My Day as a Ghost


Yesterday wasn’t a good day. Last week wasn’t a good week, but yesterday I was a ghost.

I feel perpetually exhausted, both mentally and physically, these days. Even a four day break from work, up to and including last Sunday, did nothing to change that. I had a rush of blood with the Second Draft and did five chapters in those four days, leaving me only the final two to deal with, and as this is the Third Act, and the emotional crux, it’s pretty draining work to begin with.

Nor did the high temperatures and hot sun of the first three days help me. I don’t do this kind of weather well in any event, only really managing it when I can either sprawl out on the benches at Old Trafford and watch cricket, or wander beaches and beachfronts in Mallorca: zuma naranja, agua sin gas and Coca-Cola Lite. It didn’t help that for at least the first half of Tuesday, I was in serious pain with my right knee. It’s been increasingly sore for years and I’m pretty much doomed to arthritis in it, if it hasn’t already developed, but this was throbbing mercilessly at regular intervals, no matter what I did to ease it, until it just went away, like that.

But on Thursday, after lunch, I developed toothache. I don’t have a dentist, I haven’t been to one in nearly a decade. I hate them. My ex-wife used to have to go with me, and sometimes hold my hand, and she said I didn’t so much shake as vibrate. It wasn’t a particularly jabbing pain, but it was a persistent one, and I didn’t sleep on Thursday night.

I think I got some rest in, maybe ninety minutes at the back end of darkness, but I was awake the rest of the time, in that intermediate state somewhere between wakefulness and conscious dreaming, my mind drifting under only partial direction. Friday morning, I was wierded out. My tooth was easing, but I was still very aware of it, and I couldn’t have gone best-out-of-three with a wet dishrag.

I shouldn’t have gone in to work but my absence record couldn’t afford it. I was limp, mentally as well as physically, and I was doing everything so slowly, snails were backed up behind me and tooting their horns.

As you know, I work in a call centre, as part of an efficient, second-tier customer support team dealing with technical faults ad customers of all attitudes. Fridays we’re relatively thin in numbers and I took my seat in my usual spot. Almost immediately, it got impossible to bear.

One of my team-mates, with whom I get along well, is irascible at the best of times. He’s undergoing stress himself, with a succession of headaches, and the number of things that irritate him seems to be growing, but his big bugbear is whistling. He cannot stand it, it is his nails-on-a-blackboard. Of course, another of our team-mates, who is big and booming and eccentric to begin with, starts whistling, and doesn’t take kindly to attempts to check him, making this almost a freedom-of-speech thing. It’s doing my head in and I haven’t even logged on.

My team leader is already aware I feel lousy. I tell him that as soon as I’ve done this urgent callback I’ve promised for one o’clock, I’m moving workstations, somewhere further away.

It takes three attempts to find one where I can work. It’s of only minimal effect: this is a call centre, we are a team of talkers, we have plenty of people who live to talk and who can charitably be described as distinctive, also as loud. Two get into an argument that results in one storming out briefly. I am as far away as it’s physically possible to be and still be on our team, and I have become a ghost.

When customers come on the line, I can summon the energy to deal with them, albeit in a calm, subdued manner. I’m laidback in my approach anyway: my schtick is empathy, calmness, confidence: let’s see what I need to do to fix it for you. This doesn’t help me with the guy who phones up early on to complain that his Broadband – which he took out only a month ago – may be fixed now but it’s too slow. He’s one of those who treat it as a personal insult that we’ve given him Broadband this useless, as if we’ve selected him for unfair treatment instead of it being the inevitable, and unalterable consequence of the distance between his house and the Exchange. He wants to upgrade to Fibre, and he wants a good deal out of us.

He says it as if we owe it to him. Now we continually have differing offers for new and upgrading customers but it so happens that there are currently none except if the customer simultaneously takes out one of our television packages. That offer is good: it’s a lot of product for a little outlay and it’s locked in for eighteen months, but I don’t know from TV. I don’t know the prices, I don’t know the packages, my head cannot cope with all the various alternatives and a customer who’s being as much of an arsehole as this one. Whilst I’ve got him on hold, and a colleague is blithely drowning me in details I’d struggle to understand in a normal state, he hangs up on me, which is best for both of us.

From then on, it’s nothing but technical stuff of varying complexity. Come six o’clock, three of my louder colleagues reach the end of their shifts and leave, but the two who started things off with the argument over the whistling are, like me, on till nine o’clock. I am miles away, miserly conserving what little energy I’ve got, combating the headache that hasn’t shifted all day. I don’t want to talk to anyone, though conversation would help eat up the looming time, but I am not noticed recognised, spoken to. I am a ghost, not even sure of my own corporeality. The new t-shirt I am wearing today, which would ordinarily have been remarked upon approvingly by several people (Fools! I Will Destroy You All! (ask me how)) isn’t even noticed.

Probably they’re being sensitive to my silence and my distance, but it’s Friday evening, six till nine, the last and worst hours and my eight pm I am done. I don’t have anything left, except guilt that they’re taking calls and I’m staring at old matters, checking details, filling in time because I am a deadweight.

And the irony is that when it officially reaches 9.00pm and I log off, they’re both out of the building before I’ve even returned my gear to my locker.

I slept better last night, but I don’t foresee me doing much this weekend. There are few necessary chores: food shopping later today is the only compulsory one. Having allowed myself to get a full five episodes behind on iZombie, I plan to continue my one-a-day catch-up. And having taken in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 last Sunday, I hope to feel up to Wonder Woman tomorrow, and if so write an Uncollected Thoughts about it.

And there is one scene, and one short coda left to revise and the Second Draft will be complete, though that doesn’t mean the book will be complete as there is still more to do before I consider it publishable. I shalln’t be going in for much human contact this weekend. But I shall be real both Saturday and Sunday. Yesterday, I was a Ghost.

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