Rainy days in Spring were the best days for the university café. Not the most lucrative, it was still winter, but the most chilled and still occupied working hours for Thomas, the waitor. Slow and steady was the best for his old bones. It was a Wednesday afternoon and he knew many guests to be students who came for a coffee and a chat after their lectures. He was making his rounds across the quaint café when he overheard two women talking.
“Do you know what annoys me the most about todays capitalism, gone neo-liberalism? It’s the endless layers of rich managers between the CEO and the factory worker who is actually producing the thing everybody in a large company lives off.“
Thomas smiled and dared a glance while wiping another table with his cloth. The woman was sitting with a friend, it seemed, both of them in their thirties and dressed neatly and make-up free. Were they French? He didn’t hear an accent.
Her friend nodded slowly.
“Yes, but what alternatives do you suggest? They’re kind of needed if it’s a big company. They’re the reason the factory workers have a job, after all.“
The first woman shook her ponytailed head and straightened her glasses.
“I’m not saying they are all unnecessary and useless. It’s just that every large company has some sort of project on how to reduce personnel costs, and they all look at bluecollar first. But nobody has ever done a project on how to reduce the middle management, have they? When this would be so much more financially rewarding.“ She threw in a caveat. ”At least nobody I’ve every worked for. And this is why I need to change something.“
Thomas was certain that he knew where this was going to go. As he went back behind the counter, he thought that she must be currently in or right out of an identity crisis, disappointed with her career, and probably in a development studies programme to save the world.
From across the café, he watched them sticking their heads together, giggling and being completely immersed in their discussion. Thomas just hoped they weren’t planning anything dangerous. A customer waved at him, eager to pay his bill.
“You know, I just had to quit that job,“ he overheard the first woman say. “It felt like I was Prometheus, the guy from Greek Mythology perpetually chained to a rock with a vulture – in this case my line manager – hacking me into pieces. It was like I needed to protect my creations, or my workers, against the upper management constantly.“
While Thomas handled the paying customer, the second woman replied.
“But aren’t you doing them a disservice, now that you’re gone?“
The first woman straightened her glasses again and stirred her coffee. Thomas took his time clearing the now empty table.
“Maybe, but I couldn’t take being Prometheus anymore. It felt as if all the other so called managers were the gods of the Olymp, towering over the poor workers and demanding their worship while they plotted their demise.”
Thomas laughed out loud, and regretted it instantly, because both women were staring at him now. He didn’t know what to do, after all it was rude to eavesdrop on other people’s conversations. But this woman felt strangely relatable. He decided to just go for it.
“You know,“ he said. “You should be a writer, not a politician.“
The first woman was not surprised, in fact she seemed very amused. Her friend started to giggle.
“Who said I wanted to go into politics?” the first woman said and leaned her chin on her hand. Thomas scratched the back of his head, confused about how to continue this odd conversation.
“Well,” he said. “You do sound quite political to me.”
“It’s not about politics, or capitalism versus socialism,” the first woman said. “It’s about fairness, and not exploiting others for our own benefit. Because all we have is this one life. Do you want to lead a shitty life and then die? I don’t think so. Nobody does.”
This was going to be a good one. Thomas pulled up a chair and sat done at their table to rest his old bones.
“So what are you planning to do?” he said.
The second woman leaned into the table to listen, as she most certainly was as eager to know as Thomas himself. The first woman merely smiled.
“I’m going to get a ride for my tax money, and study to become an ethics teacher.”
Her friend clapped her hands, and both women giggled and looked at Thomas.
“I don’t understand. How is this supposed to change the world?”
“Don’t be ridiculous, none of us can single-handedly change the world,” she said and pulled her knitted sleeves over her hands for warmth.
“I need to have a job, right?” The first woman said and paused until Thomas nodded.
“Right. So I’ll make it the one that I feel has morally the biggest impact. I’ll be teaching ethics to young minds, I think that is more than okay.”
Thomas continued nodded. “So you’re giving up your corporate career to teach ethics at schools, very noble.” He was mildly disappointed. This was much more sensible than he had expected.
“And then,” the first woman said. “I’ll be tutoring school kids online on finances, business and whatever else I can help them with. It’s the poorest people who need education the most, so it needs to be free. I want to improve people’s lives instead of whipping them.”
Thomas was enchanted. What a clever idea, to by-pass the system and still not starve. Meanwhile, several tables at the café had filled with guests who were waiting to order. As he got up to resume his job, he was just wondering how long she would make this dream last.
“Best of luck to you, then. Let me know if you need a place to assemble your revolutionists.”
Both women laughed, and continued their chatter. After they had paid their bill and left the café, her words were still echoing in his head. “I’m aiming to build a community of people freeing each other.”