Min good readeres, I am doubtlessly certain that you would find it highly bizarre and extraordinarily intriguing if your immediate superior, like mine, were to exhibit a disturbingly great amount of concern over your daily bowel movements as well as the kinds of activities you engage in in the privacy of a toilet cubicle.
But before I go into the details, kindly allow me to first do a little introduction. You see, I work in a call centre, and, strictly speaking, I am directly employed by one of the most dominant players in Singapore's telecommunications market, to whom the appointment line of the hospital mentioned in my previous entry has been outsourced. In order to live up to its good reputation as well as the general public's expectations of it, my company, like any other sensible company would, places heavy emphasis on its performance and service level. In order to maintain discipline, the regulations it adopts are often draconian in nature, and my former superior, who tendered her resignation only less than a month ago, was the perfect candidate to execute the rules, which are often considered to be inhumane, needed to be in place for the purpose of regulating employees' behavior. After the departure of the previous superior, there was a short period of sweet respite when the new executive had yet to arrive, and we experienced the temporal exhilaration of short-lived freedom like those animals in Orwell's Animal Farm immediately after the expulsion of the evil Mr. Jones.
The new executive finally arrived around one week back, but I did not have the chance to communicate with him until a few days back. At first sight, he appeared (notice the usage of past tense here) to be easy-going and open-minded in the way he would manage office affairs, and therefore we all welcomed his arrival as a fresh change. He was like how Napoleon, or Snowball, who became the leaders of the farm after Mr. Jones had been driven out in the most embarrassing manner, initially was. In hope to get to know us better, he decided to conduct one-to-one sessions with each and every one of us, and I was the first to be selected for a private meeting with him. I emerged after the session wondering how it had been of any help in promoting mutual understanding between himself and his subordinates. If you continue reading you will soon realise what I mean.
First he showed me a list of rules and regulations, all of which I am already very familiar with, and made me sign at the end of each page to indicate that I have full knowledge of the regulations, and will abide by them without fail. Next he asked me to furnish him with a brief description of my working experience so far, and I asked in a rather unfriendly tone, "Would you prefer a politically correct answer or a brutally honest one?" He chose the latter, and I told him very curtly that I have found my job an intolerably monotonous and infuriating one, and that it is so not intellectually stimulating. Everyday I have to endure the nonsense of unreasonable patients who either can't seem to absorb information into their heads even after repeated explanations (think Martin Koh) or are in desperate need to attend anger management courses. Or more simply, their parents did not teach them manners when they were young.
I also informed him of my decision to apply for approximately 2 to 3 weeks of block leave towards the end of my contractual period because I will need time to prepare administrative matters for university entry. At this time, my team leader, whom shall only be known as Norah, who had been sitting beside me all the while, interrupted, "Why do you need such a long time? Are there really that many things to prepare?" And I felt an urge to tell her that a period of 2 to 3 weeks is really not a very long time in the grand scheme of things, in the great span of one's entire life, but it was not a suitable time to launch into philosophical discourses, and so I replied shortly, "I'll need time to recharge myself too." I was also highly tempted to add, "I won't sacrifice my needs for a job I so passionately dislike." But I refrained myself because obviously it wouldn't be prudent to offend your superior. And the new executive, whom I shall refer to as Michael from now on for convenience's sake, asked jokingly upon hearing this, "Can I say 'no'?" I answered with a cryptic smile (you can interpret it as being truly friendly or secretly hostile), "No you can't." And then, seemingly at a loss for words, he launched into a speech on a set of new rules which he has decided to implement, and one of these rules is so amazingly original that I was taken aback, and this time it was my time to be at a loss for words. This was probably how my expression looked like:
Anyway, the new rule which both surprised and outraged me simultaneously was this:
In order to ensure that there is enough manpower manning the appointment lines at all times, it has been decided that every employee shall personally inform him or Norah of his/her wish to go to the lavatory (the mighty Queen Elizabeth does not fancy the word 'toilet', my friends, for it is uncouth!), and at the same time explain the reason behind the need to make the trip, so that they can constantly monitor the situation in our workplace. If there are already two or three people on toilet breaks at the same time, then the rest will be forbidden from going to the lavatory until at least one of the people on toilet break has returned.I was so astonished that for a moment I was temporarily speechless, for it was the very first time I had heard of such a ridiculous practice in any office. However, I was able to recover and regain my composure fairly quickly, and the following conversation ensued:
Me: (coldly) I prefer answering nature's calls to answering patients' calls.
