The Baby, The Ladies and The Workshop

I stepped into the production room, and this giant cutting table immediately caught my sight. It had a heavily worn metal ruler fixed onto one of its edges – such a workhorse.

We acquired this company in 2010. My wife wanted to get into something creative. Curtain Witchery was a small scale curtain manufacturer. It employed nine ladies with almost a hundred years of curtain making experience between them.

The previous owner could not cope with the demands of running a small workshop. Hence, we bought it cheap. It was almost too good to be true. We fell in love with it, with a romantic idea of running a busy workshop, creating arts.

“I cannot believe it,” my wife said to me.
”It’s ours now,” I replied.
“Yup, it is.”
”Are you ready for the big opening tomorrow?”
”Not really.”

Our first few weeks there were slightly confusing with a steep learning curve. There were times that Eve would call headless-chicken days. I figured out that she was talking about herself. She was the chicken. The other ladies, they were fearless witches.

”How do you all manage?” Eve asked Marg, one of the ladies. “There are so many things to do.”
”We just keep working I guess,” Marg replied.
”Well, in that case, could we skip morning tea today?”
”No, sorry ma’am, no morning tea, no work.”

I am telling you, those ladies, they might have been old, but they were fierce.


”You’re pregnant?” I could not believe my ears. “But we only just bought the business! How are we going to cope?”
”Well, I don’t know,” Eve said. “We’ll figure it out along the way I suppose.”
“Oh, I am sorry dear, it didn’t come out right,” I said. “I love you, and the little baby in your tummy too.”

Luckily, things did get easier in the months following our little pregnancy discovery. We figured out a better system to run the workshop. We had indeed become one of the curtain witches.

”This is your second child, right?” Liz, one of the ladies, asked Eve.
”Yes, it is,” Eve replied.
”Busy days ahead, Eve.”
”I know, I know,” Eve smiled.
”Hubby can help I’m sure of it,” Liz smiled back.
”O yes he will,” Eve said confidently.

Well, nine months went quickly, and it was time for baby girl to be born.

”Tomorrow is the day, you will be induced,” I said.
”I know,” she replied.
“Nervous?”
”Yes.”
”Me too.”

We came early in the morning, the doctor was ready, and it was supposed to be an easy procedure. It would have been a lovely morning if that phone had not rung. Jane, one the ladies, had decided to ring at that exact moment.

”Hello, yes, Eveline is giving birth, yes, right at this moment!” I said on the phone. “What? You’re worried about not getting paid overtime?”
”She is giving birth now, can we talk about it later?” I growled.

I could not believe it. I knew I should not have picked up that phone. I did not know what had gotten into me. I mean who picks up a phone when his wife is giving birth?


”Have you slept?” I asked Eve as I saw her wide awake on the hospital bed.
”She looks like a Natasha,” she replied.
”Really? Natasha sounds mysterious.”
”No, she is Michaela,” Eve then decided.
”Michaela sounds more like her,” I said.

Eve and Michaela spent a few more days in the hospital, adjusting to the new routine. She did not sleep much which worried me.

”Your baby is so cute Eveline,” Linda our workshop supervisor said.
”Is she our new assistant?” Marg said.
”Yeah, she will be fine on the cutting desk,” Jane smiled.

Everyone seemed to enjoy having Michaela around despite our never-ending jobs.

”How are you coping with Michaela in the workshop?” I phoned Eve from my office.
”It is a challenge, but we’ll manage,” she said confidently.


”What? Linda had an accident?” Eve was panicking.

Linda, our supervisor, had an accident in the workshop. She fell over a roll of fabric and hurt her left arm. Her old age did not help either as the doctor said it would take at least three months for her to recover.

“She cannot work for three months?” I asked Eve. “Who is going to cut the fabrics? Who is going to supervise the ladies?”
”Well, I guess I have to fill in for the next three months then,” Eve said.
”Ohh, you will be very busy, and tired too.”
”It’s only three months, we’ll manage,” she said.

The following three months were some of the busiest time we ever had in our lives. Some days got worse when Michaela decided to cry at 3am. Why, o why, would you cry at 3am little girl?

