The Tea Lady Chronicles

The Squeak that Roared

Squeak squeak, click, squeak squeak.

The tea-lady’s trolley with its squeaky left wheel manoeuvred around the plush offices of Heavenly Plastics.

Whilst its arrival, twice per day, created excitement, its departure did not. Once the tea and biscuits were delivered, the squeaks became irritating. Especially after filling with empty rattling cups.

Squeak squeak, click, squeak – clackety-clack, clackety-clack – squeak squeak, click.

But they tolerated the noise. For many, Rita’s sounds blended into their daily existence. Until one day an obnoxious account director screamed out,

“Get that fucking wheel fixed.”

His offensive language caused the complete floor to freeze. Secretaries glanced at each other, pens stopped writing mid air and the typing slowed to a click, click, click, stop. Whilst they tolerated foul language in their respective cubicles, it was not something you shouted at an elderly lady. Nevertheless, Rita tried, once again, to get the wheel fixed. In her sweetest voice she asked the CEO’s secretary, Clara, if the faulty wheel on her trolley could be fixed.

“How many times do I have to tell you, there is no budget for tea-trolley repairs.”

Squeak squeak, click, squeak squeak.

A New Beginning

One day Clara was absent from her usual post at the entrance to the underworld, leaving the path unguarded and raising concerns for Rita. She feared delivering the tea directly to the CEO. Clara’s presence, like the mythical Cerberus, ensured nobody got past without interrogation and an appointment. Then it happened in a flash. The sound of the CEO’s door opening caused Rita to tense up. She was ready to run. Whilst the senior tea-maker had always feared authority, she was getting better. The discarded leadership books resurrected from the rubbish bins at work, were helping her gain confidence. She stood her ground. It was a handsome face that greeted in a warm and friendly manner.

“Good morning, I’m dying for a cuppa and a biscuit*, if you have some to spare.”

Under his watchful eye, Rita poured his tea from the large pot, added some milk and then stirred in the one sugar. He broke the wall of silence and asked her how things were going. She reasoned that the CEO of Heavenly Plastics was not interested in her and he was just being polite.

“Very good Sir. Thank you,” as she handed him his morning tea. She then handed him a saucer with two biscuits. One above the normal allocation.

“Do we have any other type of biscuits?” he chuckled. Rita wondered why he chuckled but saw this an opportunity.

“Sorry, Sir, but there is no budget for brand name biscuits.”

“No budget?” He inquired.

“Sorry Sir, I have requested, but HR told me the biscuit budget is stretched to the max.”

The CEO mulled that thought. His eyebrows move up and down, right and left. He had only been with the company for twelve months, and this confirmed the doubts he was having about his management team. His secretary even questioned his orders, forever reminding him that his predecessors didn’t do it that way. Or this way. Or never did something like that.

He looked at Rita’s name tag.

“Tell me, Rita, is there anything else you haven’t received?”

Rita told him about the squeaky trolley wheel.

Once he learned his secretary had also refused Rita’s cry for help, he took immediate action.

“I’ll have your trolley fixed today. Also, in future, please deliver my tea and biscuit personally.”

So out of the hundreds of employees who would die for time with the CEO of Heavenly Plastics, Rita the tea-lady now had his ear twice a day.

The Tea-Trolley gets Fixed

The CEO’s secretary had the wheel fixed that day. However, for the next month her fiery eyes and menacing teeth showed to Rita that she had overstepped her station in life. Her prolonged evil stare was a favourite, but bumping the tea-trolley and causing the tea to spill on dry biscuits caused Rita grief. But Rita would not give the monster the satisfaction of a victory. Besides, she had the CEO’s ear.

Rita’s confidence grew. Her walk was more upright. Her hair styles looked more executive than tea. She even purchased more sensible footwear. She became a tea-lady of strength.

She practiced her speaking and delivery skills at home using the clothes-trolley as a prop.

“Good morning Mr Brian, your tea,” she would tell the lamp.

“Hello Susan, your tea, just the way you like it,” she told the stove.

“You’re not getting anything today, Clara, you bitch,” she told the toilet.

Her husband also helped her and would often play the part of the CEO. He was very good at taking orders and enjoyed the acting.

One day, whilst delivering the tea to the CEO, she built up enough courage to ask for an increase in her biscuit budget.

Rita was not to know that she had given the CEO reason to do some snooping and investigating. He had learned that there was a healthy catering budget, but the HR Manager was skimming the top, middle and bottom of the barrel. And not just on biscuits. There was a coverup. Thieving HR was more about helping themselves than helping Heavenly Plastics. Security escorted the HR Manager off the premises.

Rita was ecstatic at the increase in her spending power. But there was no actual increase in company funds. Honesty had stabilised the budget for the first time since the CEO took over.

With her increase, Rita could give executives chocolate biscuits. She surmised that the real executives sat by the windows, so it was easy to know who got the higher quality treat. She considered those in partitioned offices less important, but they benefited as well. The no-name brands of tea and biscuits disappeared.