Michael: I am not saying that you will be banned from going to the toilet. But when we do not have enough people manning the lines, you will have to delay your trip until we have enough manpower.
Me: (frostily) So you're telling me that when there are people on medical leave or on their lunch breaks, I am not allowed to go to the toilet?
Michael: (quickly) No, that is not what I mean. Those circumstances are different.
Me: (even more coldly) And what if it is urgent?
Michael: (unconvincingly) Of course, if it is urgent then naturally we can't forbid you from going to the loo...
Immediately I began to feel as if I had been transported back to my days in primary school, banished into the depths of suffocating hell where every action - including drinking from my water bottle simply because I was thirsty - needed the approval and permission of my teachers before it could be carried out. I could already envision the different scenarios which might surface in future:
Scenario One: When I am in urgent need to relieve myself.
Me: (in great hurry) I need the toilet!
Norah/Michael: (dispassionately) Please wait for 5 minutes. There are already two people in the toilet. We can't afford to let you go at this critical moment when there are 5 pending calls.
Me: (on the verge of tears) I can't take it anymore! Please let me go now!
Norah/Michael: (unmoved) Just wait for a while more.
Me: (cry desperately) No! Please, release me now!
Norah/Michael: (cruelly) Blame your colleagues, not us, for keeping you here, because they are taking such a long time!
Me: (sob uncontrollably) Oh, no, I am going to pee now! (liquid starts dripping from my pants as I die in shame)
Scenario Two: When I am having my period and have accidentally stained my pants/skirt.
Me: (unnaturally friendly) Hi, Sir! (cover the stained spot dexterously with my hands)
Michael: (enthusiastically) Hi!
Me: (uncomfortably) Uh, listen to me, Sir, I need the toilet. Desperately. Now.
Michael: (curiously) Oh, and why is that so? You don't seem to be in dire need to relieve your bladder of its burden.
Me: It is not my bladder, Sir.
Michael: (even more curiously) Oh? Then what is your reason?
Me: (firmly) Don't probe.
Michael: Oh, come on, you can let me know! I am your friend!
Me: (annoyed) Sir, please don't probe. I have no wish to explain. Just let me go to the toilet.
Michael: (pitifully) Aw, don't you trust me?
Me: (irritated) No, Sir, please respect my privacy. I need the toilet. Immediately.
Michael: But I wish to know!
Me: (in a final outburst) SIR, IF YOU MUST KNOW, I AM CURRENTLY HAVING MY PERIOD AND I HAVE ACCIDENTALLY STAINED MY SKIRT, AND I NEED TO WASH THE STAIN OFF BECAUSE I DON'T WANT TO WALK AROUND WITH A BLOOD STAIN, BROADCASTING TO THE ENTIRE OFFICE THAT I AM HAVING MY MONTHLY THING, WHICH IS WHAT YOU ARE MAKING ME DO NOW, DO YOU UNDERSTAND?
(The whole office stares at me in silence while outside the window a few trees tremble visibly from the tremors caused by my booming voice.)
Scenario Three: When any of my colleagues is suddenly seized by burning sexual desire and needs to rush to the toilet to masturbate.
Colleague: (sensually) Hey, Sir. I... need the toilet. (winks)
Michael: You look cute when you wink! Anyway, why do you need the toilet?
