I used to drink 12 or 13 cups of coffee a day. In my own defence, I was working in a coffee shop that sold gourmet beans from exotic places around the globe. It wasn’t a cafe, but a retail shop where you could buy the beans, but not a cup of the stuff. We would have a pot on brew as long as we were open, to offer the customers samples of the decadent beans. I’d grab a cup for the housewife whose arms were draped in bags she’d accumulated in other stores in the mall. Then I would grab one for myself as well. It didn’t matter if it was a dark roast, a Columbian or an Espresso. The rich elixir went down like water. I drank so much that after an 8-hour shift on my feet, I’d go home and scrub soap scum out of the tiles in my bathroom before I rearranged my Tupperware cupboard.
The job was a pretty good one, and not just because of the free drink perks. I’d come home smelling of fresh ground coffee. I only had to work regular mall hours. I got paid more than minimum wage. I learned more about coffee and tea than I care to admit. I had great coworkers, who were enjoyable to work with, and often hilariously funny. My manager left a little bit to be desired but overall, I loved the job.
I’d been working there almost a year when inventory rolled around. Our manager held a quick staff meeting to let us know what to expect.
“You’ll have to stay past closing and we won’t be able to leave until we’re done.”
I looked around. Small store. 5 of us. Shouldn’t be too bad.
“Sometimes this can go well into the night, so bring something to eat.”
Chuckling to myself, I thought, Why eat when I can fuel myself with human motor oil for free?
“Try to get a good night’s sleep the night before, as we’ll need clear heads for accurate counts.”
Sleep. How adorable, I thought. As long as the coffee is on, I got this.
The day of inventory arrived and one of our coworkers, Hamid, called in sick. No problem, we still had 4 people. After 6 hours of serving customers, we were getting ready to close up shop and start counting. I poured myself what must have been at least cup number 13 of the day. The final bolt was secured in the shop door and we got to it. Calculator in hand, an extra pencil behind each ear and count sheets on a clipboard, I headed to the Lomonosov porcelain teapots.
One, I began to count.
It wasn’t until I needed to refill my mug that I showed any signs of slowing down. After the last shelf of cobalt blue, white and golden tea sets, I trotted into the back room for a refill. There, I found my manager. Sitting at her desk. Playing Gameboy.
I cocked my head to the side. “Taking a break?”
“Sure.” She replied, not even looking up.
I could feel the blood in my veins flow a little faster, and a hot flash dance across my forehead. Forcing a grin, I refilled my cup.
“‘Kay. See you out there, then.” I turned and headed back out into the store.
Counting Bodum french presses this time, I kept turning back to catch my manager coming out of the back room. She didn’t emerge.
She must be counting the overstock back there, I explained it to myself. I took a sip of my Australian Skybury light roast coffee and kept counting.
“Where’s Amy?” I heard a voice behind me after I’d gotten through the first shelf of Bodum products. Ellie, my coworker was inquiring about our manager.
“Backroom, last I saw,” I pointed to the door. Ellie thanked me and headed in that direction. I watched as she sauntered off. Wanting to know what Ellie found back there, I kept glancing back to catch her coming back out. A few minutes later, she did. She didn’t look happy.
Ellie marched right over to me and said angrily, but hushed, “She’s playing Mario! We have to do the count and she can play Mario?” Ellie was from China and her English was nearing perfect.
“Still? She was doing that when I went back there about half an hour ago.” I stepped down from the step-ladder I was perched on. “She said she was having a break!”
“Break? She said no breaks until halfway done!” Ellie’s brow was so furled, her thin, black eyebrows nearly met in the middle. She stood, staring at me with wide eyes, a scowling mouth and her hands on her hips. As a tiny, short woman in her 60s with a sweet voice, it took an effort to take her anger seriously.
“Just keep counting. Maybe she just needed half an hour. She should be out in a minute or two if that’s the case.”
Ellie shrugged and spun on her heel. “Too nice, Courtney!”
Her pronunciation of my name always made me laugh, as it came out more like 'Cotly' but this time I found it difficult. I was just as angry as Ellie. In fact, my blood was beginning to boil and I was finding it harder and harder to focus on counting. I had to recount the single-cup coffee filters and lost count of the replacement presses twice.
Finally, my coffee mug was empty and I had reason to go to the back room again. I practically sprinted there. I pushed the door open with my back while I gripped my coffee mug and clipboard with my hands. I turned into the door as it swung open, and saw, once again, my manager, at her desk, playing Gameboy.
Keep cool, Courtney. I took a deep breath. You like this job.
My ears were burning, and the corner of my mouth began to twitch. I’m not very good at keeping how I feel about things to myself. It took every ounce of willpower I had not to say anything.
I poured myself more coffee, refused to even look at Amy and headed back out. On the other side of the door I found Ellie and Karen standing there, waiting eagerly to find out what our manager was doing in the back room.
“Mario.” I said.
Hushed, angry exclamations ensued as we all headed back to where we were counting.
