On my final day at work, I made the schoolboy error of arriving at the office at the usual time. The usual time's quite early, far earlier than the rest of the team, because I've always liked to get stuff done before they arrive. Being the final day there wasn't much stuff to be done, but still, my routine kicked in and off I went.
Walk here, stand here, change here, stand here, whoosh. All perfectly executed, as you'd expect, because I've long had my commute to work down to a fine art.
Arriving at the office I fished my security card out of my pocket, and looked down at the fresh-faced photo of a man in his thirties, which had somehow never got round to being updated. I waved the card for the penultimate time, stepped through and pushed the button for the lift. I thought I'd get it to myself, but no, another early starter followed in behind, and blimey, it was the boss's boss's boss.
"Hello, how are you?" she asked, in a bright cheery Friday morning kind of manner. "It's my last day," I said. She seemed embarrassed at this revelation, having completely lost touch with how the redundancy she'd set in motion had been progressing. After a brief pause she proceeded to thank me profusely for all the work I'd done over the years, and wished me luck, and kept talking until the doors opened on her floor. I was left alone in the lift pondering all the things I should have said back, but it's probably just as well I never got the opportunity.
I made a cup of tea to start the day. I checked my emails, not that I discovered anything new. I tracked down the latest version of my CV and emailed it to myself. I made sure I'd downloaded all my payslips, because the company switched to paperless a while back, and I realised I'd never have access to the electronic versions again. I cleared out some of the darker recesses of my desk drawer, and found some pennies, a long-past-use-by aspirin, and a box containing hundreds of recycled paperclips. I'd removed these from reams of shredded documents over the years, but never quite got round to using them again, and now I never would.
The rest of the team arrived late, safe in the knowledge they would never be reprimanded. One was calmness personified, while another had suddenly realised how few minutes were left before the final deadline and how many urgent actions she still had to complete. I smiled, because even on the last day both were acting entirely true to character. And then I made another cup of tea.
Because of the restructuring there'd recently been a desk move, and we'd been shifted into a different part of the building where they needed some spare desks, but not until next week. This was all well and good, except it meant our immediate neighbours were now people we didn't know at all. We could have have been anyone to them, so they had no emotional attachment whatsoever to our situation, and the fact it was our last day completely passed them by. They kept their heads down and worked, and we packed away stuff and refreshed the BBC News website.
Many years ago, when my team was considerably larger, we'd always make a big fuss when anybody left. There'd be a whip round for a present, and a big card which everybody signed, and on the day itself we'd all gather by the desk of the departing colleague. Someone would give a stirring talk filled with amusing anecdotes, and there'd usually be some cake or nibbles, maybe even a drink if it was late enough in the afternoon. I've attended dozens of such gatherings in the past, and paid up for dozens of leaving gifts, but nobody organised anything for us. If you go to enough of your friends' funerals, I mused, eventually there's nobody left to come to yours.
I made a final cup of tea, then cleaned the mug and put it in my bag of "stuff I couldn't take home until the last day". I went to say goodbye to a former colleague on a different floor who'd been transferred out of the team at an earlier date, and had therefore survived the cull. And I flicked through my email inbox for the last time to check I hadn't missed anything important, because at the end of the day some IT operative would be deactivating my account and deleting the entire archive. All that once-crucial accumulated expertise, extinguished in seconds.
The team decided to go out for lunch, and make a meal of it, because Friday's fish and chips in the canteen is always a disappointment. We also realised we didn't need to come back afterwards, because there wasn't any work to do, and because nobody was taking an interest in our departure. So we powered down our computers for the last time, picked up our coats and bags, then headed downstairs to hand in our ID badges. At least the ladies on the reception desk were expecting us, but I guess they'd seen a lot of badges handed in of late.
We stepped out onto the street as former employees. The building that had long been our workplace was now just another private space, with security barriers we could no longer activate, stairwells we would never again climb, and desks that were no longer ours. Obsolescence doesn't take long.
It was a very nice lunch, mixing gossip and reminiscence. It went on a bit. It seemed by far the best way to have spent the afternoon. And once the bill was settled we left the restaurant, said our goodbyes, and went our separate ways. I'm sure we'll see each other again, somewhere, sometime. But it seems strange to know I won't be seeing any of them on Tuesday morning, or indeed any morning, as enforced freedom replaces familiar routine.
As soon as I got home I took off my work shirt and work trousers and put them in the washing machine, even though I'm not sure when I'll need them clean again. I took my work mug out of my bag and put it in the cupboard, where it can stay, because I don't need a regular reminder of my former life. And I felt a unexpected sense of independence, because the future was no longer governed by objectives, hierarchy and business needs.
Instead of viewing Friday as the last day, I decided, far better to consider it the first.