Colleague: (secretively) I need it so that I can do things which everybody does.
Michael: Oh? Do you mean that I have also done before the thing which you are going to do?
Colleague: I don't know about you, but... (sexily) We'll all do it in life, sooner or later. I need the toilet. Now.
Michael: You speak in riddles, my friend! You've piqued my interest!
Colleague: (getting anxious) If you would kindly allow me to depart, Sir, for I need to quench my thirst, fulfil my desire, and quell the fierce fire which has mercilessly torched the core of my body!
Michael: (enlightened) Oh! So you are thirsty! Quick, go now, or else you won't be able to answer calls efficiently later!
Colleague: (gratefully) Thank you, Sir! (rushes off)
(Michael muses happily to himself, "What an interesting subordinate! And poetry seems to come so naturally to him/her! 'To quench my thirst, fulfil my desire, and quell the fierce fire which has mercilessly torched the core of my body' is such a lovely phrase, isn't it? And as much as he/she speaks in riddles, I am smart enough to understand the hidden meanings in his/her speech! I am genuinely proud of myself, for I haven't accomplished so impressive and significant a task since I implemented the toilet rule!")
Scenario Four: When two colleagues, Colleague Alpha and Colleague Beta, have arranged to meet for a quick rendezvous near the toilet.
Alpha: (chirpily) Hey, Sir. I need the toilet.
Michael: (raises eyebrows) Why?
Alpha: (hesitatingly) Uh... (starts talking gibberish) Because, because this is the hour. Uh. Yeah.
Michael: (raises eyebrows again) Oh? The hour? (scratches his head in puzzlement) So you consult the fortune-teller even for matters as trivial as going to the toilet? Or are you talking about the book by Michael Cunningham, the genius who shares the same name as another genius, who is me?
Alpha: (too happy to agree in order to stop Michael from probing any further) Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!
Michael: (harshly) Don't keep repeating 'Yeah!' because it makes you sound like a moron! (pauses for a moment) Alright, you may go then.
(Alpha rushes off immediately while Michael thinks to himself, "All my subordinates have such fascinating personalities and curious traits... Oh, well, I guess it livens up the atmosphere here!")
Beta: (cheerily, interrupting Michael's train of thoughts) Hey, Sir! May I go to the loo?
Michael: (suspiciously) Oh?
Beta: (looks around furtively and makes sure that no one is eavesdropping before smiling brightly at Michael) Let me tell you a secret, Sir. (bends towards Michael and starts whispering) I believe in fengshui and fortune-telling. From what I know, every day at this hour is the auspicious time for me to relieve myself. Don't tell anyone else about this, OK? Not everyone can understand. You know how people tend to dismiss this as silly superstition.
Michael: (frowns) You seem to share the same hobbies as Alpha...
Beta: (feigns surprise) Oh, is that so, Sir?
Michael: (thoughtfully) Hmmm... (diverts the topic) What is your favorite movie, by the way?
Beta: The Others. (hurriedly) Sir, this isn't the right time to make conversation. Since I have taken you into my confidence, please allow me to take my leave now, or else I'll miss my auspicious hour! (rushes off)
(Michael continues pondering, "How incredibly interesting! Alpha loves The Hours, and Beta loves The Udders. But why does Beta love The Udders? He/she isn't a cow. Hmm, I wonder what are the chances of my meeting a person who shares exactly the same fortune-telling results as me? Oh, I am so extremely envious of Alpha and Beta! They must be made for each other!")
Anyway, two more months to liberation, and I am counting down to freedom from the autocracy of The Executive, the first among all executives (excluding those who work in companies which deal with providing toilet products and services) to concern himself with other people's needs to go to the toilet. If you would agree with me, relieving oneself is really, truly a private affair. Hopefully I won't end up like this whenever I go to the toilet from now on during working hours:
And time, I believe, will tell if Michael proves to be Napoleon or Snowball.