Stuart was quiet all through the three-week training period.
When asked questions, he gave the tersest possible replies – in the “Getting to know you” first-day session (beloved of all corporate training programs), to the command: “Tell us your name, where you’re from and one interesting fact about you”, when his turn came, Stuart muttered:
“Stuart. Round here. Nothing much.”
Every morning, as the lift filled up and headed for the fifth floor, Stuart gave an almost imperceptible nod as he headed for the staircase and walked up six flights of stairs, rather than squeezing into the lift with everyone else.
“What do you make of him?” Claire asked her colleague Siobhean, as Stuart glided by at a tea-break.
(He had a way of sneaking up on people, who usually gave him the benefit of the doubt and assumed he didn’t mean to startle them, though he never apologized or said anything about it.)
“Cute.” Siobhean replied.
Claire peered skeptically over her glasses:
“Well, you know, man of mystery, isn’t he? What’s going on under that greasy mop?”
“I dunno, bit creepy if you ask me….”
“I didn’t, but thanks. Makes a welcome change from all the other Dickbags fighting for attention in there” Siobhean countered, indicating the training room.
Over the course of the (interminable) training, Stuart managed to reveal very little about himself. He sat impassive as others chatted around him, noting the easy candour of their conversation.
Darren, one of the louder Training Room Dickbags, tried to banter with Stuart – primarily, Stuart immediately saw, to attract the attention of Claire and Siobhean, their neighbours at the quad desk.
“What you reading there, Stu?” asked Darren during one of the many quiet periods between calls.
Without looking at him, Stuart languidly raised his book to show the front cover.
“’Written On The Body’. Sounds racy…”
It was clear Darren had nothing to say about it, and equally that Stuart would tell him very little.
“What’s it about?”
Eventually, they stopped trying to talk to him.
On the day Stuart called in sick, nobody outside the three other temps at his desk noticed.
The daily grind got to some of the temps, but Stuart remained implacable throughout the seven-week placement. (Ten weeks, including training).
Even when facing a demanding or irritable customer, he was calm and detached.
One exchange, later recalled in court by some of the temps, demonstrated Stuart’s expertise:
Caller: I need to talk to a manager, this is getting us nowhere.
Stuart: There are none available [The temps had quickly given up on trying to get managers to take calls; they were allergic]
Caller: How can there be no managers capable of taking my call, that’s ridiculous!
Stuart: I agree, it’s ridiculous.
Caller: Well, how am I supposed to sort this out then? I need to access my account and you’re not helping – no one’s helping!
Stuart: I can give you the e-mail address to make a complaint…
Caller: NO! I just need this sorted, I don’t care about complaining, I’ll do that later.
Caller: So, what are you going to do about it?!
Stuart: Nothing much.
Stuart: To be honest, my sympathy is limited.
Stuart: You earn in a month what I would earn in a year, except that I’m a temp, so unless I get several more temp jobs, I’ll earn even less. Given the circumstances of the disparity in our earnings and situation, it seems implausible that I should be concerned with your problems.
Stuart: In fact, I find it insulting to my intelligence that I should be expected to treat your problem as my problem.
Caller: …but…it’s your job, to – you’re providing a serv-
Stuart: I know, it must be confusing for you when you click your fingers and the world does not immediately jump to attention. So, it appears I do have some sympathy...
Caller: This is disgusting, I will be making a complaint.
Stuart: That’s your prerogative. And please feel free to call back and shout at us again.
Caller: What’s your name?
It was the most any of them had heard him say.
The conclusion of the call was greeted with smiles, and the odd (muted) cheer from those temps who heard it. Darren wasn’t at his desk; Stuart hadn’t even bothered to check.
“Way to go, Stuey! Showed HER, the bitch!” cried Siobhean.
“Hidden depths to our Stuart, here…”, she added knowingly to Claire, who could not help but be impressed.
“I’d never say that to a customer.” She gasped.
“Why?” asked Stuart, startling them again. “We’re here for a few weeks, doing an almost entirely unnecessary job, for people who earn ten times what we do, who could easily do it for themselves – what’s the point getting upset about it?”
Siobhean nodded quietly, eyebrows raised in agreement.
Stuart merely went back to his book, seemingly unmoved by the incident.
Darren returned to his desk, immediately picking up on the unusually charged atmosphere.
“What’s going on here then?”
“Ask Stuart, he’s the hero of the hour – or maybe the anti-hero, if you’re into that sort of thing…” replied Siobhean, winking at Stuart, who didn’t look up from his book.
“What’s occurring, Stu?”
That afternoon, inspired by Stuart’s example, Siobhean answered a call by saying:
“Hiya, you’re through to the thing, my name doesn’t matter, how can I help?”
She was severely reprimanded by a manager who happened to be passing her desk at the time.
On the last day of the assignment (technical terminology for a short-term, minimal-rights contract), at lunchtime, Siobhean and Claire shared a cigarette in the “smoking area”, a hundred feet from the building’s main entrance.
Striding confidently towards them, Stuart waved, smiling broadly.
Siobhean was the first to notice:
“Bloody hell, he’s happy – never seen him smile before. Told you he was nice looking.”
“It’s weird though, doesn’t look right.”
Claire noticed something hanging from Stuart’s hand. It seemed to be leaking.
“What’s that?” She muttered, with growing unease.
“Can’t see” Siobhean peered toward the front door.
As Stuart got within 30 feet of the pair, they noticed he had a cigarette in the corner of his mouth. They now saw that the thing leaking from his hand was a jerry can.
Dropping the can, Stuart reached into his coat pocket and pulled out a lighter.
Claire grabbed Siobhean’s arm.
“What the fuuuuuck…?”
“He doesn’t smoke, does he?”
Stuart lit the cigarette, took a long drag, and dropped it casually behind him.
As he strolled towards them, still beaming, Claire shouted: “Stuart! What the fuck have you done?!”