They were there when I left in the evening, but they were gone when I came in the morning.
The three men who sat beside and behind me all resigned last night in a co-ordinated team move. This was motivated partly by counting house matters and career ambition, no doubt, but mostly, I suspect, by an aversion to me.
There had been no indication of their impending departure. They did not mention it. There was no conspiratorial wink. There were no farewells, emotional or perfunctory. There was no parting email, thanking us for our support and our friendship and promising valedictory drinks. There was no rigorous shaking of hands nor hearty slapping of backs. There was nothing except the empty desks. Like sheep found trying to graze in a supermarket car park, it was simply time for them to move on; the transhumance onto sunlit upland pastures.
The abruptness of their exit implied they were marching on to better things ahead than they ever left behind and that definitely included me. There was no time for sentiment. Saying goodbye is hard when it’s not what you want but it is superfluous when you’ve got what you want and more.
This was the same unit responsible for crossing the humongous £320m block I mentioned last week. Maybe I can claim the credit for it now. I had detected a certain lack of commitment on their behalf since but mistook it for complacency and, in any case, who am I to question someone else’s commitment?
Now,I realise, they were interviewing in sequence hence the frequent absences. They were a wholly separate profit centre. The guy to my right snorted excessively, the bloke on my left watched like a raptor when I ate al desko, which I found vaguely discomfiting, and our interaction was minimal considering the physical proximity. Nonetheless, I took their abrupt exit personally. I take everything personally — even the weather — and don’t tell me I shouldn’t.
It’s one of the City’s more bizarre features, that one can spend so much time in the intimate company of someone, be so familiar with their lives, their diets, their habits, their natural rhythms and then suddenly, they are mysteriously spirited away and you never see them again, a bit like Argentina in the late 1970s. You spend 60 hours a week — OK make that 50 hours a week — cheek by jowl with a colleague and then, whoosh! You are ghosted.
It’s a shame the vow of omertà they obviously swore to each other during negotiations prevented them from canvassing my opinion on the move because, for once, my insight could have proven invaluable. It was announced a day later they were only heading to my old shop, Chaucer Securities.
There, the only thing worse than the toilets is the charmless and inarticulate, red-faced vulgarian running the show. Everyone is friendly in interviews and they are conducted in light and airy rooms giving out over the river. Just wait till they start. The trading floor stinks like Lagos landfill and the boss begins to sweat bullets. It’s all very well, claiming matters pecuniary were not uppermost and it was all about building a franchise and leveraging the opportunities and so on and so forth, but this is a Faustian pact. Chaucer will eat their soul. Three wise men may prove to be three blind mice.
I couldn’t blame them for leaving, though. The grass is always greener when someone else is smoking it. How could they know that it’s a strategic error? And aren’t mistakes the portals to discovery? (The discovery of more mistakes in my experience.) It wouldn’t surprise me if the prodigal trio were all to return to Salvation Bank in a few years’ time, heads bowed, tails between legs. Half of life is spent going somewhere and the other half spent coming back wondering why the hell you went there in the first place. What would be startling, however, is if I were still here to welcome them.
Nor would I blame them for their failure to establish strong personal bonds with the brooding Byronic presence who sat among them at Salvation Bank. Wrapped up as I have been in the drama of my own psycho-chaos, unwilling to dissemble and refusing to crapchat. I can’t have been the easiest co-pilot to fly with in these last 20 months or so. I don’t engage in phatic communion, rarely enquired after their wellbeing or their holidays, could barely conceal my envy of their successful operation and was affiliated to a different coffee syndicate. I wonder if when they meet for a drink, will they sit round and puzzle about me: “What was he doing again?”
From a HR perspective, the immediate concern should be that there’s no one now between me and the window, no barrier to self-defenestration. It’s like every wedding I attend: no matter how crowded, the seat beside me at the reception is always vacant.
It was a day with very little to recommend it, which is to say it was a day very much like any other, when I received the message telling me I now form a lonely emerging market salient in the dealing room. The head of trading guessed I’d be taken unawares by the development because a) I don’t know anything and b) I’d left too early to be called in to the “DON'T PANIC!” team meeting, and he pinged me on the mobile.
I was sat astride my bike on The Mall in spitting rain, trying to set a new personal best for self-loathing and regretting wistfully that another winter has passed without me contracting the norovirus, while police motorcyclists held up the traffic to allow a royal cortege to pass. It may be 800 years since Magna Carta but my civil rights are still not sacrosanct.
He wanted to check if I knew (no) or if I cared (no). I tell you what I did care about, though: the little Italian where I have been stopping off on my passeggiata has closed. I think it had only been open a month. I knew things were difficult when I passed Leonardo on my way to the toilet having just ordered a glass of his “Elegant One”. I noticed he was pouring from the same bottle as the one from which I’d been served the “Robust One” just a short while earlier. Anyway, I didn’t get a chance to say ciao to Leonardo and I do regret that. I also regret not paying attention and walking straight into the door thinking it would open before I noticed the lock and chain.
Graveyards the whole world over are filled with people who thought they were indispensable. Down 30 years I’ve shared the narrow confines of what passes for personal space in dealing rooms with hundreds of co-workers and most of them were just ships docked in the berth next to you for the night. In the end, many of these relationships amounted to not much more than “Hello” and “Goodbye” with nothing in between. This is why when you do meet someone with whom you form an attachment and share a common humanity — or more — you have to let them know. When next we meet on the great big trading floor in the sky, among the many we shall know our own.
It’s easier to love someone when they are present than when they are gone. I know it’s not what they say but being in love means not being able to say goodbye.