Grayson found it hard to breathe. Sweat poured from his forehead, down his crimsoned cheeks, onto the stiff collar of his white shirt.
The cubicles surrounding Grayson in the sprawling call center buzzed with activity.
“This is Grayson Sellers speaking. May I have your contract number please?”
“I only speak English,” Grayson replied.
“Where are you from, Amigo?”
“We’re not supposed to disclose personal information. Please describe your problem so that I can help you.”
“Don’t get excited, hombre. I ‘m just being friendly.
“I appreciate that. The problem is we have to complete a certain number of calls in an hour. If we fall short, we have to have a good explanation. Now, how can I help you?”
“Do you like your work?”
Grayson made no reply. They hadn’t given him a script for a situation like this.
He peered over his cubicle walls in all directions for signs of his supervisor. She was cruising three rows to the south in a bright pink dress and one-inch heels. Despite the low heels, the sturdy woman easily topped six feet. Her keen eyes scanned the room for the slightest hint of operator error.
“To be perfectly honest, I’m not crazy about working here, but the pay is great.”
“I’m a landscape architect—love my customers and they love me. Business is booming like you wouldn’t believe.
“I’m happy for you.” Can we please get to your insurance issue?”
He imagined the explanation for losing control of his temper and the call. The customer was excessively friendly.
“Working indoors is not my gig,” the caller elaborated.
“I get panic attacks.” The words tumbled out of Grayson’s mouth by themselves.
“I feel for you, Hermano.”
He heard heavy footsteps approaching. The supervisor pulled up like an army tank reversing on its treads. “You’re sweating, Sellers. Do you have a fever?”
Grayson dabbed his forehead with a handkerchief. “Just a little summer cold, Mrs. Wilson”
“Be sure to cover your mouth when you sneeze.”
A few rows away, an operator raised her voice. Mrs. Wilson’s head turned like a turret. She clanked away.
Another casualty of the telewars, Grayson thought.
“I could use another good man. Why don’t you call me after your shift?”
“You don’t even know me.”
We’ll talk. Then I’ll know you better.”
It was against the rules to use customer records for anything except work for the company. There was a rule attached to almost everything he did inside these walls.
Against his better judgment, Grayson jotted down the name and phone number on his computer screen.
The call proceeded smoothly to completion.
That night, Grayson dreamed of a plant nursery in South Miami he had visited as a boy. He played tag with his younger sister among acres of Royal Palm trees. He wandered between rows of potted orchids blooming in beautiful pastel colors. He inhaled the rich floral perfume. The warm sun and a cool winter breeze kissed his cheeks.