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[Influenza, 1,162 words, Genre: Dark Humour]

* Photograph courtesy of Martin Rumsby

Geoff was the lead manager of a call centre that delivered customer service to those afflicted with automobile problems. Auto… Auto… Automobile is such an odd word when one considers it, but it covered the vast branch of all vehicles that customers owned that the insurance company serviced. It seemed like outdated usage given the company’s headline of ‘automobile insurance’, but really it covered the vast array of different vehicles such as boats and light aircraft that the insurance policies covered.

Not that the service of different automobiles had much to do with what happened. It could have happened in any call centre, because the story for the workers of the call centre is always the same. Same service requests, same conversations, same argumentative behaviour coming from the clients. The workers would put in the hours and work their days from nine to five. Doing the same thing, day in and day out. Routine is a killer when that routine is arduously filled up with work. It wears the soul thin. It produces wear and tear, all of the individual stress adds up and accumulates into a toxic persona. The individual is very rarely toxic in the first place, but the stresses of work that they are faced with adds up and accumulates. Lack of substantial reward and for a better word nourishment of the soul produces an embittered attitude. Every worker’s skin is thickened by the experience and very little do they have the time to rest and regenerate themselves so that they can keep their heads up. Sometimes, even when they are not sick, they will take a day off and call in sick so that they can maintain their sanity. The standard contract in most call centres allows for four weeks of annual leave a year, you can do it for a while, but eventually, in order to preserve your own sanity, you must find a suitable means in which to replenish yourself.

And that’s what the workers were doing. The ones who were calling in sick during the day. Geoff didn’t understand it. He had worked in call centres his whole life and couldn’t grasp the fact that the digital age and the great expansion of technology in the platforms of software were creating a burdened workforce. A workforce that had to survive on base pay and learn new processes and new systems every time some fat bastard in software development decided to cash in on his latest development. They couldn’t tell Geoff that this was the problem, that they were all tiring and getting worn out. So Geoff believed that everyone was genuinely becoming sick… All the time.

During business school is when Geoff first began to develop it. That is, his fear of germs. At university, he took on several history units as electives during the course of study. They studied the Black Plague and other notorious events that had their toll on humanity as the years had rolled out over the course of human civilization. Now, war… War, he could understand. They were man-made atrocities that could be controlled if common sense were to enter the equation. That being said, Geoff was naive enough to think that everyone held common sense in present times. Besides the point, Geoff knew that events like the black plague and mutations in virus strains were beyond humanity’s control. That’s when it began, an over cautious nature to keep everything clean. Everything had to be clean, everything had to be sanitary or Geoff would become irrational. He would do odd things, like bringing in grade bleach to ensure that everything was sterilized.

He ensured that every work desk had hand sanitizer and cleaning materials to ensure that the workplace was a sterile environment. And every time someone called in sick to work, that’s when the little voices in his head began to bounce back and forth between the walls of his head. Lingering thoughts, thoughts that he couldn’t get rid of. The irrational fear was that viruses were mutating and becoming threats to human civilization. And they were mutating, it’s a fact. The present day distribution of anti-biotics to kill small virus strains were creating super-flus that would be resistant to any form of viable treatment. It was true. Geoff had read about such things in medical journals. Things that he had begun to follow since his irrational fear had begun to manifest itself.

The fear was only irrational in the sense that there was very little that he, as an individual, could do about it. And all of the time that he spent worrying about it was causing him further anxiety and stresses than he could manage. At home he had begun to wash his hands with bleach and his partner was becoming worried about him.

But no matter what Geoff did, in the workplace and at home. People continued to keep getting sick. They would call in sick and the call centre that he managed was coming under threat because of dealing with competing agencies who were competing to win over some of the larger clients.

He would look at the numbers. Looking for a trend. He took the sick days of the call centre as a general sample of the population and he was attempting to identify a pattern, to determine whether or not some form of epidemic would break out.

It was a problem, his irrational fear and irregular interest would always throw him into conversations talking about this epidemic and that epidemic. The latest being the largest outbreak of Ebola that the world has ever seen in the Congo Republic. “This is insane… If things like this spread, humanity could be wiped out in the blink of an eye.”

His partner would tell him not to worry about it and try and take it easy.

As these things occurred Geoff would enforce more stringent policies on his workers, ensuring austerity prevailed and everyone maintained a healthy and sanitary workplace. He would ensure workers all cleaned their desks each day before they left, he would impose a one hour check so that the workers applied the sanitary hand cleanser, once every hour, on the hour.

But this just caused further problems. The more stringent the policies became, the less compelled the workers felt to come in to work. They weren’t becoming sick through any virus strain, they were becoming sick of a strained environment. And the more Geoff did to control the problem, the worse the problem became.

It escalated to the point where Geoff was enforcing the workers to wear face masks that covered up their mouths. After that, not many of the workers wanted to work there anymore… And without them, Geoff soon found himself out of work.

Without any work, Geoff found himself making plans to save himself and his partner from the virus that was breaking out through out the city. His partner had him committed to a psychiatric ward after that…


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