"When you've got a minute, I'd like to see you in my office."
That was Geoff, my manager. He walked off without a backwards glance, and I felt my stomach flutter. I knew whatever he wanted to discuss would be serious, and my mind raced with all the things that I might have done wrong.
Hesitantly I finished the job I was currently working on and braced myself for what was about to come.
I wasn't sure what I was so worried about, truth was, I had something to discuss with him myself. I don't know what had been putting me off, but perhaps now would be the perfect opportunity to finally break the news to him.
Slowly I made my way upstairs, thinking all the while about what I was going to say and how I was going to say it. Through the office window I saw Geoff sitting at his desk, the assistant manager beside him. This had to be bad.
"Hey Mark, Geoff," I said, nodding to each in turn as I entered. I took a seat opposite and waited for them to speak first.
"Martyn, you're sacked," Geoff said before breaking into laughter.
Awkwardly I laughed along, knowing this was just his way. Geoff never was very confrontational and always hid behind inappropriate jokes. Often he was more offensive than funny, but having worked with him a while I was used to his quirks.
"Erm, seriously though," Geoff continued, "you're not in trouble. We think you're doing a great job, don't we?" he said, looking over to Mark.
Mark nodded, he looked like he didn't want to be in the room. "Yes, no complaints," he said.
The spotlight fell back to Geoff. "As you know, Den will be retiring soon. I know he has been saying this for a while now but it should be official next year. We, of course, need to start planning what is going to happen in the future without him."
I thought I could see where this was going and swallowed a hard lump in my throat. I couldn't dare get my hopes up though. The timing couldn't have been worse.
"You have learnt a lot since you've been here Martyn, and I couldn't think of a better person to replace him."
And there it was; the news I both wanted and didn't want at the same time. I tried my best to look shocked and excited.
"This, for now, obviously stays strictly between us," Geoff said. "At least until we can have a proper meeting and inform the others."
Den had been a part of the company for a very long time, perhaps fifty years or more. He had been talking about retirement for a while now, so long in fact that everyone had stopped taking him seriously. But now it was certain, and Geoff wanted him to train me up within a year to take over his position indefinitely.
I had no qualifications. The prospect of being trained in a real profession and the substantial raise that came with it was more than tempting. But I already had other plans.
Pained, I sighed. "Thank you so much, it really means a lot to me—"
"You've earned it. You're the best one here for the job," Geoff interrupted.
That may have been true, but what was also true was that it was more expensive to get someone qualified in. This was a win-win for the both of us, but I kept those thoughts to myself.
Geoff's interruption had knocked me off balance, but I dug deep, determined to stay strong. "This is amazing, but I'll have to think about it," I lied.
I already knew what I was going to do, but a moment of weakness prevented me from committing.
"I mean, had this news come sooner it would have been a no brainer, but I've been meaning to speak to you guys too. I was going to tell you later in the week but I guess it will have to be now."
Now it was time to drop my own bombshell.
"I plan to go travelling. I wanted to speak to you about the possibility of getting a sabbatical. I know this is a small company, and it's highly unlikely, but I've been wanting this for a long time now. It's not a reflection on you guys or this place, I love it here, I really do. But I will always regret it if I don't do this."
Geoff leaned back in his chair, his expression faltering. "How long were you planning on going?"
"Just a year," I said.
Geoff shook his head. "I can speak to the owners, but I'm telling you now, it won't happen. If you leave, we'll have to fill your position."
The reality of what I was doing kicked me in the stomach but I stayed firm. "It might be a risk I have to take," I said.
"Look," Geoff said, sitting straighter again. "Maybe we can work something out. Perhaps we could swing something so you could have a three month holiday. I don't know exactly what you have planned but at least you'll be able to do some of it."
It was a fair compromise. More than fair in fact. But it wasn't enough for me. It wouldn't be the experience I was searching for. Besides, we had already bought our tickets the day before.
"I'll have to think about it," I said again. This time meaning it. It truly was a good offer, I could travel a little and still come back to train for a profession. There was still that niggle inside though, worried I would regret never having the full experience I so desperately craved.
"Yes, please do," Geoff said. "It's a big decision, and I don't envy you for it. Go home and speak to your misses about it and give me an answer at the end of the week. I do understand where you're coming from, I went travelling myself when I was younger. You've got to do what you've got to do at the end of the day and whatever your decision, I won't hold it against you."
