waste of money. Why would you let someone who earns more than a low-wage worker check on them? Whatever, just move on. In this end-of-year week, there was this girl who started to talk to me during my break. She seemed to be very athletic, out of nowhere she started to talk to me about the work. She was a senior, kinda above me hierarchical-wise. She said that she was tired, as she starts work from 04:30 AM each Saturdays in the place. At about 10:30, she’s finished and goes to Big Metropolis for her exercise. I don’t think I ever saw her before this, but she seemed to be working there before I begun in the place.

The week or so afterwards, it was just business as usual. There was one of this ‘I mind my own business’ team-lead dude leading. I didn’t like the guy, but at least he didn’t watch whether we were sweating our buttocks or not. Beer was on sale and people were ordering crazy amounts of them. In that same week, I started going to the gym to strengthen my muscles. Not because of this work, I decided to do it because tabletennis is quite heavy on the knees. It was more of a sports injury prevention measure. The work seemed to be going easier than usual. Now, when we started to fill the shelves, something I thought was pretty awkward happened. I finished my first pathway, then I didn’t get a second pathway to fill. I was sent to a pathway full with cartons and plastic, littered over the floor. In this pathway, there were two senior lead types of women and the athletic girl. They told me I could help clean the mess they made. Usually, the team-lead people are very strict about the cartons and plastic in the pathways. They expect you to have a cart for the cartons at all times and a bag attached for the plastic. For whatever reason, these people didn’t have a cart. So in I came for the rescue, bringing a cart with a bag. I started cleaning up, crouching next to the girl to pick up the trash. When we were done with the pathway, she turned her face (I thought it was by accident) to me and she had this big, somewhat nervous, smile, showing her shiny, white teeth. I felt flabbergasted, holey shet. Was this supposed to be some kind of sign?

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