Ernest Kowalski could bear much. For all of his forty-year life he had to do a job that was not easy, and when he tried to complete it faithfully, he was criticized. He was insulted when he reminded customers of any uncomfortable loopholes or asked for a signature on another contract. He was not respected, he was treated like any secretary employed immediately after or even without completing university, just because she wore dresses with a décolletage.
Ernest was suffering from injustice. He was educated, yet lived in a panelák instead of one of those modern buildings, from which at one a.m. he left Yolanda with messy hair and in tights with holes in them.
He was always dressed according to the dress code, and yet he had been doing the same job for fifteen years, while Christine from some department he didn’t care about was promoted from cleaning the goddamn floors to the position of assistant to the manager of the company.
To his superiors he spoke in a correct and polite manner, and the girls who told vulgar jokes were greeted with applause and bursts of laughter.
Ernest lived in a society which was ruled by men obedient to their urges. In a world full of women confident with themselves and the effect they had on men.
Injustice was a chronic and annoying disease. At every step, it reminded him of itself in a degrading and depressing manner. He was able to withstand it for a long time. He clenched his jaw, his fists, and continued, his highest goal still obeying the law and doing his job well. He had no family, his parents had died earlier; the year when he was about to turn forty. They wanted to go together to a nice restaurant. Or maybe start saving for a better apartment or car. They died suddenly in an accident and left behind only a testament that was written few years earlier in anger, during the only argument they’d ever had. It gave the whole fortune for a distant cousin somewhere on another continent. Ernest was only happy that a black shirt was accepted at his workplace.
His psychologist gave him an alternative name for the injustice he suffered from, but he disagreed. He never showed up for the next visit.
The day of his fortieth birthday was approaching mercilessly fast. He assumed that he would spend it celebrating his promotion. Marina Z. resigned recently, running out crying from her boss’ office, shouting at him. She usually only screamed inside the room.
That would also explain why he did not receive anything earlier. They were waiting for the big four-and-zero. They probably wanted to put his guard down and surprise him with a raise on his birthday.
The calendar was beginning to be filled with crosses, and in the closet hung a pre-ironed shirt from van Graaf, which he found in a charity shop and which was supposed to end the mournful black.
Dressed in pink, for the first time in many months, he walked with a smile on his lips to work. The grey sky hung somewhere between the grey skyscrapers and the grey stripes of roads, hanging like garlands at different heights, full of grey people. Earphones from Poundland quickly found their place in his ears, pouring the joyous sounds of an overly enthusiastic band into them.
Ernest stepped into the glass building eighty stories high, when his boss greeted him at the door.
“What are you doing here, Kowalski? We moved you to a smaller facility in the outskirts of the city. Didn’t you get the email?” he said, touching the hologram hovering over his phone, not looking at the man.
“They cut off my power this week, sir.”
“Jesus, Kowalski. Go to Janine. I don’t have time for this now” he added hurriedly and began pushing through the doors, in which they stood. He turned around and added, “Oh, and next time, put something else on. Pink isn’t in our dress code, but I’ll turn a blind eye on it this time. You’re turning fifty soon, right?”
“Forty, sir. Today” Ernest replied, but the man was long gone before he could finish.
He shambled to the secretary’s desk, who then took a few minutes to notice him, letting her nails dry. She handed him a sheet of paper with all the necessary information and told him to go home.
He walked out of the building towards the lowest street, the ugliest one, which, according to the instructions on the paper, was supposed to lead him to the place where he was supposed to work now.
He imagined a cosy corner in a small office set up for domestic transactions, where he might have less work for the same salary. Instead, he found a ruined, deserted building on the edge of the city, in which a seventy-year-old green-haired secretary would greet him, as he observed through the window. When he wanted to go in, the doors rang the bells hanging from a low ceiling with patches of dry paint coming off.
Like in a goddamn cheap ice cream shop, he thought, violently turning and running away from that godforsaken place. He ran as long as his lack of fitness let him. He ran until he found himself in a dark alley, where he finally stopped to breathe. Calming his breath took a while, during which he decided to spit out every swearword he could think of in every language he knew.
“Hey, buddy? You alright?” A strange, distant voice called out to him. Ernest slowly started to raise his head to see the person the words were coming from.