I have an (in) voice – Part 1

by Edo van Belkom

Mark had been crossing the country on a number of long hauls and found himself enjoying breakfast in a truck stop coffee shop outside of Calgary, while reading a copy of the Calgary Sun.

But then he noticed one of the other coffee shop patrons getting loud. He looked up and looked over at the man sitting at the table to his right. He was wearing a denim jacket, blue jeans, and a Flames ball cap, and he was shouting into his cellphone.

“It’s already been more than three weeks for cryin’ out loud!” the man said.

Mark took a long look around the coffee shop and realized everyone in the room was listening in on the man’s conversation.

“I’ve gotta eat, you know!”

A pause.

“How am I supposed to make payments on my truck? You know, that thing that I make my living with? The thing I used to deliver your shipment a month ago!”

Some people with kids were getting up and moving to the far side of the shop.

“I sent you an invoice as soon as I completed the delivery. The receiver signed for it and confirmation of the delivery was sent to your offices.”

A deep breath and a long, slow sigh.

“What’s the effin’ problem?”

Mark smiled a little, glad the man had used an alternative to the usual eff words truckers were prone to use from time to time.

“That’s a lame-ass excuse and you know it! I’ve got bills to pay. I’ve got a family to feed. I can’t wait months for you to decide it’s time for you to pay me. I need my money and I need it yesterday.”

Obviously, Mark didn’t have to wonder what the problem was. This man was a trucker and he’d done a job for a company and properly invoiced the firm only to be left waiting on payment…from the sounds of it some four weeks or more.

After a few moments of silence when the man was listening to someone on the other end, he blurted, “But you guys are always late. Always!”

The same thing had happened to Mark dozens of times over the years and he hated to admit it, but he’d been in this man’s very position, screaming into a phone at some clerk who had nothing to do with the late payment, but finding themselves in the unlucky spot of being the face of the company at the moment.

“Do I have to come by your yard and kick some butt? I don’t want to do it, but I will. Trust me, you wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.”

Mark just shook his head, knowing that the man’s tactic was never going to work. Years ago, Mark had learned pretty quickly that few people responded well to anger, threats of violence or general nastiness, not in person and certainly not over the phone.

“Don’t you hang up on me!” the man shouted, holding the phone away from his face and staring at it as if the person he’d been on the phone with was contained somewhere inside the phone itself.

The coffee shop had fallen silent.

Mark took another quick look around and saw that everyone in the place had stopped what they were doing and were staring at the man staring at his phone.

At long last the man realized that he’d just made a scene. His face darkened to a pale shade of red and he smiled awkwardly at the people at the tables closest to him.

Then he coyly slid his cell phone into the front pocket of his denim jacket as if nothing at all had happened here.

“I just want to be paid for my work,” the man said, half out loud, half under his breath. He slid down in his seat until his head seemed to tuck inside his shoulders where he could hide from the world for a little while.

One table at a time, the coffee shop came back to life with conversations starting up again and people getting back to eating their food and drinking their coffee. In moments, the episode was over and things were back to normal.

But Mark didn’t get back to reading his newspaper. Instead, he stared at the man long enough to catch his attention. The man looked at Mark, shifted in his seat and looked away. Then he turned back in Mark’s direction and realized Mark was still staring. He must have felt like he had to justify his actions, or otherwise say something because he looked Mark in the eye and said, “I hate it when guys don’t pay on time. I have truck payments, a family, a wife, and kids.”

“I heard,” Mark said, hoping he hadn’t sounded too sarcastic.

“You a trucker?”

“Twenty years now.”

“You ever have people stiff you?”

“More than I’d like to admit,” Mark says. “But if you’re working for different companies it’s going to happen from time to time.”

“You got any ideas on how to make them pay?”

“I have a few,” Mark said, hoping not to sound arrogant. He actually felt sorry for this guy and genuinely wanted to help.

“Maybe you should give me some lessons.”

“If you’d like.”

The man adjusted the Flames cap on his head, pulled himself upright in his seat and took a long look around the shop. Thankfully, no one was looking at him anymore, but it was clear that he felt the embarrassment of being the center of a lot of unwanted attention.

“I would like,” he said at last. “I’d like that very much…and my wife and kids probably would too.”

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