”Sorry hunny, I have to go super early this morning,” Eve said to me on a Monday morning. “Can you help prepare Kiera for school? I’ll bring Michaela with me.”

Eve had been coming earlier to the workshop to get more things done. In the meantime, I tried to help by doing my bit to take care of Kiera, our eldest child.

”Hi, are you still there? Do you need help?” I called Eve as it was getting a bit late at night.
”Yup, still here, I need to stay a bit longer to finish a job,” she said.
”Ok, I’ll make dinner then, Kiera said she wanted fried eggs,” I replied.
”Are you sure you’re ok?” I asked again. “I can hear Michaela crying.”
”Yes, she cried because I took away the fabric she was chewing.”

Eve came home at 11 pm that night. Michaela was already asleep in the car. I carried our baby girl in and put her in her little cot. Eve went straight to the bedroom and slept.


”Hunnnyyyy! Linda is back!” Eve said with her smile wide open.
”Oooohhh … thank God,” I said.
”Yes, the storm is over,” she replied.
“Wow I cannot believe it, she’s back.”
“Believe it, she is.”
“How are you feeling?”
“Relieved,” she smiled.
“Hah .. same here” I smiled back.

Linda was finally back at the workshop. She recovered well. The doctor put some kind of metal connector to strengthen her bone. We called her the Iron Lady from that moment on.

Everything was back to normal and no more late night work, yay!

”It’s a good day today,” I said to Eve while holding Michaela in my arms.
”Yeah, look at her cute face,” she replied, trying hard not to smooch her.
”She cries a lot, but her face is so adorable.”
”Aha .. with that face she would get away with many things.
”It was a hard few months, it was not perfect, but we made it,” Eve said slowly.
”And we’ll do it again, and again, and again.”
”Yes, together,” she smiled as she was holding my arm.


“Juggling work and parental responsibilities is no easy task, but I’m trying my best, and just like everything else there are good days, and there are bad days.” — Ali Landry

Failure Is Not The End

“Haha, an extra $350 is not bad at all,” I was talking to myself. ”All I have to do is change the purchase date.”

I owned a Telco Agency franchise that represented some of the biggest Telco companies in our state in Perth, Australia. Our franchise group was so dominant that customers often received better deals to purchase the latest mobile phones from us than if they dealt directly with the Telco companies. We pretty much ruled the market.

We started with one franchise and moved on to add another two. Life was good. It was even better when I figured out how to get monthly bonuses simply by .. changing the purchase dates.

”Fred, how did you do that?” Anton, another franchise owner, was wondering. “You have been getting the bonus for 3 months in a row now.”

”Well, our sales staffs are very hard working,” I said to him.

”I need to steal a few of them from you,” he said jokingly.

”Yeah, you can try, they are loyal to one person only, me!”

”Haha, we’ll see about that,” he smiled.

Anton was not going to steal anyone from me. His sales staffs were twice as good as mine. He was one of the best franchise owners I knew. He knew the industry well and he was such a good leader. Sometimes I wished I worked for him.

Being a not-so-honest franchise owner, I tried to find other ways to maximise profits. So I learnt the system and every now and then I found loopholes. The latest one being a simple change of dates that would magically improve my monthly sales to ‘earn’ bonuses.

***

’Sorry, your account has been deactivated’ – a message suddenly appeared as I tried to login into the franchise network.

I didn’t immediately make the connection. I thought it was a system error. It was not. My account was disabled. They figured it out. My ‘creativity’ had been found out.

The weeks that followed were full of drama. I was fined and given a warning. They let me off easy because I had a good record as a franchise operator. I learnt my lessons though, no more changing dates for the bonus.

”Well, we got our agency back,” my wife said to me. “Please try not to cheat the system again.”

”Yes dear,” I said, feeling down.

I worked so hard after that incident. I needed to prove my ability to build the franchise without resorting to dirty tactics. I had to redeem myself, reclaim my self-respect and push away any self-doubt.

It was amazing how an embarrassing incident could turn things around so spectacularly. Maybe it was not so bad after all. I found my strength at the bottom of the valley.

***

”Did you hear?” my wife was panicking. “The Telco master franchise has lost all of the major Telco accounts.”