Despite all his flaws, Geoff was a good man.
The meeting ended and I returned to work faced with the most difficult choice of my life. I started to doubt myself, but I couldn't back down even if I wanted to. I had convinced my girlfriend to put her career on hold and come along with me. To back down now would not only be selfish but cruel too. Not that I was sure I wanted to of course, this new development hadn't changed my outlook on life. You live only a short while so why waste it chasing money? Would I look back on my life and wish I'd worked harder or would I look back and wish I'd taken that trip? The answer, for me, seemed glaringly simple.
Jane, on the other hand, had been a little harder to win over. She was always putting off the idea, but we were at a point in our lives where I knew it was now or never. She was in a very different position to me too. She was a teacher with a promising career ahead of her and a job she loved to boot. Eventually, I managed to convince her and she was lucky enough to get a sabbatical. It meant we could only go for a year, but it was a compromise that I was more than happy with.
Once the meeting was over, it didn't take long for Ben to come and find me. He walked with a purpose, and I knew he must have known about the offer I had just received. No doubt he was on his way to find out the juicy gossip.
Ben was a bit of a lost soul in the factory. He was once favoured to take the position of assistant manager, but rumour had it he turned it down because he wasn't offered a raise for the role. He was undoubtedly the most experienced, and probably thought he had the owners trapped in a corner. However, Mark seized on this opportunity and took the role in his place, raise and all. For a while there was a lot of tension in the factory, and Mark and Ben were never as close as they used to be. The rest of us still saw Ben as our superior but without a title. He was named a "supervisor," but in truth it meant nothing and his position remained the same.
Ben was a good man, albeit a bit of a gossip. The majority of the factory believed he was treated unfairly, including myself. He was the harder working and the most deserving, but was shunned because Mark was the cheaper option.
He leaned in close to me, believing himself to be subtle. "So, I hear you will be taking Den's job then?"
Sighing, I looked at his grinning face and relayed what was said in the office. I told him of my plans and the dilemma I was facing. Once I was done, he seemed to pull away a little and shrugged.
"You've gotta do what you've gotta do," he said, repeating Geoff's earlier sentiment. "I know what I would do. Though, it sounds to me like you've already made up your mind."
Deep down, I knew he was right.
Later that evening I was sitting on the sofa with Jane. I explained to her the opportunity I had earlier been offered and said I wanted to discuss it with her.
"Ben's right, I think I do know what it is I want to do," I said. "But I don't want you to feel I'm making a mistake. This step up could help us both out in the future, but I also don't want to look back on something I could have done and regret it."
Jane looked at me, her face showing the conflict I felt. "It's entirely your choice. I will support you no matter what. Money will come again, can you say the same about this opportunity? You were right before, it's unlikely we will get another chance and I don't want you to regret not doing something you've always wanted to do."
"I couldn't take the job anyway," I said. "We've already paid for our tickets."
"Then we will lose the money. It doesn't matter. The extra money you'll make will more than make up for it."
I sat deep in thought, quickly seeing my dreams slip through my fingers. As if reading my mind, Jane spoke up again.
"There's always a third option. He offered you a potential extended holiday didn't he? What if we do that? We could still do a lot, and you could still return to take up this promotion."
For some reason, this idea distressed me. If I did that then I would be giving in and missing out the full experience I wanted. It wouldn't be the same and I knew it. The very feelings this idea conjured confirmed what my heart desired.
I shook my head. "I don't think I want that," I said, deflated. "I've already compromised by agreeing to go for just a year. I'd have gone for at least two if we could. I can't explain how I feel, but I have to do this."
Ever since I was a young boy, adventure and exploration were things I always wanted to experience. I would dream of faraway places and bizarre and intriguing cultures. I had a specific liking for all things Chinese. I never had a passport though, and as I grew up those dreams became more and more fantastical. But now I was in a position to make those dreams a reality and it felt cruel for them to be snatched away so suddenly.
With great alleviation, I sighed. I was proud of my resolve but also gutted at what I was throwing away.
Jane smiled. "It's going to be amazing, and you'll find another job when we get back. We'll be fine."
I didn't wait for the end of the week to tell Geoff my decision, I told him the very next day. The sooner I could make it real, the better. I wanted no more distractions.
That lunch time the word was out and I discussed with my colleagues the dilemma I had faced. After telling them I thought I was making the right decision, one word from Rupert reassured me immeasurably; "Definitely," he said.