The text arrived late this afternoon.
“Hi. Keith has inoperable brain cancer. He has 2 months”
There was a group chat under construction on Messenger. Someone’s putting a scrapbook together for his daughters. Did anyone have any photos? Anecdotes about the man? Repeatable anecdotes, please. He wasn’t called “Shagger” for nothing.
I’d not seen him for over fifteen years.
My desk was always messy, so I got two of them. One to sit at and the one next to me as an overflow for my expanding chaos. On the other side of the screen in front of me were my staff. Behind me, my senior manger, Keith. We were approaching a major annual deadline and had work piled up around us. Working evenings and weekends to try and shift it all in time but I was just sitting there staring at my PC screen. The words of my fiancée were echoing round my mind.
“Paul. I want you to leave”
Admittedly things had not been going so well, but we’d been living together a couple of years and I wasn’t expecting that. I thought we would get through it. My guts had dropped through the floor. The PC screen just blinked quietly at me. The minutes passed slowly by. I hauled myself up, scooped up the spreadsheets and reports and dazed round to Keith’s desk, dropping into the chair opposite him.
If it went tits up Keith would carry the can. My team needed me to manage them. I was the hinge, and the screws were coming loose. Had come loose. He was talking now, like we did every morning, in his broad scouse drawl…about what we needed to look at or get under control… but the words just went straight through me. He stopped. Looked at me. I shook my head. He didn’t need to ask more. He just picked up a pen and started writing, handed me the paper. “OK. This morning, just do this. Forget the rest. Then we’ll do something else.”
We got through it. He covered and filled in the gaps. It was seamless. That year, everything we got done was built on his kindness and understanding. That was his virtue. It is what will be missed.