Some of what I write at least makes some kind of sense – usually a small story about someone whose situation deteriorates and which abruptly ends just before they slip into despair – then there are ones like this, which are just…they just exist.

[The fresh employee sees the way his new company makes tea, is not impressed]

The Intake had a name, but until he’d been there a little while no-one cared to learn it. Certainly no-one was going to go to that sort of effort on his first day. Most people didn’t even bother to waste the time to look at him. The only one so-far to even acknowledge his presence was the Integration Officer, as it was her job to integrate him.

She gave him the full tour experience. She showed off the stationery cupboard, the stationary cupboard, the mobile cupboard – all the best cupboards. She showed him the two photocopiers and extolled their virtues at length. She did not show him the photocopier that actually worked, as he had yet to demonstrate the level of corporate loyalty this required. His time would come, no doubt. Probably when people learnt his name.

Last of all she took him to the kitchenette area that took up the very far corner of his assigned floor. There she told him of the company’s very strict tea-making policies.

“We make it wrong, you see,” she said, holding a teabag for demonstration purposes. The Intake’s brow wrinkled at this.

“Wrong?” He asked, thinking perhaps he had misheard or missed some important detail. He had not, and what the Integration Officer had said had been very straightforward. She dropped the teabag into the sink, wasting it.

“Wrong, yes. It is central to our corporate ethos that proper tea done well is theft; theft from the body of the company itself. It detracts loyalty, as it provides a measure of warmth and satisfaction that can and should only be provided by the company. So it is made wrong, to enforce this. Such is our way,” the Integration Officer said, making the sign of the teacup over their belly. A passing menial mirrored the gesture, more out of habit than anything else.

The Intake was still trying to unpack this statement when a shaggy figure stumbled into the kitchenette. Bedecked with teabags of every possible shape and size, supporting their weight on a stick that jangled with dozens of stained tea-stirrers all looped into place with string, this unexpected rival made a bee-line for the kettle.

“Ah, this is good timing. You can watch our Tea-Shaman perform his duties.” The Integration Officer said, standing aside to the given the Tea-Shaman some room and also to watch from a better position. The Intake just stood where they had been standing before, watching proceedings with mounting confusion.

“Tea-Shaman?” They asked, not really expecting any answer that might actually help them but feeling the need to ask all the same.

“The shaman employed by the company to make the tea; the only one allowed to make the tea. Watch. Watch…” The Integration Officer said, a hand on the Intake’s shoulder as she watched with delight. The Intake watched as well, with considerably less delight.

The Tea Shaman reached the kettle and, chanting, turned it on. It quickly became apparent that it was empty because of the horrendous smell of burning…something…but this was fine it seemed as the Integration Officer kept smiling and the Tea-Shaman kept chanting. Once it had finished only then did he fill it with water, activating it again and chanting in a slightly lower register.

“As you see we have a kettle, not a water heater – a water heater would be too convenient, too easy. We take the hard road by choice, to better remind ourselves.”

Of what was left unsaid. Meanwhile, the Tea-Shaman was busy tipping out minute quantities of boiling water into a series of paper cups, each smaller than the last. He paused between each to perform arcane hand-gestures and bless each up, a process that involved the recitation of a good two dozen or more lines of ancient, cryptic poetry.

“Our technique has been refined over generations. Passed down in the greatest of secrecy. The wisdom of ages guides his every movement,” the Integration Officer said as the Tea-Shaman went through the ritual motions with the ease that came from years of continuous practise. He removed a teabag from his person, placing it into a rune-inscribed styrofoam cup and then added each of the measures of boiling water. There was much jingling, jangling and odd arm movements that accompanied this.

Very little of what the Intake was watching was familiar to him as anything involved with the usual business of making tea. By now, he would have made tea. In fact, by now, he probably could have made several cups of tea and drunk at least one that had cooled down in the time taken to make a single cup to company standards.

“Lesser companies allow their employees to make their tea, can you imagine?” The Integration Officer scoffed.

“Utter madness,” the Intake said, not even bothering to inject sarcasm. A moment later they nodded and gave a muted thanks to the Tea-Shaman as the tepid, murky cup of tea was handed over to them. The smell was the first hint that something was amiss, as in no-way did it smell like anything even approaching tea.

Acutely aware of the eyes on him – those of the Tea-Shaman, the Integration Officer and indeed most of the rest of the floor – the Intake gingerly brought the liquid to his lips and sipped, his face wrinkling in instant, intense disgusting.

“My God, it tastes awful,” he said, his tone awed and his body shivering.

“Then all is well,” the Integration Officer said as there followed a spontaneous round of polite applause for the Tea-Shaman who was already shuffling off to the stairs to make more tea elsewhere.

END

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