The Switch Page 2

‘Where?’ I manage. ‘Where does she want to meet me?’

‘Hmm? Oh, Room 5c, in HR.’

Of course. Where else would she go to fire me?


Rebecca and I are sitting opposite each other. Judy from HR is beside her. I am not taking it as a good sign that Judy is on her side of the table, not mine.

Rebecca pushes her hair back from her face and looks at me with pained sympathy, which can only be a very bad sign. This is Rebecca, queen of tough love, master of the mid-meeting put-down. She once told me that expecting the impossible is the only real route to the best results.

Basically, if she’s being nice to me, that means she’s given up.

‘Leena,’ Rebecca begins. ‘Are you all right?’

‘Yes, of course, I’m absolutely fine,’ I say. ‘Please, Rebecca, let me explain. What happened in that meeting was …’ I trail off, because Rebecca is waving her hand and frowning.

‘Look, Leena, I know you play the part very well, and God knows I love you for it.’ She glances at Judy. ‘I mean, Selmount values your … gritty, can-do attitude. But let’s cut the crap. You look fucking terrible.’

Judy coughs quietly.

‘That is, we wonder if you are a little run-down,’ Rebecca says, without missing a beat. ‘We’ve just checked your records – do you know when you last took a holiday?’

‘Is that a … trick question?’

‘Yes, yes it is, Leena, because for the last year you have not taken any annual leave.’ Rebecca glares at Judy. ‘Something which, by the way, should not be possible.’

‘I told you,’ Judy hisses, ‘I don’t know how she slipped through the net!’

I know how I slipped through the net. Human Resources talk the talk about making sure staff take their allotted annual leave, but all they actually do is send you an email twice a year telling you how many days you have left and saying something encouraging about ‘wellness’ and ‘our holistic approach’ and ‘taking things offline to maximise your potential’.

‘Really, Rebecca, I’m absolutely fine. I’m very sorry that my – that I disrupted the meeting this morning, but if you’ll let me …’

More frowning and hand-waving.

‘Leena, I’m sorry. I know it’s been an impossibly tough time for you. This project is an incredibly high-stress one, and I’ve been feeling for a while that we didn’t do right by you when we staffed you on it. I know I’m usually taking the piss when I say this sort of thing, but your well-being genuinely matters to me, all right? So I’ve talked to the partners, and we’re taking you off the Upgo project.’

I shiver all of a sudden, a ridiculous, over-the-top shake, my body reminding me that I am still not in control. I open my mouth to speak, but Rebecca gets there first.

‘And we’ve decided not to staff you on any projects for the next two months,’ she goes on. ‘Treat it as a sabbatical. Two months’ holiday. You are not allowed back in Selmount headquarters until you are rested and relaxed and look less like someone who’s spent a year in a war zone. OK?’

‘That’s not necessary,’ I say. ‘Rebecca, please. Give me a chance to prove that I—’

‘This is a fucking gift, Leena,’ Rebecca says with exasperation. ‘Paid leave! Two months!’

‘I don’t want it. I want to work.’

‘Really? Because your face is saying you want to sleep. Do you think I don’t know you’ve been working until two in the morning every day this week?’

‘I’m sorry. I know I should be able to keep to regular working hours – there have just been a few—’

‘I’m not criticising you for how you manage your workload, I’m asking when you ever bloody rest, woman.’

Judy lets out a little string of quiet coughs at that. Rebecca shoots her an irritated look.

‘A week,’ I say desperately. ‘I’ll take a week off, get some rest, then when I come back I’ll—’

‘Two. Months. Off. That’s it. This isn’t a negotiation, Leena. You need this. Don’t make me set HR on you to prove it.’ This is said with a dismissive head-jerk in Judy’s direction. Judy draws her chin in as though someone’s clapped loudly in her face, perhaps, or flicked her on the forehead.

I can feel my breathing speeding up again. Yes, I’ve been struggling a little, but I can’t take two months off. I can’t. Selmount is all about reputation – if I step out of the game for eight whole weeks after that Upgo meeting, I’ll be a laughing stock.

‘Nothing is going to change in eight weeks,’ Rebecca tells me. ‘OK? We’ll still be here when you get back. And you’ll still be Leena Cotton, youngest senior, hardest worker, smartest cookie.’ Rebecca looks at me intently. ‘We all need a break sometimes. Even you.’

I walk out of the meeting feeling sick. I thought they’d try to fire me – I had all these lines prepared about unfair dismissal. But … a sabbatical?

‘Well?’ Bee says, appearing so close in front of me I have to stumble to a stop. ‘I was lurking,’ she explains. ‘What did Rebecca say?’

‘She said I … have to go on holiday.’

Bee blinks at me for a moment. ‘Let’s take an early lunch.’


As we dodge tourists and businessmen on our way down Commercial Street, my phone rings in my hand. I look at the screen and falter, almost running into a man with an e-cig hanging out of his mouth like a pipe.

Bee glances at the phone screen over my shoulder. ‘You don’t have to answer right now. You can let it ring out.’

My finger hovers over the green icon on the screen. I bash shoulders with a passing man in a suit; he tuts as I go buffeting across the pavement, and Bee has to steady me.

‘What would you tell me to do if I was in this position right now?’ Bee tries.

I answer the call. Bee sighs and pulls open the door to Watson’s Café, our usual haunt for the rare, special occasions when we leave the Selmount offices for a meal.

‘Hi, Mum,’ I say.

‘Leena, hi!’

I wince. She’s all breezy and faux casual, like she’s practised the greeting before making the call.

‘I want to talk to you about hypnotherapy,’ she says.

I sit down opposite Bee. ‘What?’

‘Hypnotherapy,’ Mum repeats, with slightly less confidence this time. ‘Have you heard of it? There’s someone who does it over in Leeds, and I think it could be really good for us, Leena, and I thought perhaps we could go together, next time you’re up visiting?’

‘I don’t need hypnotherapy, Mum.’

‘It’s not hypnotising people like Derren Brown does or anything, it’s …’

‘I don’t need hypnotherapy, Mum.’ It comes out sharply; I can hear her smarting in the silence that follows. I close my eyes, steadying my breathing again. ‘You’re welcome to try it, but I’m fine.’

‘I just think – maybe, maybe it’d be good for us to do something together, not necessarily therapy, but …’

I notice she’s dropped the ‘hypno’. I smooth back my hair, the familiar stiff stickiness of hairspray under my fingers, and avoid Bee’s gaze across the table.

Prev page Next page