First, we’ll start with “Amos”.
Amos of late has been ‘too friendly’ with me. Too familiar in the way he treats me and talks to me.
I hate it.
I guess that yeah, in some cases, you can meet a person and both hit it off. You can talk for hours on the first day you met and you can feel as if you’ve known each other for years. I’ve had that in many cases with so many of my friends. One moment you’re strangers politely introducing yourself to each other and in the next moment, you’re crying laughing over something you’ve bonded over “OMG me too! Hahahah!” and feel like you’ve been friends all your life.
Some people you just instantly bond with, you know?
When I first met Amos however, it was under strictly professional circumstances and no, we didn’t “gel” instantly. I was not used to meeting such a large, formidable (seriously, this guy is built like a tank), really, really dark guy. Amos is so dark his skin is almost purple. THAT dark. I’m not being racist, I just want you to get a good mental picture of this guy.
I don’t even remember really meeting him, it was all so fast. I was being hastily trained by a fast-moving, fast-speaking Judy who had basically mentally left the job about a week before I was sent in by the temp agency, so I was trying to listen to her and my attention was 80% on trying not not collapse (I was SO SICK when I started temping at the job I’m in now) and 20% on trying to take in the sporadic, often changing bursts of information on being receptionist that Judy seemed to want to instruct in. I think I was introduced to Amos in the middle of learning how to answer the phone:
“When a caller rings, they will probably ask for Payroll. Oh – that’s our Security Guard “Amos” – Hello (me). Hello (him). Then you need to find out which hospital they work for and put them through…”
It was all so fast.
On the day we met, “Amos” (not his real name) was folded uncomfortably into his section of the reception counter (his long legs and huge frame pressed in so he looked like a miserable pretzel on his chair) in the corner of reception; as Judy’s presence seemed to demand space. Everything about her manner said “I’m the boss here” and commanded attention and respect.
The first few weeks of ‘flying solo’ after Judy left were hectic. It was a definite “hit the ground running” post and probably one of the worst and fastest “training” sessions I’ve had to recover from.
“Amos” remained silent and broody on his chair.
I’m outgoing and friendly so every person that came to reception, I’d talk to.
When I meet someone for the first time:
* I want them to like me
* I do my utmost to like them
* I find the best way to start a conversation with someone I don’t know is with a genuine compliment. I say GENUINE because I’m not going to say “Oh, your hair is lovely” if it’s a bloody mess. I won’t compliment your clothing if I think it’s weird and I won’t compliment your jewellery if I think it’s gaudy or tacky. I find something I REALLY like and I comment on it: “Your eyes are so pretty” “Your winged eyeliner is on fleek” “Oh wow, I like your dress” (a dress I would probably consider wearing myself). For guys, I like their beards, their ties, their suits, their laugh, their shiny watch…whatever.
So that’s what I did – and to this day still do – while I was on reception those first few days/weeks.
I noticed in the first month that Amos didn’t greet or talk to ANYONE. He didn’t say a word for the 8 long hours we sat together and while I was racing around, answering calls, ordering and unpacking supplies, giving out laptops, car keys (we have a bunch of expensive “Pool cars” staff use for business trips), booking meetings, assisting with admin and trying my best to keep A THOUSAND staff members happy as well as probably TENS OF THOUSANDS of callers, guests and visitors from all over WA…Amos would sit very still in his chair and remain silent.
Not one word. The whole day.
I was not used to this.
Me being who I am, I wanted to reach out to him. I didn’t like to see him so lonely. So quiet and so obviously physically uncomfortable. So ‘apart’ from everything that was going on. I wanted to get him to open up, to feel comfortable and included and to feel valued and part of the very important service the company we work for provides to the entire state of Western Australia.
Being bullied for most of my childhood, facing a lifetime of racism and wanting desperately to be part of friendship groups combined with my AWFUL need to people please – makes me very talkative, very friendly and very aware of anyone that looks like they’re struggling with loneliness as I used to.
I thought that was Amos. So I would try every day to engage him in conversation:
“What did you do before you came here? Oh? For how long? Did you like it?”
“Have you studied? Do you have hobbies?”
“What’s your family like? Are you married? Have kids?”
Amos would answer in as few words as possible. He was married. They had 2 little girls – one still a baby, one who was almost 3 years old. He liked sports – ANY SPORTS – but had a soft spot for Soccer. He grew up in Cameroon (not Nigeria as I thought, I’m so racist God bless me. Every black person I see – in my mind, they come from Africa in general and I just picked Nigeria for Amos because I’m an idiot and don’t know my Geography). He has been a Bouncer or Security Guard for most of his life. He spoke 4 fluent languages. He likes Chinese teas and their ancient herbal medicines. He’s 34 years old.
