Cult of Personality

Lia looked at the Agent and waited. Leading this conversation was rattling Lia’s nerves. There was always something about law enforcement that had made her anxious, as if whenever the police were around, Lia immediately felt as though she were doing wrong even though she wasn’t. She couldn’t explain it, but in this she wasn’t alone; who doesn’t slow down on a highway with the sudden exposure of a police car waiting to catch speeders?

It went beyond that, though. There was a growing rift between society and law enforcement in Plebeia. Several policing agencies had suffered extreme corruption scandals, one involving that force’s own pension funds, and the relationship between law enforcement and the criminal underworld had settled into something more of a symbiosis, whereby the cops often didn’t act on complaints about local drug dealers, for example. This had been leading to an increased rate of vigilantism, which oddly was more punished than the crimes that had initially encouraged regular citizens to take matters into their own hands.

Sitting across from the silent PISS Agent was certainly making Lia feel as though she were hiding something. Conscious of her growing anxiety, Lia struggled not to fidget and so put her hands securely back around the now cold coffee mug and deliberately looked the Agent in the eye.  The ordinary woman stared back at Lia with a blank but not unintelligent look that was devoid of any sort of suspense yet seemed designed to stretch out the silence and test the effects of it on Lia’s composure. Refusing to carry the conversation, Lia inhaled deeply and carefully, so as not to make her breath obvious, in an attempt to steel her nerves.

At length, finally accepting Lia’s resolve, a subtle smirk appeared on the Agent’s face before she continued, “Was there any one event in specific that led you to quit?”

Lia looked at the Agent wryly. She clearly wasn’t getting it. Just as quickly as the proclamation had come to Lia’s thoughts, however, she checked herself: but did you really explain it to her? The answer was no. Again, Lia took a deep breath and tried not to judge the Agent and answered in as balanced a voice as she could muster, “If I had to say, it was more like a series of events that all built up in a crescendo, but the final nail in the coffin, so to speak, came at the first staff meeting we had with our new Director General.”

New Director General?” The Agent seemed to be surprised. “But I thought the only high-level late hire before the CACA Plenary was that Director who came over from the Minister’s office?” By the suddenly guarded expression the Agent adopted immediately after saying this, it would appear that the information had just slipped out.

She’s done her homework, thought Lia, but this was pretty general information in The Bubble. “Yes, that Director was the only late hire.” Lia reassured the Agent. “We had a new Director General because Josephina no longer wanted to report to her initial superior. And let me tell you, the change was significant.”

“What do you mean?”

OK, Lia contemplated, she’s interested in the organisation. “Well, as you probably know, there are two Director Generals in PEWE, both report directly to the Chief and have a number of Directors underneath them. The Directors seemed to be reporting to the respective DGs based on function – so, one DG covers all of the logistics for the event, you know the transportation and accommodations, while the other handles the soft stuff, like the media and outreach.  And honestly, you couldn’t find two more different personalities if you tried. The first, (and I am sure, as a security person you will appreciate my preference for him), was a former military man, very systematic and orderly. He didn’t mess around and had rules, so you knew what to expect and where you stood. He was also above petty politics and didn’t engage if attacked in a lowly manner. While all of this made him extremely fair and effective in actually executing the work, it made him prime bait for the other DG to belittle and use to gain the upper hand with the Chief.

“You see, the Chief is actually a really nice guy, or at least he can be, which is more than can be said for a lot of the others in PEWE. But the man doesn’t want trouble and often just gives in to make people happy. Whoever squawks the loudest will usually get what he wants with the Chief. And Ajay could certainly squawk.”

“Yes, I have heard that Ajay Naidu is a handful,” rejoined the Agent.

Lia laughed, “Well, I suppose you would be too if your name meant unconquered and your family originated from some ancient warrior caste.”

“Is that true?”

“From what I read on the Internet,” Lia shrugged, “what do I know? From what I’ve heard, Ajay comes from a tight-knit cabal from one of the coastal cities and has brought along a lot of his own in his meteoric rise up the bureaucratic pyramid.” Lia paused, making a face as if remembering something, and added, “Well, his own and handsome, young men.” Lia looked at the Agent questioningly to see whether the implication was understood.

“Oh?” was all the Agent said as she absorbed the new details.

“Yes, and Ajay isn’t particularly good to them. Supposedly, he forces them to go to movies and dinner with him. And heaven forbid they should refuse his request. I’ve heard that Ajay was stupid enough to actually respond in an email to one of his staff who turned down an invite to a show saying that he had prior plans; Apparently, Ajay’s reply was – you don’t have to lie, prick.

“At that staff meeting our division had with Ajay, he admitted to forcing his staff to show him their email accounts so that he could read everything they wrote. It was a weird encounter,” Lia became thoughtful as she tried to remember the meeting, “we had all been working at PEWE for six months and under him for at least half that time, and he just then decided we should sit down together, for what purpose none of us had been entirely sure. As we were about to be relocated to the site of the CACA Plenary, we thought it might be related to that.

“During the meeting, it became quickly apparent that it was just a typical opportunity for the Ajay Naidu Show to abuse a captive audience.  He was twenty minutes late and then began by talking about himself, his favourite thing: how important he was, what he had done in his career, he showed us a news reel about his role in organising the CACA Plenary and then embarrassed his deputy by asking if she was wearing the exact same outfit that day as she had in the video. Then he systematically went around the conference table and insulted people individually, telling some they were too fat to be considered viable exercise partners for him when we move, and others hicks for being from small towns. And throughout it all, the staff laughed as if Ajay had made the funniest jokes ever, encouraged by his reminding us that we were there to pander to politicians and that we should never fail to react accordingly to whatever entertaining tale with which a person in power chose to regale us.

“Our division laughed the loudest. The girls seemed to be competing for his favour. Ajay’s staff, however, while struggling to humour him seemed worn and drained. And then it began to dawn on me; Ajay was building a cult of personality around himself.”

“So what did you do?” asked the Agent.

Lia laughed and looked at the Agent a little astonished, “what could I do? I certainly didn’t laugh. Ajay wasn’t funny. He was scary. And frankly, after everything I had been through by that point, I was exhausted. Moreover, and what I haven’t told you yet, was that once we were relocated our Directors were given the authority to approve or reject our applications for leave – on weekends. So Josephina, who I had already come to loathe and fear by that point, was given absolute control, not only of my working life, but my personal time as well. And sitting there watching Ajay, to whom Josephina reported, I became painfully aware that there would be no one higher to appeal to, in fact, he was in many ways even worse. I was petrified. And if there had been any doubt about my decision to quit before that staff meeting, it was absolutely gone after that!”

Shaking her head, Lia added, “You know, immediately after that meeting, Carrie, our Senior Manager, came up to me and quietly said, you didn’t look very happy in there; you should try and smile a little more, it will be better for you.” Lia chuckled and smiled, “It was Theatre of the Absurd.”

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