I had trouble sleeping in the two weeks leading up to my new role as manager. I was paranoid that I would fail, that I would run the café into the ground. I’d never been in a position of such power before, I’d only ever been a soldier following orders. Soon enough I was going to be the one giving them, barking them if necessary. “Hey you! Do some dishes! And you! Wipe that smirk off your face! If you’d put as much effort into wiping down tables and restocking sugar sachets as you did into smirking, this hell-hole might just pass as a café!”
I didn’t want it to be like that, though. I didn’t want to be the angry guy that people loathed and imitated behind his back, I wanted to be the cool guy that people worked hard for because they respected him. “He’s firm but fair,” they’d say before proposing a toast, “To the best boss I’ve ever had and probably ever will have.”
Althea had taken the news of her dismissal well. Too well, perhaps. There were no tears of frustration or accusations of betrayal like I’d been expecting. In fact, I wouldn’t have been surprised to see her break into tears of happiness, such was her good mood. In the fortnight before she left I spent little time on the coffee machine, leaving the very capable Adam to fill my shoes while I shadowed Althea, learning the procedures that kept the café operating. “Think of me as a cloth that you are using to wipe down the table of an especially clumsy customer, but imagine that instead of them drinking a latte and eating cake, they were drinking practical information and eating supplier’s contact details. I want to absorb it all,” I told her.
As the days passed and my managerial knowledge increased, so too did my confidence. I spent a lot of my free time brainstorming new ideas for the café, ones which would improve both worker morale and in turn, sales profits, like the introduction of a “Staff Member Of The Week” initiative. I planned to arrange a photo-shoot with Hattie, a photographer friend of mine, and have her snap the staff one evening, using her skills to make them appear as attractive as they could be, as if they were models posing for an elite magazine. I’d display a framed photo each week on the counter with a caption explaining that they were the champion for that week, along with their name. Then, every customer would know them and the experience would become that much more personal. I’d have to ensure I rotated the winners tactfully, though. If I displayed the same worker for several weeks straight I’d be sure to have a mutiny on my hands and said worker would feel most uncomfortable, even if they were deserving of the praise.
Another idea I had was to employ a homeless person from the area as our resident poet. I would pay them five pounds or so each week and in turn they would write a few lines, G-rated of course, and I would display their works in a picture frame next to the coffee machine under the banner of “Street Poetry,” along with a small picture and sob-story. A tip jar would be placed next to it with the contents going directly to the poet. It would give the customers something to read whilst waiting for their takeaway coffee and if they chose to tip, a sense of goodwill.
The final day of Althea’s reign was looming and I had butterflies in my stomach. It was as if the scotch I’d drank with Maxwell when he informed me of my promotion was laced with tiny cocoons and they’d finally unraveled, leaving a swarm of the majestic insects inside me, looking for an escape. The more they fluttered, the more nauseas I became. I found myself smoking at every opportunity to combat my nerves. I smoked so much that the index and middle fingers on my smoking hand became stained brownish-yellow from tobacco. To combat this, I started to smoke in unorthodox fashions, rotating the cigarettes in every finger combination possible and holding them vertically so the smoke made minimal contact with the skin. I attracted some curious looks from strangers in the process.
Althea’s last day came and, confident that I’d learned as much as she could teach me about management, I spent my shift on the machine, knowing it would be the last time that all I had to worry about was the coffee. Sure, I’d still be the main barista once she left, but I’d always have one eye on the coffee and the other on the staff, making sure they were doing the right thing. They say that men can’t multi-task but then, they say a lot, don’t they.