A tale to celebrate St. Thomas More

Juan Ignacio Izquierdo continues the series of stories to commemorate various saints on their feast days. You can read more by clicking on the story label.

Juan Ignacio Izquierdo Hübner-June 22, 2022-Reading time: 8 minutes

Two women 

On the fourth floor of a classic building, inside a spacious office with tables divided by gray partitions, one types half-heartedly, others look at their cell phones slouching from their seats, two come in laughing with glasses of coffee in their hands while discussing something about Osasuna. But the young afternoon light coming through the window focuses on Isabel, who tries to put her things away in the drawers with thief-like stealth. Suddenly, the boss leaves her office, the analysts in the café fall silent, Isabel shrinks back in her seat and listens to the footsteps of the law behind her.

- How, are you leaving?

Isabel kept her attention on the process of turning off the computer and did not respond. Her colleagues at the Consultancy, three women and three men, did not approve of her habit either, but Manuela, her boss, loved to verbalize criticism in public. This time she had dropped the question from her mouth like an airplane releases a missile, and flew nimbly down the hallway, not pausing to check for any damage she might have done to her subordinate, leaving behind a trail of tobacco-scented irony. Why does she do it - envy, contempt, rivalry? After all, Isabel and Manuela are the same 32 years old, they coincided at the University and, although they dress in very different styles, they are both beautiful. 

Isabel froze her movements for a few seconds, waited for Manuela to return to her dismissal to finish putting her things away, glanced at her watch and, before another joker could hold her back, bolted for the elevator. She wanted to pick up her daughter from school. "There are two kinds of young professionals," she thought as she pressed the button on the wall, "those who live to work and those who work to live. 

As soon as she walked out the door of the building and the warm Pamplona air inflated her long red hair, her mood calmed down. At that hour there was hardly anyone on Carlos III Avenue. She finished closing her purse and started walking to the free parking lot where she had left her car. She was still not adjusting to the company, she felt like she was fighting against the absurd: "What's the problem with leaving early if you started work early! -Manuela SAID we can leave early as long as we cover the hours of the workday, she said, but then she stays until late at night and the rest of the sole suckers are proud to compete for who can last the longest in the office... It's ridiculous! 

He got into the car, a Volkswagen Golf five years old, and looked at the photo of his daughter hanging in the rearview mirror. He smiled. They had only been able to have one daughter, Sara. She is now 7 years old, bright-eyed and has cancer. Her illness is well treated at the University Clinic and the doctors are optimistic, but boy, has the poor thing suffered. "I need my job. I have to adapt better, to survive," Isabel said to herself. At that moment her cell phone rang and, as she started the car to go to school, she activated the handsfree. 

- Hello, sweetheart," said her husband's deep, affectionate voice.

- You know, the boss messed with me again... Sorry to complain again, you're going to think I'm obsessed. I'll go shopping with Sara for the appetizer tonight, do you want something?

Since they got married, almost every day Isabel has a drink with her husband on the balcony of the apartment, before or after dinner. They discuss the issues of the day, she on the yellow sofa with a lemonade, he on the wicker chair with a beer. When an economic or labor problem comes up, he takes a slightly longer drink and then, looking at the balconies of the building in front of them, sighs, saying, "What good is it for a man to gain the whole world if he loses his soul?", a phrase that had stuck in his memory since they had seen the Thomas More movie. Thereupon, he usually leaves the glass on the glass table and pounces on his wife to trap her against the yellow sofa and tickle her. In the end he steals a kiss and they continue chatting. But now the husband's voice sounded different, more nasal.

- No, Isa, thanks, I don't feel like it. I'm calling about something else. Forgive me for saying it like this, but my father has just gone to heaven. 

Isabel stopped the car at the side of the road. She wanted to answer, but first she took a handkerchief out of her purse to wipe her tears, held her hair, looked in the mirror. The orange freckles on her white face had lit up and seemed to form a constellation. 

- Are you still there, honey?

- I'm so sorry. Are you with him?

- Yes, we are with the brothers at the Clinic. The funeral will be tomorrow at 11:00 am. 

- I'm going with Sara then. How do you feel?

- Shattered. Talk to you later. I send you a kiss.

Isabel realized she needed to get things organized. She took a breath, dialed her boss's number and started the car again with awkward movements. Manuela answered on the fifth ring.

- Sorry to bother you, Manuela, I wanted to ask you a question. 

- Are you still working? I thought you had gone to rest.

Isabel could imagine that sour smile on the other end of the phone and felt a shiver. Oh, Manuela. For her, "making the most of her time" means an inordinate love of her own excellence. She supervises the analyst team, but wants to move up more. She goes to the gym three times a week, visits the hairdresser's first thing on Mondays, spends her Saturday mornings doing online courses on management and is always the last to leave the office. She knows the power of her thick black hair on the move, she likes midnight blue dresses and with her smile she captivates clients or company directors. Her husband is a lawyer and they both come home late. They don't have much time for their 4-year-old daughter, but for the moment that doesn't worry them too much. They will take care of her more personally when she grows up. In the meantime, they had hired Maria, an elderly lady of Ecuadorian origin with kind features, to cook for them, take care of the house cleaning and take the little girl for a walk in the park from time to time.  

- My husband's father passed away. Tomorrow is the funeral.

- How sorry I am. How old was he?

- 70. A magnificent man... He had been ill for quite some time. 

- Ah," she said with disconcerting frivolity, "I see, it was your father-in-law's turn to rest. Well, that's life. I suppose you want to ask my permission to go to the funeral, but you know that you can distribute your working hours as you wish, so.... 

