“WELCOME MR. PATTERSON, to Pear headquarters, I’m Sheena!” She looked every part the PR woman, a smile for a face, glinting eyes and dressed immaculately in matching garb. I would. We shook hands then she led the way through a recently polished revolving door into the main building.
A lackey of some sort followed her but never introduced himself. At best it was mildly off-putting, at worst a waste of his time.
“Would you like some refreshments Mr. Patterson? We have organic fruit juices, Sumatran coffee, Sri Lankan tea – French water.” All were present on a shiny trolley next to reception.
“I’ll have some…is that Pear juice?”
She chuckled, yes of course it was.
“Well,” I said, “It only seems appropriate…” I nearly gagged but kept my composure; it was repulsive, every last ml of it.
“So, to business!” she smiled at me. “Let’s begin the tour!”
We chatted as we walked along a perpetual corridor. As yet we hadn’t passed anyone else since reception. We twisted and turned, she talked about Pear’s history. Fascination was not something she was capable of evoking. Yawns were masked by looking away from her.
Suddenly, we were walking down a strangely dilapidated, dingy corridor that had paint peeling off it. My observations hadn’t gone unobserved. “Workmen are coming in tomorrow, I’m afraid we weren’t able to have this area refurbished for your visit.” Without warning Sheena opened a door and shot a look at the lackey as if he had forgotten his place.
Her elastic smile returned instantly. “This – is the ethics room.”
I walked inward. What lay within was a room with one miserly fluorescent tube missing its cover. There were no windows. The décor was all a bit eggshell white. In the middle of this oversized room sat a man, who made eye contact from behind a rickety desk adorned by solely by a white telephone, its wire snaking straight toward an outlet ten feet away. I’ll never forget those eyes. If I was asked to recall what colour they were, I’d say desperate.
He said nothing, but looked in need of help. A red striped tie hung crooked from a shirt of wrinkles.
“You might not believe it, but we only require one telephone for all the Pear’s ethics enquiries. Our seed answers any enquiries, but of course we don’t get many. But the job is very important and most importantly rewarding to the seed.”
“Seed?” I asked quizzically.
Sheena smiled at me with twenty I-teeth, “All of our basic level employees are referred to as ‘seeds’ because we are all a team at Pear’s, so there’s no need for names you see.”
“Or individuality..” I mumbled audibly, thinking aloud.
“Excuse me?” said Sheena, politely, before moving on.
“He is seed, and he is seed.” She indicated to the man at the desk and the lackey standing feet away, eyes fixed on the dirty concrete.
“So how many complaints do you receive each day?” I aimed the question at the man by the desk, my words echoing.
“I’m sorry, but please direct all questions to me Mr. Patterson,” said Sheena evenly. “I’ll let you in on a little secret Mr. Patterson, we haven’t had a call here in nearly two years. I think you’ll agree, that speaks for itself!”
“That seems impossible!”
Sheena answered while scooting us out of the room and continuing the tour. “At Pear, nothing is impossible! We conduct ourselves impeccably as a company. Our employees report the highest satisfaction rates also. In fact many seeds will work overtime for free because they value their workplace so much. It is a mutual dedication. At the risk of sounding overly sentimental, there is a love between seeds and working for Pear.”
This was followed by footsteps echoing off the walls, as a rare silence began.
“Where are we going now?” I said minutes later.
“Deeper,” she said.
“To the core.” In the poorly lit corridor I no longer saw her smile. Her facial skin was tighter, footsteps quicker.
It seemed as if we’d walked miles past door after door and still nobody else had been around.
“So how many seeds are there?”
“Never enough.” Her voice was colder.
“It’s very quiet down here, not many people around. Or windows…where are we going?”
“You, are going where all the other factory inspectors go.” She glanced sideways at me. “Somewhere safe, ethical. A place away from home. You’ll have all the time in the world to inspect the factory…”
The lackey smirked at this. The atmosphere changed for good.
“I don’t follow..”
“Do not address me unless spoken to…seed. You’ll enjoy it here, because that’s the Pear way, the only way.” She laughed the crazy laugh of a pencil skirted chameleon.