In through the nose. Count slowly to five. Out through the mouth. #fiction

Nick paces the office, taking two minutes before he hits the send button. He catches sight of his reflection in the glass of a cheap clip frame that hangs on the wall. “Looking tired,” he says quietly to himself, gently shaking his head. “Looking old.” His eyes focus on the long service certificate behind the glass. One corner of the border is slightly smudged, but nobody bothered to reprint it. “Good enough for Nick,” someone thought. Maybe they didn’t even notice. “30 years. 30 years,” he whispers. 30 years, half of his life, given to this place. In through the nose. Count slowly to five. Out through the mouth…

He stands motionless. Looking through the picture frame now. Lost in thought about the countless people who have come and gone while he has remained. The students, year after year, fresh-faced and never ageing. Never greying. Not like him. Just enough of them worth the effort, leaving full of hope and prospects. Moving on to bigger and better things. Not like him. The work friends and colleagues. Some, his own lecturers back in the day, long since gone. He wonders whether anyone else remembers them. Wonders if anyone will remember him. Others moved on before the rut deepened and trapped them. Bigger and better things. Not like him. He brings the room back into focus, opening his clenched fists and stretching his arms out wide. In through the nose. Count slowly to five. Out through the mouth…

As he sits back down at his desk, Nick looks out of the office window at the darkening sky. Friday, 6:30 pm reports the clock on his computer desktop. Another late end to another long week. He habitually moves to twist his wedding band, but finds only the skin of his ring finger. He has given so much of himself to this place. So much of himself to so many people, most of whom didn’t repay his commitment. All while his own children grew up and flew the nest. The missed walks to school. The missed family dinners and days out. The evenings spent working instead of with his increasingly distant wife. By the time he noticed, she didn’t need him any more. He bangs on the desk and lets out a stifled scream of despair. There is nobody around to hear. In through the nose. Count slowly to five. Out through the mouth…

Gathering himself, he tidies the redundancy paperwork back into its envelope. 30 years of his life efficiently terminated by a few sheets of A4 paper, impassively handed to him by a soulless face from HR. Packing the envelope into his bag, he scans his desk for anything else that he needs to take back to his bedsit. Another task to distract himself from the email window that has sat untouched on his computer screen for the past two hours. Finally, he stares at the expletive-laden response to his line manager’s message about a “smooth redundancy transition.” The reply that tells his line manager where to stick his transition. That hopes it’s an incredibly rough and painful transition. He thinks about taking the next six months off on sick leave. Thinks about being as difficult as he can. But he sighs and deletes the email he wants to send, replacing the text with a quick “No problem, I’ll action this on Monday.” Yet another act of loyalty that will go unrewarded. He clicks send and buries his head in his hands. In through the nose. Count slowly to five. Out through the mouth…

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