“What do you mean ‘lost’?” I started to panic myself.

”Lost as in the big Telco companies are not selling through us anymore,” she tried her best not to faint. ”We are left with small players.”

”It is barely enough to cover rent,” I said.

”I know!”

”So what are we going to do?”

”I don’t know!”

It did not take long before we started to feel the pressure. Small Telco companies typically tried to dominate certain corners of the market. All of their products were tailored to a very specific slice of the population. A great example is an unbreakable (but ugly) mobile phone designed specifically for the construction workers. It was hard to sell their products to the general public that visited our shop.

Making things worse, those big Telco companies started to open up their own shops competing directly with us. So tell me again how we were supposed to survive? It was impossible. Our sales dropped by more than 70% within a short period of 6 months.

I lost my ability to think clearly. I just wanted to stay in bed all day, staring at the ceiling. I was a zombie.

We were part of a small community group called ‘connect’. There were four to five families in each group. The idea was so that we could support each other. Honestly, I never thought much of it. In fact, I always hated going to this group. “Such a waste of time,” I always thought to myself.

“How are you coping, my friend?” Simon our group leader asked me.

”Not good Simon,” I said quietly.

”Come, let’s have a chat, I’ll make you tea,” he said. “We have a few minutes before the others arrive.”

I have to say, it was such a joy to be able to pour out my heart to someone else without being judged. Simon was such a great listener. He was so genuine. He didn’t say much, he just nodded, smiled, asked questions, and most importantly he was there for me.

That night after talking to Simon I went to bed with a lot in my mind. I knew I had to do something, I couldn’t just wait to be slaughtered by big telcos. I needed to find the strength to move on. You know how some people say it takes courage to start? Sometimes it takes a lot more courage to stop and let go.

I had been a franchise owner for more than ten years. It was a part of me, it was my identity, and I was about to let it all go. My mind could not get into gear. I could not comprehend the situation because I had never been in that situation before. How, what, why?

”We have to make a move,” I said to my wife in the morning.

”Yeah, I have been thinking about it too,” she replied.

”I’m not sure I’m ready for this,” I said.

”I’m not either,” she whispered. “But I feel like there is no other way.”

”I cannot do it,” I said to her.

”We’ll do it together.”

I felt like a failure, I felt defeated. The business that I was so proud of. The success that I built with sweat and tears for more than a decade. It was not fair. I did not have a fighting chance.

***

“Well, we’ve done it,” I said to my wife. I had a million things happening in my mind.

”Yup, no more Telco Agency” my wife replied. “Are you ok?”

”I’m .. I guess, yeah, I’m ok.”

”Are you excited?”

”In a way, I actually am.”

”It’s been a long 7 months,” she whispered.

”Yes, a very long 7 months,” I said quietly. “I thought we would never sell it.”

”But we did,” my wife smiled again.

”Yeah, we finally did.”

”Don’t think about it too much,” she said. “Let’s just leave it all behind.”

”I know, I just feel like an era is over.”

”Yeah, that is true.”

”Well, we can, however, start something new,” I suddenly felt much better.

“Yes we can,” she smiled again. “You can now do what you have been wanting to do in the last 3 years – life coaching.”

”I know …” I started to feel my smile creeping back.

”Come on, we have talked about it.”

”Yes we have, and now I really can, I really really can!”

“You can,” she said. “Remember what you told me 7 months ago?”

”What?”

”Failure is not the end,” she looked at me with her most beautiful eyes.

***

”Failure is not the real end, it can be the beginning of your success story.”

I Thought He Came To Say Goodbye

”Ok Fred,” Rob said. “Are you trying to kill me?”

”What do you mean?” I said. “Are you playing the ‘old’ card again?”

Rob was my storeman, he was 60 years old but as strong as most 20 years old youngsters I knew. He went through a lot that bloke, just declared bankrupt, divorce dispute, and most recently health issues.

Well, to be fair, it’s not like he was taking care of his health, not with a bottle of wine every night! Sometimes I wondered how he managed to drive to the office every morning. Although it kind of explained those weird mornings where he seemed to come super early. He must have stayed the night!