- That's right, but I'd like to be gone all day," she said, leaving a cautious silence. My husband needs me and I want to accompany him.  

- Hmm. No wonder... Clearly our firm is not a priority in your life. Do what you want, but if you're gone all day the firm will no longer need your services. Do you understand what I'm saying? And I need you to tell me now, can I count on you?

- Please, don't be like this... 

- Hurry, I must attend to other matters.

The traffic light turned red, Isabel spotted her daughter's school and saw mothers meeting their little ones. She didn't need more than a second to make up her mind.

- Okay. I'm not going. My husband is more important than my job. I'll still go to work on Wednesday, just in case you come to your senses," she hung up, her heart beating fast. She asked St. Thomas More to help her out of this one and parked. 

The next day, Tuesday, the boss did not see Isabel at her desk and was irritated. She spent the day avoiding looking at that post and thinking about how to fire her more formally the next day. She made some mistakes that led her to repeat tasks and ended up arriving home particularly late, where she encountered other problems that ended up upsetting her. 

On Wednesday, as soon as Manuela arrived at the office and saw that Isabel was the only person working, she called her with a sharp cry to accompany her to her office. They crossed the corridor as an executioner drags a prisoner, by a chain tied around his neck, towards the guillotine. Manuela ushered her subordinate into her second home, an air-conditioned gray room, somewhat cluttered with an oversized wooden table and black leather chairs with high backs, decorated with graphics on the wall and illuminated by a small window. As soon as they entered, the boss slammed the door, which shook the glass separating them from the large analyst room. Still standing facing each other by the door, the fight broke out:  

- Isabel, it seems that you did not understand me. 

- Well, yes, but...

- Unfortunately, as I told you two days ago," he crossed his arms, "if you lose interest in the company, we don't need you either. I'm very sorry. 

- But my father-in-law, my husband needed me! -Her freckles lit up like car brake lights, her hair grew like a bonfire on the beach and tears welled up in her eyes, "How can you be so inhuman?

- Stop it, calm down! Manuela gave a blow on the table that made the computer and the folders and the basket with pens and a box of pills that were leaning out of a half-open drawer tremble now - There is another job I can offer you. 

A fragile truce enveloped them. Manuela's hermetic face had broken and Isabel, bewildered, managed to stammer:

- Which one?

- Mine.

- How?" asked Isabel, lowering her voice, confused, ready to make the final assault in case they were pulling her leg for the last time. 

Suddenly, Isabel saw her boss crying. Manuela sat down with some violence in her black leather chair, leaned her forehead on the table so that her black hair looked like a plate of spaghetti in octopus sauce. Isabel was petrified, looked through the glass to confirm that no one had arrived yet and after a few seconds of uneasy indecision she approached her boss to put her arm around her, very cautiously.

- What's the matter? -asked Isabel in a whisper.

- Yesterday I was very upset with you, you know? When I got home, my husband was in the back of the living room, in the semi-darkness, his tie half-loosened, his face lit up by the iPad. He did not greet me. I turned on the lights and raised my voice to tell him I had arrived, that I came in tired, to which he raised his head and indicated with his lips for me to check the dining room table. I turned and saw the meringue pie that Maria (an Ecuadorian lady we hired years ago) had prepared. The cake was untouched, with its five candles blown out. Fuck. I had forgotten my daughter's birthday. 

- And what did you do?

- It was after 10 o'clock. Almost 11, actually. The girl must have been sleeping, but I went to her room. I found her curled up in her bed, hiding under the covers. When I sat down next to her, she stuck her head out to rest it on the pillow. She had a desperate expression, as if she had been underwater for a long time. I felt terrible. I tried to stroke her, but she slapped my hand and then pulled the sheet back over herself. I was perplexed, and then I got angry: at her, at you, and at me. I told her we would eat the cake for breakfast, didn't wait for her to respond, and went to the kitchen. There I found Maria. I asked her what she was doing there at that hour. She had been waiting for me, she said, because she was worried that something had happened to me. I told her not to be naive and sent her home. The good woman nodded, gathered her things with the same submissiveness with which you gather yours and prepared to leave. Suddenly, as I was returning to the living room, I heard my daughter shouting something to Maria from her room. She wanted to say goodbye. The woman approached and I followed her from some distance. What I heard still hurts in my stomach.

- What did he say?

- "Thank you for the cake, mom".

- Wow... -Isabel didn't know what to say and gave Manuela another handkerchief.

- Thank you. That's what my daughter said to that woman, my daughter, to that woman! Can you believe it? The lady gave her a quick kiss on the forehead and went out. I hurried to open the front door for her and asked her what my daughter had said to her. I just couldn't believe my ears. "Thank you for the cake, Maria. That's what you told me, ma'am." But I had heard the other thing. I let her go. I wanted to talk to my husband, but he had put on his headphones to watch YouTube videos. I sat at the dining room table, defeated, and tasted the cake with my finger. So, little by little and without realizing it, I ate a piece of a size equivalent to what the three of us would have eaten together if I had been on time. I've been stupid, I realize now, all these years... But you... You, Isabel, shit, you've known how to live! I'm going to take a vacation. I need to reflect, to spend more time with my daughter, to put my life in order. I don't know how much time I'll need and I'm asking you to replace me while I'm away... when I get back we'll talk about your promotion, okay? -Her eyes became innocent, the muscles in her jaw relaxed. Suddenly, Isabel remembered the Manuela she knew in college. I don't know if you've ever thought about it, but what's the point of winning and winning positions in the company if you miss out on the best in life?

The authorJuan Ignacio Izquierdo Hübner

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