I call him Big Man, but only in my head. He is not very menacing, because while he is stout, he wears glasses. He is an important person, at least in our office. I don’t think he’d like to be called Big Man to his face.
I walk with Big Man to a work gathering. On the way, he tells me about his background. ‘Where I grew up,’ he says, ‘my family was in the one percent.’
I can’t picture where he’s from. It is somewhere in the south of Africa, but it is not South Africa. It is one of the places where the whites took over from the blacks.
‘You were like a prince,’ I say.
‘But we might not be in the one percent here,’ he says.
It doesn’t matter if Big Man is in the one percent here or elsewhere, because I am in the ninety-nine percent.
Later, I say, ‘I’m worried about my outside work. It might take away from my job.’
‘Everybody does it,’ he says. ‘
I don’t know if he means that everyone in the office does outside work, or that everyone worries about outside work taking away from their job.
At the work gathering, Big Man and I each get a beer. ‘I drink beer every night,’ he says.
I don’t say that drinking beer might make him even bigger than he already is. I am no fat shamer.
We drink separately, lost in the crowd. I enjoy my beer, because I’m not often treated to drinks at work.
In the hallway, he asks me about my outside work. ‘How is it going?’ he asks.
‘It’s going well,’ I say. ‘I have new projects, and the finished products will be out soon.’
He looks disappointed by my answer, as if he expected me to say that I’m not doing outside work anymore, that I’ve given it up in favor of my job.
Big Man takes me into a sort of conference room. The room is decrepit, with flaking paint and a steam radiator. He says, ‘I’m not speaking for myself now. I’m speaking for the company.
He hands me a list of faults with my work.
‘We are putting you on probation for a month,’ he continues. ‘If you improve by the end of the month, nothing will happen. If you don’t, your employment will end.
‘But I’m going to help you!’ he adds.
After our conversation, I begin to arrive early and stay late. I want nothing to happen at the end of the month. Big Man, on the other hand, goes on vacation.
When he returns, he takes me back into the worn-out conference room.
‘I hope you had a good trip,’ I say.
‘Yes,’ he says
‘I’ve brought copies of my work to show you,’ I say, and gesture toward a sheaf of printouts.
‘At this time,’ he says, ‘we have decided to terminate your employment.’
‘I guess you don’t want to look at the work I’ve done while you were away.’
‘What you need to do now is go to the HR department and sign some papers.’
I go to HR, where a woman is expecting me.
As I finish signing the documents, she says, ‘You might want your colleague to write a recommendation for you.’
‘Why would he do that?’ I ask. ‘He just got rid of me.’
She sees the humor in that.
Much later, I see Big Man in a supermarket. I don’t know why we are here at the same time. It must be more than a coincidence. What goes over the devil’s back has got to come under his belly.
I want to fight with him. I want to do damage. Big Man is wearing his glasses, but that doesn’t deter me. I won’t lay off due to his weak eyesight. I reach into my pocket for a weapon, but I have none. Well, I have a nail clipper, but that is no weapon. What am I supposed to do, stab him with the nail file?
Around us, people are chuckling because they think we are fighting over a woman. ‘His wife went with the other guy,’ an onlooker says.
Big Man grabs me with his arms; it is almost a hug. He lifts me toward the ceiling.
I hate this man. Does he hate me? He looks like the man whose name I don’t use. I can’t remember his proper name now. So I call him Big Man.
Thaddeus Rutkowski is the author of seven books, most recently Tricks of Light, a poetry collection. He received a fiction writing fellowship from the New York Foundation for the Arts.