Anyway, Rob was a good storeman. He was the only one who volunteered to do extra work when things went a bit quiet. He fixed the water pipe, washed the truck, and even offered to pull the weeds. He was such a humble old man.

“Fred, did you remember to order the white rags?”, I could hear Rob yelling from the warehouse.

”I did order them ..” I said, not too sure of myself.

”Well, where are they?”

”They’re not there?”

”No boss, they’re not.”

”Whatss .. ok I’ll call them now.”

Due to my million things to do I too forgot to do things. But fret not, my supplier was not far, and they were very efficient. The fact that I bought a lot from them probably contributed a little to the excellent service.

Anyhow, the white rags arrived in the afternoon (I told you they were fast). Rob looked rather excited for some reason. These rags must have grown on him. The destiny of a rags worker, sooner or later they would fall in love with those bulky rags.

The month went quickly and suddenly Christmas was just around the corner. It started to feel a lot like Christmas – it was just like the song. We had this tradition in the office to drink the day before Christmas. It wasn’t for us to get drunk or anything, or so we thought. Rob really got into it though, he bought a carton of beers for us to enjoy. Christmas present, he said. They were all for us, he said. He drank most of them, as expected.

***

”Fred, guess who got a new job?” Rob smiled at me in the morning.

”Who?” I asked.

”Me!” he replied.

And that’s how Rob broke the news of his resignation. He could not take the physical demand of the job anymore. He was getting older, and having health issues did not help either. Rob decided to get an easier job minding a hardware store near his place.

My wife and I went to visit him a few times at his new job. He looked good albeit rather bored. Well, at least he didn’t have to unload a truckload of rags there.

Rob returned the favour and came over a few times to my office. He didn’t get any younger though, and his liver problem got worse. I told him many times to stop drinking but you cannot teach an old dog a new trick.

He disappeared after a few months. His mobile was disconnected. We tried checking in at his workplace but to no avail. He vanished, God knows where.

***

”Ahh, there he is,” Rob suddenly appeared on the window.

”Whoa, look who’s here,” I said.

”Long time no see, boss,” he said to me.

”Yes, it’s been a while. How have you been?”

”Not very good, Fred.”

“What happened?”

”My liver stopped functioning, well almost,” Rob said slowly. “Doctor gave me a few months.”

”No … “ I couldn’t believe what I heard.

”It’s true,” Rob said. “I should’ve stopped .. drinking.”

”This is not happening.”

”It is, Fred.”

“Rob, what are you doing here?”

”What do you mean? I wanted to see you.”

”Yeah, I figured that out,” I said. “But why are you really here?”

”Fred, boss, I just wanted to see you.”

”I believe you, Rob,” I said. “Come, sit and I’ll make you some tea.”

We had a good long chat about work, life, family, and everything else. Rob said he missed working in the warehouse. He missed his babies, he said, referring to the bundles of rags he used to carry around.

That night I went to bed thinking I should’ve said something to Rob. Something along the line of ‘goodbye’. I didn’t because I was worried that it would offend him.

***

There was no news from Rob for the next few months. I was back to the usual hectic days at work, getting some daily physical workout in the warehouse. It was getting hot too with summer fast approaching.

”Hi, is this Fredy?” a lady called my mobile.

”Yes, it is,” I said.

”Oh .. this is Gillian, my husband Rob used to work for you.”

”Ahh yes, how is Rob doing?”

”Fred,” Gillian said slowly.

”Oh .. no .. don’t say it,” I said to her.

”He passed away, Fred,” she said. “He wanted me to tell you something.”

“Ok, I’m listening,” I said, trying to calm myself down.

“He said thank you for listening to him when he came last time,” Gillian whispered. “Thank you for not bringing up anything about him dying.”

”He also said that the last conversation gave him the peace he needed to accept his fate.” Gillian continued. “He said he felt his heart was light and he was ready.”

”Fred, Rob passed away the day after he met you.” Gillian finally said.

***

I will always remember that. That phone call. That moment.

I thought he came to say goodbye .. and I was right, but I’m glad I didn’t say anything.

Because I realised now.

He came to see me.

 

“Sometimes the best present you can give someone is to be present.”