As the days and weeks went by, Amos would open up more and more. Greeting me with a big smile and booming loud “HALLO JENET!” (his accent) as I would arrive each morning, and the days at work were now filled with Amos telling me more and more about his life in Cameroon, his family, his friends and his love of Football and all things Chinese.
I was so happy to see Amos so at ease, congratulating myself on what a master of friendship I was. Look at me go! Now Amos is happy, comfortable (he didn’t sit crouched uncomfortably in his chair anymore) and as people would arrive at the reception desk, I noticed Amos would echo my behaviour and start to compliment each guest as he greeted them “Good morning. You have a lovely dress”.
I smiled inwardly whenever he did this, thinking I’M SO AWESOME because there’s someone copying my AMAZING example.
Yes, yes. I have a big ego. I know. Shut up 🙂
My role got busier and busier as I was taught more and given more and more responsibility. In the beginning, I’d talk to a then-silent/shy Amos in little bursts whenever the opportunity came up – which wasn’t often as my role was busy then…but now it was INSANE. There was NO TIME to talk anymore.
Confident I’d helped Amos be more social, less lonely and more included…I went back to focusing on my ever-increasing work load.
But this is where things started to spiral out of control.
Because Amos talked more and more and MORE to me. So much so it negatively impacted my work.
“Amos” I’d be furiously typing away, with my wireless headset on as I was answering calls at the same time “I can’t talk just now…I’m so busy” I’d plead.
He didn’t listen.
His behaviour got worse because instead of sitting at his ‘end’ of the reception desk, he’d wheel his chair closer to mine until he was basically elbow-to-elbow with me in an already small space. “Janet Janet Janet…”. Having a huge African man basically sitting on top of me as I tried to work made me feel extremely uncomfortable. The reception bench is about 5-7 meters wide and is ‘U’ shaped. By the time you factor in the space 2 monitors each takes (3 in Amos’ case as 1 monitor is dedicated solely to the 20-35 cameras we have all through the building), as well as keyboards, files, folders, drawers, our headsets, computer mice and general office stuff on the desk…that space is lessened to about a mere 45cms of clear, actual space between us.
To have Amos deliberately alter that much needed personal space to NONE AT ALL between us as we worked was incredibly challenging.
His talking went from barely there to absolutely incessant. Literally NON STOP.
“Amos…I can’t talk right now” I’d say, handing a staff member keys/a laptop/car keys/God knows what BUT THAT DIDN’T STOP HIM. In fact, it did the opposite and made him actually quite INSISTENT.
I’d be serving a guest (one of the HUNDREDS we have coming in every single day) “Oh yes, I’ll call Mr Smith and let him know you’re here for an interview – if you could just -” (take a seat, sign into our visitor book etc) BUT I WAS FINDING MORE AND MORE I COULDN’T FINISH MY SENTENCES BECAUSE AMOS WOULD CUT IN:
“I trained with my soccer team on Saturday, we had to do these timed runs and I was the fastest”
Really, Amos? Really?
I’m talking to a GUEST right now!
We’re at work, mate. Now is NOT a good time to tell me about your personal life.
The guest would look between Amos and I confused.
“What was I supposed…?” they’d start to ask
AMOS WOULD INTERRUPT THEM, TOO.
“Liverpool are doing really well in the League just now”
Right, mate. You’re now being incredibly unprofessional and bordering on RUDE in a very important work situation.
I’d take deep breaths. Amos was obviously new to the Australian way of business/professional behaviour and would hopefully pick it up quickly that it’s NOT OKAY to interrupt guests/staff as they’re talking.
“Please take a seat, sir/madam – Mr Smith will be with you in a few moments” and I’d gesture to our fancy waiting area.
I’d be LUCKY to even finish that sentence because I can GUARANTEE YOU Amos would have interrupted again in the middle of my talking.
Not just verbally, either.
He would stand – his almost 7 foot, bulky, muscly frame filling the reception area. He would stand as close to me as possible and often try to edge IN FRONT OF ME so that he was between the guest and myself.
I understand that as a SECURITY GUARD there may be situations where he has to keep a distance between perhaps an angry, volatile guest and myself – to protect me. That’s literally what he’s there on reception for. But for daily exchanges where I need to speak to staff and guests – THIS IS NOT ON. It is not right. It is extremely disruptive, rude and put me on an edge.
Why did he have to be so damn physically close to me all the time???
Even if it what Amos wanted to tell me WAS work related, Amos wouldn’t wait for a quiet moment to tell me – a moment with no guests and a moment that was APPROPRIATE in which to quietly have a quick word to each other. No. He’d interrupt me as I was taking notes from a staff member (stood there on the other side of the reception desk talking to me) on admin they wanted doing or as I was struggling to hear someone on the telephone.
