A Colleague Implodes
There was no reply.
Via text messages, I’d agreed to meet him after work yesterday to counter-sign his passport application. He rang at about 7.30pm and we'd had a garbled conversation, leaving me uncertain as to whether he still wanted me to counter-sign it or not. The most I could make out was that he was happy to be going home ‘to be with my people’ and that everything would be better after ‘my first holiday in over 20 years’. Further flurries of text messages informed me that he’ll be in Switzerland this weekend where he has a house in Bremgarten, that he’d be in Milan during the week for a business show and that he’d be in St Petersburg for the following weekend.
This morning’s text message from K: Alan, sorry, I met a delightful young woman + 1 thing led 2 another. Now in Italian place next door.
I met him about 30 minutes later. It was the first time I’d seen him since last Wednesday when he was sitting at the same café, crouched over one of the outside tables, looking very much like a perspiring, florid toad listlessly toying with a half-eaten bruschetta. Apart from the fact that he was sitting inside this time (it was raining), the scene was identical. There was no way that he’d had anything to do with any delightful young woman. He confirmed that when he said that he couldn’t remember where he’d been the night before. I suspect that he may have seen such a person or even chatted to such a person but the likelihood of one thing leading to another was nil.
The previous Wednesday’s meeting was the day after K’s very visible and completely compelling breakdown. I’ve since referred to it as an ‘implosion’ but it was an implosion with explosive elements. If I had more inside information I’d be able to give you an ‘anatomy’ of his breakdown but in the absence of that, all I can give you is my encounter with his breakdown.
Day 1 (First week: Tuesday):
Welcomed by K with open arms especially on his learning that I’m a smoker and enjoy the occasional (!) pint at the pub. Learnt a bit about his background and got confused by a succession of foreign female names he constantly refers to. Found his obsession with getting a film made of the project by a TV producer friend of his for Italian educational TV rather bizarre. Noticed that he ‘disappeared’ a lot. He sent me alone to a meeting that both of us should have attended. I declined an invitation to join him for a drink that night.
Day 2 (First week: Wednesday):
K was very late for work. He looked as if he hadn’t showered. I was given a book on time management that he’d bought for himself. ‘Alan, you read this. I bought it as I've always been bad at this sort of thing but I haven’t got time to read it. You read it and tell me if it has any good tips.’ I joined him for an evening's drinking at the King Billy.
Day 3 (First week: Thursday):
K was even later for work. His stubble was longer and his body odour stronger. We had a meeting where he showed me a detailed storyboard of the film he wants made of the project but was unable to follow the logic of it. In a meeting with a female colleague, he kept telling her how he wanted the project to send him to the Swedish subsidiary because of the blonde women. I notice that K has another copy of the time management book.
Day 4 (First week: Friday):
K didn’t make it to work.
Day 5 (Second week: Monday):
K had shaved but the body odour hadn’t improved. On asking him for any emails relevant to the project he let me sit at his PC. I sent all of them to my PC including a couple that had been sent to him by the boss. They referred to his absences from work and any steps he may be taking to rectify the position. At the regular team meeting, he stood up to discuss his slot. There was lots of wild gesticulating and drawing of unrelated diagrams on the white board. Later, on his seeing an email referring to donations for the victims of the Asian earthquake, he got highly agitated. He hadn’t heard about it and was worried about the safety of one of his female friends travelling in the region. He rushed off to an internet café in town to see if there was news from her. He didn’t return.
Day 6 (Second week: Tuesday):
To try and get him on time for a 9.30 meeting, I sent him several messages and rang a couple of times to remind him of it. He still didn’t make it on time. At lunchtime, K is seen wandering around the lake in the gardens outside constantly pulling a piece of paper out of his pocket, scanning it while shaking his head then crumpling it up and putting it back. At an afternoon meeting with several key project managers involved with our project he can’t keep still and constantly mumbles to himself and interrupts others while they’re talking. He keeps writing and drawing feverishly, sometimes tearing out pages from his notebook. He’s asked to keep still which keeps him quiet for a short while but the feverish activity resumes after a while. He disappears for the day after the meeting and I’m called aside by the boss and asked to get as much information from him as possible in the coming weeks as K’s continued presence on the project is in doubt.
Day 7 (Second week: Wednesday):
I bump into him at the Italian café near my hotel. ‘I’ve resigned,’ he announces. He also asks me to collect his bag from the office so that he can collect it from me later that day. He’s called the office by the time I arrive to announce his resignation. ‘What have you been saying to him, Alan?’ asks the boss. ‘Absolutely nothing,’ I say. I take his bag to my hotel that night and text him to say it’s there. No reply.
Day 8 (Second week: Thursday):
No one hears from him. I pop into the King Billy that night to see if he’s there but he’s not.
Day 9 (Second week: Friday):
S, another colleague and K’s landlord, gets a call asking for a spare key as K’s lost his. He meets K at the flat and finds the place littered with beer cans, fag ends, ash all over the place and an over-powering smell of beer and sweat. There are several fag burns in the newly-fitted carpets. He gives K a week to vacate the place. Out of nosiness and to see if his bag has anything important in it that he may need, I check the contents of his bag. It’s full of inconsequential papers, two glasses cases, both with cracked glasses, his Swiss residency permit, his driving license, and 5 copies of the time management book. Did he buy them to hand out to colleagues or has he been going into the bookshop to buy a copy every day having forgotten that he’d bought one the day previously? At the King Billy that night, I’m told that K has been in most nights and that he's been in a terrible state.
Day 10 (Third week: Monday):
I'm in Nottingham as I have the day off. K calls about his bag, sounding perfectly normal but ignores all questions about himself. I get the hotel to get the bag for him.
Day 11 (Third week: Tuesday):
Day 12 (Third week: Wednesday):
No contact. The boss informs me that there's a dispute going on, via K’s agency, between himself and K. K insists that he didn’t resign and that he’d been given time off for ‘humanitarian reasons’ out of concern for his friend who was travelling in Pakistan during the earthquake. Someone who escaped unscathed and was now travelling in Bhutan.
Day 13 (Third week: Thursday):
K resumes contact to ask if I’ll fill in his passport application. I become the middle-man in a text conversation/argument between K and S, his landlord. I eventually resign from the position.
Day 14 (Third week: Friday):
I see K at the Italian café near my hotel.
During the past few weeks, I’ve actually been worried about K. He deserves more than just being dismissed as an alcoholic eccentric. I know next to nothing about him apart from him being a lonely alcoholic who hails from Manchester, now has a house in Switzerland and lived in Italy for 10 years. But, alcoholic or not, he was a fully functioning one until not so long ago - the boss was pleased with his work and his contract had recently been renewed. It seems as if something specific had led to his rapid and dramatic breakdown. This morning I tried my best to ask him about things and his plans for the future but he either ignored my questions or countered them with, ‘I don’t want to think or talk about that, I only want to think about my holiday.’
He’ll be back in Northampton on 7 November. I have no idea why he's returning here but should I see him again, I’ll see if I can get any insight into his condition.