Rita never let the power go to her head, but she kept a steady eye on the biscuit tins, knowing some would try to steal. Those worthy, according to Rita, got a chocolate biscuit. The foul-mouthed blasphemer never made the chocolate list.

Rita liked the way people were now treating her and it helped build her confidence. Most were thanking her for their tea, and some even returned their cups to the trolley. She even started studying again and went to night school to study baking.

The Official Taster

Her husband didn’t agree with her going out to study but kept his comments to himself especially since becoming the official taster. He even created a business card indicating he was the Official Taster at Heavenly Plastics. Most wondered what a taster would do at a plastic company.

Then one day Rita presented the CEO with a freshly baked piece of finely baked apple pie smothered in fresh cream. As she took the treat into his office, Clara blocked her way with one of her legs. Rita walked around the scaly appendage, wanting to stamp the life out of it. A muzzled guard is a dangerous guard. But Rita had nothing to fear now.

Rita touched the CEO’s heart. He knew her salary was the lowest in the company and had used her own money to bake. The Heavenly Plastics CEO had never known such kindness. The tea-lady was teaching him life lessons.

He increased her salary, much to the displeasure of Clara, who breathed fire when he told her to arrange her pay rise. The company also raised the catering budget to enable Rita to bake occasional cakes. She was careful to only provide the CEO a treat once per week – if he got fat, he would blame her.

“Sorry, Sir, only once a week. But I’ll turn a blind eye to a second helping.”

As well as being an official taster, she used her husband as a sounding board for the words of wisdom she’d found in leadership books. But she would have to explain her wisdom in simplified terms for him to understand.

“Never let a treat become the norm, because if it becomes the norm, you lose your power,” she’d remind her husband. He would always agree with her statements. Besides that, he was getting bigger by the day but, he reasoned, it was a pleasurable way to gain weight.

It had only been a few months since the meeting with the CEO, and Rita noticed changes in herself. She was feeling confident, but best of all she felt wanted. Her husband noticed the changes also, he said she was turning into a tyrant.

“The power has gone to your head, Rita,” he’d remind her often. She would laugh and tell him he was jealous of her popularity.

The Executives, at their window seats, were despised by those seated in the centre of the floor. They had never been the centre of attention. But occasionally, Rita could slip a plain biscuit person a chocolate biscuit. And for anyone who showed respect and did something nice to Rita, they received a slice of cake.

Rita suspected she may have tamed the tyrant. Clara rarely looked at her. Perhaps it was Rita’s stares that were upsetting her or the fact she only ever got a plain biscuit that kept her in check. But underneath, the formidable guardian was seething. Just waiting for the right moment.

Another day, the CEO had a special request.

“Rita, this Friday, I have an important meeting with six clients. Could you bake some of your favourites so we have cakes and cookies – you know those nice chocolate chip delights? Just get an advance of money from Clara.”

The CEO’s secretary disliked the tea-lady. And everyone else.

Rita’s eyes grew wide, her smile stretched from ear to ear.

“Sir, would you like me to include a small fruit platter as well. In case some of your guests are gluten intolerant?”

The CEO agreed and thanked Rita for her thoughtfulness.

On leaving his office, the secretary glared. Rita wanted to lash out at her just like she practiced at home. But it wasn’t in her nature to be evil.

“Excuse me Clara, the CEO asked that you arrange an advance for me please, for catering.”

“What is it this time?’ she frothed.

Rita kept her cool. “It’s a meeting on Friday and I have to cater for some visitors.”

“I don’t agree with this and you’ll get the advance when I am ready.”

Clara banged books on her desk, ripped pages apart, and forcefully shut one of her filing cabinet drawers over and over.

Rita watched in disbelief.

“Your mother didn’t bring you up to be like this. What went wrong?”

Nobody spoke to Clara like that. But before she could attack, the CEO opened his door.

“Is everything ok Clara?”

“Yes, Sir, just arranging Rita’s advance of money for catering.”

“Well, it certainly doesn’t sound like it. Please have that money for Rita in ten minutes, and Rita, any problems just come and see me.”

Rita shuffled off. The muscles in Clara’s massive jaws tensed, showing rows of razor-sharp teeth gnashing together in a menacing clatter. Rita had gone too far.

They marvelled at her catering expertise at the client meeting and the CEO singled Rita out to show appreciation. They applauded her. She was the champion of Heavenly Plastics.

A Sad Day at Heavenly Plastics

Life improved for Rita and also for the CEO. He learned more about people from Rita than any of the companies he had led. With his new confidence, he decided on greater challenges and resigned.

Most of the staff were very sad.

The incoming CEO was an accountant, and one of his first tasks was a reduction in expenses. The catering budget was the first to be slashed. Staff, regardless of position, returned to plain biscuits. Not little by little but like a sledgehammer crashing down on a bolder, the new CEO was ruthless.

Then, six months after the left found freedom, the right wheel on the tea-trolley started squeaking.

“Get that fucking wheel fixed,” the blasphemous one screamed.

Rita wondered if she should speak to Clara.

Squeak squeak, click, squeak squeak.