One quarter of a year has passed since I started working at the patisserie. I am rubbing my eyes a little at the fact that I am still here. A part of me wants to vaguely remark that not much has really happened work-wise. I wake up, go to work, get through another day and come home. Repeat. But then I look at it closely, and the reality is that plenty has happened.
In the weeks after, “One Month In”, things became worse. Nothing specifically happened, so much as I wasn’t coping well with the vastly different work environment. I was ready to quit every morning and evening. One lasting reaction from the first month or so has been panic attacks. Who needs to breathe? No one. Breathing is optional. All in all it was a challenging situation. One morning fresh from a weekend where I had made a wonderful new friend, and feeling like I was starting to get a handle of things, I walked into the kitchen. One of the girls immediately pulled me aside and took me to the staff roster sheet.
Chef: Zahara, see how that day is highlighted in purple?
Chef: You were rostered on for yesterday, and you were meant to be here. We were short one person and we were here 2 hours overtime.
She went on to explain that the onus was on me to know when my roster changes, because it regularly moves without any notice. In my case, I had been rostered on for a 6 day week and no one, not my direct bosses, nor I, had been advised, because, as she said, it’s my job to keep an eye on this. She was calm about the whole thing, but she made it clear that management was quite literally raging the day before, when I was meant to be at work. Mortified doesn’t begin to cover how I felt.
So, off I went back to work, hands shaking and trying very hard not to allow my morning define my day. A few minutes later, she called out and asked me if I had made the buttercream earlier. While I had weighed out the buttercream, I hadn’t been the one that was monitoring it or decided that it was ready for use. However, I was already flustered over the fact that I had missed a day of work, and I didn’t have the words to explain myself, so I just said yes. She called me over and explained how the buttercream wasn’t made correctly, and that it was definitely not up to standard.
A few moments later, she called me back over to her. She looked at me, and said, ‘Zahara, are you ok?’ to which I replied, ‘sure, I’m fine’. Except the giveaway was that fat tears started inadvertently coming out. And then the hyperventilating, and then more tears. She didn’t hesitate, put her arm around me and led me into a walk-in fridge. It sounds weird, but it really was the only private space available at a moment’s notice.
She made me take deep breaths, and calmed me down before letting me explain my outburst. Let me say that I really, really wasn’t keen on expanding on what was happening in my life outside of this job. I don’t expect them to understand and I didn’t want them to know anything about me really. I was angry at myself for giving myself away, in fact. But I looked like a giant bag of crazy because I was aware that it might have appeared that I was effectively ugly-crying over buttercream. And so the words tumbled out, and my boss came to know that I have mad dog anxiety, that I get panic attacks before work, and that I wasn’t coping without my family. Now, let’s keep in mind that the fruit fridge holds products for the entire lab and not just our team. So in the 7 minutes that I was in there, it just so happened that at least one person from every bloody team needed some sort of fruit. So within moments, the entire operation knew what was happening in that fridge because a representative from every lab waltzed in for some fruit picking. All of this before 9.30am.
My boss listened, she explained it to the other girls, and they listened too (this happened outside of the fridge, to be clear. We didn’t have a family meeting inside a fridge). One in particular comes from Brazil, and didn’t speak a word of French a year ago, so she more than anyone else has had a similar experience to mine. She said very gently, ‘you can talk to us about things other than work Zahara. We are here for you for more than just what takes place here’. It was so simple and so comforting.
From there, things improved. I don’t like to dwell on that day, because it was nothing short of awful, humiliating and exhausting. But, as a friend pointed out, it was also a blessing, because they had a better picture of what was happening behind the scenes for me. The yelling most definitely halted after that, no doubt because they were afraid the small brown Pakistani boy would come out to play again, this time maybe in the cake freezer. But it has allowed me to recall more, learn and process more effectively and overall function more smoothly. And the one that was comforting me in the fridge? The same one who was screaming at me almost daily, up until that point. The same one who just yesterday told me that she was proud of the progress I’m making.
I’m still a basket case most mornings, but as always, that is a work in progress. While the high level of quality, speed and pressure remain, the screaming is now definitely outweighed by laughter and jokes. Very, very tentatively, I am starting to feel like I might be fitting in.
I am not sure how much longer I will be there, because no one has approached me about my contract. However, I have been rostered on for the next few weeks, past the point of my trial period, so I’ll take that as either a giant slip-up on admin’s part, or a win on mine.
All thanks to a fruit fridge.