Bad Signal

Someone’s left you a voicemail message, but all you can make out are the last words: “I’m sorry. I should’ve told you months ago. Bye.” Who is it from, and what is this about?

An old colleague whom we affectionately call “Uncle”, retired over a year ago had a liking for his phone. We were all able to get a new mobile phone for free when we recontract our subscription every 2 years but he refused to let go of his keypad Nokia phone for the longest time, perhaps 5 years. There were many times we heard him answering a call from his phone and he would say, “Hello!… Hello!.. Hello!..who is that?” and then silence. Whenever we asked Uncle about it he would usually say, “Someone dunno how to use the phone.” or “Somethin’s wrong with that person’s stupid phone!” To him, it was always nothing wrong with his ‘perfect’ phone.

We all learned not to call Uncle on his phone as it was difficult to get through or if we did, we could not get a decent conversation going. It would get cut off at the first sentence or word. So we would depend on seeing him in person or email which he would take forever to respond.

After almost a year since Uncle had retired, I received a message from him on the office voicemail. All I got was an apology and about something months ago. I tried calling his phone as I was desperate to know what it was about and as usual, it just won’t connect. My mind was racing to figure out what the matter could be and why should he apologise?

I discussed with the other colleagues to figure out what it was about and we did an office thing… we brainstormed about what he does for us at work. Our recollection of him was, he was responsible for dispatching the office letters and liked to make a pot of coffee for us in the morning. There were times he would buy lunch for me when I didn’t have time to go out for it. He was sweet and helpful to all of us. Sometimes he would put treats on our table like candies and souvenirs. Well, we came up with nothing fruitful at the end and went about our normal work routine.

Later on the same day, when I was having my cuppa, it dawned on me that Uncle shared with me his desire to be a baker. I recalled laughing as I knew he could not even make an omelette and was banned from the kitchen by his wife as he had burnt something on the stove doing God knows what. Then I also remembered when we had a farewell party in the office for him on his last day at work, he said he would love to surprise all of us too. This gave me a strange feeling…

There was a cabinet not far behind my table where Uncle would usually stock up our office stationery. I realised we have not accessed it since he left. I asked another colleague to come with me to open the cabinet as I was frightened, not sure why. We crept up to the cabinet as if it had some live bats waiting to burst out. I turned the handle slowly and opened the squeaky door and a horrendous whif of something sour came out! We covered our nose and mouth with our hand spontaneously.

Other colleagues who noticed us and were startled by the stench came by to see what’s up. There was some kind of goo dripping down the middle shelf and we saw it was coming from what looked like a huge cake box. Ok, we closed the cabinet door and none of us wanted to venture any further. We will get the office cleaner to clear it out in the morning.

Not sure what the rest of my colleagues were thinking after that encounter but for me, Uncle was trying to live his dream… but it had become our nightmare.

Bad Signal – DP


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