Hours went by like this. I worked my way through the individual teabag bins, the Limoges tea cups, Wedgwood teapots, Cardew collectibles and the single-cup servings of gourmet hot chocolate. I counted tea balls and cozies and candied ginger and jams. I filled my coffee cup almost a dozen more times, but sleep deprivation was setting in. I could feel my eyelids get heavier, and my heart was racing. I was irritated, delirious and angry and decided it was probably better if I switched to a light tea at this point.
I made my way back to the backroom to put a kettle on, grabbing a pack of gunpowder tea on my way in. As I opened the door, the now-familiar scene of my manager, still playing Gameboy, still at her desk, greeted me. This time, she looked up.
“Don’t you think you’ve had enough coffee, Courtney?” She asked.
I began to grind my teeth as I squeezed my hand around the gunpowder tea package.
“Um… I don’t know? Just making myself a tea now, anyhow. I figure I’ll be heading home to bed soon.”
“Don’t count on it. You guys are the slowest counters I’ve worked with since I’ve been with this company.”
POP! The gunpowder tea package in my hand exploded under the force of my sheer hatred for this woman.
“I think you dropped something.” She pointed at a lone tea bag on the floor.
“Thanks.” I forced through gritted teeth. I made my tea and headed back out.
A few more hours passed and I was crashing. I could barely see straight, let alone think. My arms were trembling and I was yawning every minute or so. I checked my watch. Squinting through tired eyes at the timepiece, I saw that it was nearing 3 am.
I saw Ellie coming my way and set down my clipboard.
“She is still in the back room,” she shook her head. “If she helped us, we might be going home now.”
“I know!” I agreed with her. “Who the hell does she think she is?”
“We still have so much to count.” Ellie’s eyes dropped to the floor. “We will be here until morning.”
“Ladies! Less gossip, more counting!”
I turned and saw Amy, having emerged from the backroom for the first time in almost 9 hours. A look of smug satisfaction sat on her freckled face.
My heart pounded.
“You know, managers have to sleep, too. I’d like to go home at some point!”
Did she think she was giving us a pep talk? I crossed my arms and squeezed my biceps so hard, it hurt.
“This is the longest count I have ever been a part of and I am disappointed,” she grabbed the phone. “I have to call into the head office and see if the other stores are done”
I was salivating, I was so furious. I could feel beads of sweat form on my forehead and I caught glimpses of Ellie’s hands twitching to my side. We watched, all three of us dumbfounded, as Amy picked up the phone and hit speed dial #1.
We could hear the phone ring through the earpiece. We heard someone answer. Greetings and pleasantries followed until finally, Amy said,
“Yeah. I don’t know what’s wrong with these people. They just won’t count.”
She nodded a few times.
“I know! I know! It’s not like counting is difficult. I find it quite easy!”
I was sure I was going to have a heart attack. My eyes were burning with rage. I may have been growling at this point.
She hung up the phone and turned to us. “Mrs. Samuels says we have to stay until we’re done. We will count into the morning open hours if we have to.”
Dead. Silence. Slowly, the sound of my racing heart became louder and louder. I was sure everyone could hear it.
“Don’t look so disappointed. Maybe if you guys hadn’t been so slow, we would be going home by now.” I could have sworn I saw devil horns sprout from her forehead. Her voice was peppered with poison, “Now, quit standing around and get back to work.”
I imagined fire jumping up from the floor and licking the walls. Demons dropping from the ceiling, and everything turning red. My heart was pounding so loud, it could have been shaking the display windows and at this point. I was visibly trembling, droplets of steaming hot tea were being ejected from the cup of gunpowder I still clutched.
“Fuck you, Amy.” I growled before I could even think about it.
“Excuse me?” She spun on her heel to face me.
I stared at her, fuming.
“Do you have a problem, Courtney?”
I glanced at Ellie and then at Karen to see if they were going to step up with me. They each took a step away from me, instead.
“Yeah. Amy. I do.” I fought as hard as I could to keep calm, realizing I was alone in my protest.
“What’s that, then?
“Fuck you, is what.”
“You said that already, idiot.”
“What seems to be the problem?”
“Fuck you, Amy.” I stepped toward her.
Stepping backwards, her eyes scanned the room. “I-I-I-don’t understand what the problem is.”
“I think you do, Amy.”
“Why? Because I was doing my job and supervising?”
“Fuck you, Amy.” Another step closer.
“Because you guys are so lazy, you can’t even count a few things?”
“Fuck you, Amy.”
“I’m the manager! I’m supposed to supervise!” She was panicking.
I set my cup of gunpowder tea on the counter, unable to trust that my tired mind wouldn’t have me douse her with it. I stepped closer.
Amy’s chin was pushed into her neck, her mouth agape. Her arms were rigid, like tree limbs and her eyes were bugging out like a fish.
I walked as close to her as I possibly could without touching her. I leaned in and said firmly, “Amy, Princess, I QUIT!”
And stormed out.