“Janet” He’d shout above my call (!!!) “We need more paper towels on Level 5”
THEN TAKE THEM UP THERE AND DON’T TALK TO ME WHEN YOU CAN CLEARLY SEE AND HEAR I’M BUSY SERVING A STAFF MEMBER/GUEST/ON THE TELEPHONE.
I tried to tell him. I really did.
“Amos, I know you want to talk to me and there are things you want to tell me about guests/kitchen supplies/packages/couriers/catering etc…but I can’t talk to you AND someone else at reception at the same time. Please wait until there’s a quiet moment and let me know afterwards”
Nods from Amos.
ABSOLUTELY NO CHANGE IN HIS BEHAVIOUR.
I tried again.
“Amos, it’s really hard for me to do my work when you’re talking to me. If something is urgent, can you write it down (at this, I gave him a blank notebook and a few pens) and see me about it once reception is empty and I can take time to listen to you…ok?”
“Ok” he smiled. More happy nodding.
Now, he was SHOVING PEICES OF PAPER IN MY FACE (literally. I am NOT exaggerating about this, I promise you) as I was talking to someone on the reception desk.
OH MY GOD.
Then you’ve heard about the stalking episode where Amos let himself into MY gym (he is NOT a member and had NO BUSINESS being there) during MY PERSONAL TIME outside of work.
And you’re all caught up.
But that incident at the gym…guys…it really shook me up.
Amos WATCHING ME and refusing to leave when he could CLEARLY SEE I WAS TERRIFIED when I discovered him doing so has broken something in me. Shattered something in me that was really, really important.
The day he stood beside me as I was on the cross trainer…that is a day I will NEVER forget.
He took my trust that day and he did a crap on it.
He came into a place I felt was safe and was “mine” in so many ways (I don’t even let my FRIENDS come to the gym with me, that’s how important that space is to me personally) and he darkened it.
Since that day, Amos has moved into my mind.
His hands are in my thoughts all the time. I hear it so much, so often and on such a daily basis that Amos’ voice is in my head and I can’t not hear it. That constant chatter in his Cameroon accent. His FACE is in my head all the time…the way he must have been watching me. Looking at me. Surveying me without my knowledge that day at the gym…that has really, really f*cked me up.
What in the world made him think it was OKAY to basically break into my gym and watch me?
What made him STAY and talk to me for so long after his was discovered? When I was visibly trembling, had tears in my eyes and must have looked for all the world to see as terrified on the outside as I felt on the inside?
The way I was obviously so frightened to see him there and yet Amos DID NOT LEAVE has scared me so much that my mind can’t let it go.
I look over my shoulder now. All the time.
Is Amos behind me? Following me? Watching me?
I think my years of watching CSI and SVU have a lot to do with my fear building and building over this last week – because I know psycho killers start off appearing as ‘normal’ people. I know that obsessive behaviour – which often leads to very scary, sinister things indeed – starts off with things exactly like Amos watching me without my knowledge at the gym.
The worst part is…I don’t have time to process, recover and move on from this fear because I SIT NEXT TO THE VERY MAN WHO SCARED ME for 8 HOURS EVERY. SINGLE. DAY.
I know he didn’t hurt me. He didn’t sexually abuse me. He didn’t rape me.
But he violated me nonetheless and I don’t get the opportunity to get away from that experience.
Instead, I have to go through it anew every day.
EVERY. SINGLE. DAY.
I don’t know how long I can go on like this.
Also – before you tell me to do so – I have told my boss about Amos. I have complained as respectfully as I can about his behaviour both inside and outside of working hours and apparently it’s been “dealt with”.
But Amos is still posted on reception right next to me.
Sure, Amos doesn’t talk non-stop to me anymore. But the way he silently stares at me instead seems worse.
I wrote a formal letter of complaint to the gym for letting non-members in and asked them specifically NOT to let Amos in unless he becomes an official member of the gym. The gym LIKE having FREE SECURITY there so they are not going to change anything.
I think my boss has told Amos he is not allowed to “visit” me after working hours at the gym, though because he hasn’t been there again.
Or HAS he and I haven’t been aware???
Because I’ve built up such a fear in my mind of this guy, I’m hyper aware of him during the day. My heart is thumping away the entire time I’m on reception. I’m aware of Amos’ breathing. I’m aware of his STARING. I’m aware of his sighing. I’m aware of how BIG he is and how easily he could crush me. I’m aware of his eyes. His hands. His face.
How long can I go on like this?
How long before this fear consumes me, breaks me and I lose my job because I’ll fall completely apart at work?
BUT WHY IS IT ME WHO HAS TO LOSE MY JOB WHEN IT WAS AMOS WHO HURT ME???
I’m too upset, strung out and wound up to write about “George” my favourite psych now.