They were all here. They were sitting inside the soulless bare-white-wall meeting room, three of them side by side, across from Joachim, their expressions puzzled, bewildered even. His old project leader Claudio to the right, the stern HR woman with the tight-knotted bun on the left, Anton ‘Tony’ Hallenberg, the CEO with the toothpaste commercial smile and the chiseled chin in the middle.
Joachim felt the uncomfortable silence tick by, one second at a time. The minimalistic analogue clock was the only decoration in the room. That and the projector with its tentacle-like cables occupying the head of the table.
“It’s not you, it’s me?” he tried.
“Well that is…,” said Tony.
“Unfortunate,” said Claudio. “We are all really surprised and disappointed.”
Tony nodded. It looked strange. With his muscles everywhere and his short-cropped blond hair, he looked like a building imitating human body language.
“Do you already have a new job ready?” said HR. HR was her name. She had gone up so completely in her role that only Tony called her Kati anymore.
“Not yet,” said Joachim. “I just see my life going into a different direction.”
“There are other projects,” said Tony. “I’d be sad to see you go.”
Joachim found that hard to believe. They had spoken maybe five minutes total in his almost two years of working there.
“Right,” said Claudio. “Other projects.”
Joachim shook his head.
“There are no other projects,” said Joachim. “This project is the only one. And it doesn’t matter. I have made my decision.”
HR nodded. Claudio looked relieved. Only Tony seemed to have trouble comprehending why anyone would want to leave the magical dreamland of Anton Hallenberg GmbH.
“Did something happen?” he said. He actually sounded concerned.
“My life is just going into a different direction,” said Joachim. “Possibilities have opened up to me. I was reluctant at first, but… I want to explore them.”
Nods all around. Consultants were used to vague hints. NDA-speak they called it when they discussed company secrets without discussing company secrets.
Tony extended his massive hand and Joachim shook it. The firm grip he applied earned him a smile from Tony.
That was it. The rest had been a bunch of papers to sign.
Thirty minutes later he was standing on the sidewalk taking in the sun, a canvas bag with his belongings dangling from his hand. He breathed deep. He was free now. He could do anything now.
He took out his cell-phone and called Carina, the pretty girl from the refugee workgroup. The one who kept haunting his dreams, naughty and otherwise. The one he had been afraid to talk to until now.
“Hey,” said Joachim after greetings were exchanged, “would you like to have dinner with me tonight?”
End of Book 1