It’s strange talking to such a huge amount of people everyday; People who spend on average two minutes and thirty seconds in my life. I never see their faces so would never recognise them if we passed in the street or crossed paths some other way, and even if I could I’ll probably have forgotten them. Most calls I forget by the end of my shift. My mind sensibly deems them surplus to requirements and either erases the data or files it away in the mental equivalent of a safe-store lock up on the edge of town never to see the light of day again.
A few calls though refuse to go gently into that goodnight. Like the memory of a former lover they stick around in spite of your attempts to clear them out; only slowly inching out of your consciousness at their own pace.
I have one call like that.
It was a while ago now, how long exactly I can’t remember; Maybe it was 6 or even 12 months, but what I do remember. What is seared in my memory is the venom, the sheer venom. I do remember that it was an afternoon. The busy period had passed and the room had started to relax a bit. My phone indicated a call for a company which was generally a pretty easy gig. The caller asked me how long delivery would take. About 7-10 days I helpfully said. “Oh that’s good because my mother-in-laws been waiting over two weeks.”
I had walked into an ambush. Suddenly I was transported from the relaxed, bland grey office into a hostile environment and there was a 7ft alien with a cloaking device, guns and a bad attitude leaping at me.
Not a good time for your weapon to jam. I couldn’t find the customers order on the system. The callers rage built as I tried putting the name, and postcode into the computer to no avail each failure met with huffing and puffing rebukes. My last-resort was to take the customers card details and find the order through their payment details. This was the last-ditch final check and only when all else had failed as customers tended to “what do you mean last resort?” she continued in her by now familiar heckling tone.
To my relief the order appeared on screen. Someone had made a hash of it, keyed in the wrong address, wrong telephone number and misspelt the name. I explained the situation and apologised for the mistake, but this did little to satisfy my adversaries blood-lust as she continued with her aggressive tone while I set about putting things right.
My cortisone levels were off the scale and I keyed an incorrect code. “oops I’m using the wrong code” I spoke half-aloud “I don’t want to know that, I don’t care” spat the caller. “look all I’m trying to do is help you” I gasped in desperation, “I don’t want to argue with you I just want to help.” Her response to this plea was “oh, I’m supposed to be grateful you’ve helped me am I.”
I promised that I’d speak to my supervisor and now I’d amended the incorrect I’d get them to sort out sending their order. The caller was still not happy, she wanted to know how long it would take “I’m not sure I confessed, but we’ll be doing it as soon as possible.”
By the end of the call I was shaking violently. Physically and mentally in shock. How could someone do this to another human being? What it said about human nature?I wondered if they had a job, how people treated them, how they get through life with their approach.
The memory may be slowly fading but I’ll always be wondering.