Sighing, Johnson sat down for what felt like the millionth time and began to fiddle with the plastic plant that was situated neatly in the corner of his desk. Another generic faux fern, identical in every way to the faux ferns that were to be found on most of the other desks on the floor.
A blowfly lazily buzzed past one ear and then around past the other. Circling his head like a passenger jet waiting for approval to approach the runway for a final descent.
“Buzz. Buzz. Buzz.”
With his half-hearted attempt to shoo the fly away failing, Johnson sighed once more and shook his head.
“Buzz. Buzz. Buzz.”
This time, Johnson’s more concerted effort merely caused the fly to take some quick evasive action, easily dodging Johnson’s aggressive swipes. Muttering something inaudible under his breath, he placed his head into his hand, and continued to work on the Smith account in front of him.
“Buzz. Buzz. Buzz.”
He missed his Venus Fly Trap. Regularly reminiscing over the earthy smell that would emanate from the pot. Although subtle, it still served as a welcome counterpoint to the staleness of the office’s recirculated air. Adding to that small pleasure, was the not so slight satisfaction to be gained from watching the Trap’s trigger point reflex, snapping its jaws down on an unsuspecting fly.
It was like watching Animal Planet in miniature. The tension, the waiting, the sudden snap, and of course, the frantic buzzing of the hapless victim. In its hayday, his Trap had shortened the lives of hundreds of relatives of his current insect annoyance. These brief moments of excitement punctuated the otherwise monotonous nature of Johnson’s work day.
He even purchased it a novelty name tag in the style of the top floor execs, complete with the traditional 12pt black professional font printed over a gold plate. It was attached to the base of the pot, and served as a daily conversation starter.
“Mr Exterminator” was quite the rage. At one stage, there was a weekly pool where pundits would place bets on the Trap’s kill count for the week. To facilitate this, Johnson not only collated and organised the payouts, but would also retrieve the remnants of the fly’s consumed corpse. Held in a small stationary jar in the top drawer of Johnson’s desk, it was used as evidence of the winner’s predictions.
“Buzz. Buzz. Buzz.”
“I’ll buzz you!”
With increasing intensity, Johnson began swatting at the fly, which was now assuming the role of a fighter pilot. Buzzing loudly, the fly aggressively rolled and banked as if engaged in a classic World War Two dog fight.
Johnson made three unsatisfactory swipes at the fly, hitting his desk hard with each strike. A few curious heads briefly popped up from their desks, but lost interest quickly. The site of Johnson’s face reddening in frustration at being outwitted by a fly had become all but part of the course.
Originally, employees were allowed to keep live fauna on their desks. That was until Billson from accounting had the great idea to grow a pot of cherry tomatoes.
“They’re great for snacking!”
Billson and his snacks. He always had something in his mouth, at least the cherry tomatoes were a healthy option for a change. However when Billson had to take a week off to overcome food poisoning acquired from the local hot dog vendor, his tomatoes began to rot and fall to the ground.
Objectively it was no big deal, but when the stooges from OH&S walked past on one of their routine inspections they noticed the inherent slippage risk and promptly decided to take action. The next morning we were all greeted with the same generic memo.
“Management regrets to inform you that henceforth, all office plants need to be of a synthetic nature. The safety risk posed by organic leaf litter is too great to justify their continued cultivation. All organic plants must be removed by end of day. Any remaining plants will be disposed of.
To compensate for this change, management has agreed to provide all employees with a faux fern replacement. Team leaders will inform you when these will be available for collection.”
Most employees followed the directive without objection. Having previously submitted to the coffee ban (coffee in mugs could spill, posing a scalding risk), scheduled toilet breaks (scheduling toilet breaks ensures the most efficient usage of organisational resources) and the introduction of a uniform (a free dress code could cause discrimination and objectification based on individual and cultural preferences).
Thus the organic plant ban was accepted as just another action of a hyper-risk adverse bureaucratic machine to be followed and not questioned. The only one to raise a vocal objection to management, was Billson himself, who, with a hint of a chuckle pondered,
“What will I snack on now?”
Even though it would be the end of the betting pool, Johnson had of course obliged without any form of overt protest. Other than muttering a quick word at end of week drinks that,
“Management likes to overreact hey?”
With that, he removed the Trap and replaced it with the fern.
“Buzz. Buzz. Buzz”
Not wanting to cause a further scene, this time Johnson decided to play it cool. Breathing deeply and slowly, he just observed the fly. Rather than just watching Animal Planet in miniature, as he had with the Trap, he was now living it. He was the lion stalking its prey, waiting for the perfect opportunity to strike.
The fly, seemingly unaware of the target now painted on its back, settled down for landing. Tentatively it touched upon the leaves of the faux fern, but was unsatisfied. Johnson, evoking a lion’s instinct, just waited. The fly tried the lamp, but was still unsatisfied. Breathing deeply but silently, Johnson continued to wait. He wanted that fly to feel safe and settled before he would strike.
The fly tried a discarded two more potential landing places, eventually settling on the papers directly in front of Johnson. Grinning, Johnson prepared himself, and with the keen reflexes of a predator guiding his hand, he acted. His fist swiftly came down, completely ruining the fly, as well as the top page of the Smith account.
Once again, heads briefly popped up. This time in response to Johnson’s audible cry of elation, quickly followed by his loud use of a profanity. Looking down, Johnson realised that the fly had ruined the last 30 minutes of his work.
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Authors note: The tedium of corporate life is something that I never want to go back to. Combined with the overly 'safe' policies of head office, employees can be left feeling subhuman. There are better ways to manage people.