Vasil missed another online meeting. As the officer assigned for "all the IT stuff" at The Mangrove Inn^, he was scheduled to help troubleshoot some computer problems remotely. But he had been nursing a nasty fever for the past few days.
He sent a message to Paul, the owner of the small hotel: "Sorry still unwell... <cough cough>, isolating myself... <cough>.... to be careful".
"You sound better already! I'm sure you'll be fine! Take all the time you need!", Paul replied, trying very hard to be cheerful and trying even harder to swipe away thoughts about what the persistent fever might mean.
If anybody saw Paul at that time, they might think he was doing some form of a strange and inept arm exercise. Flailing his entire arm over his head as if shooing away an invisible fly. To Paul, it was an impressive Judo maneuver on his thought bubbles, using motor movements which he deemed more controllable these days.
It worked and his thoughts regained focus.
They had initiated plans for a new staff development program. They would use the dismal occupancy situation to focus on re-designing training modules. Including remote drills, course work, and lots of quizzes.
Yes, many kinds of quizzes. Like going back to school, but with new technology. They'll arrange for virtual simulations, gamifications, and real-time exercises. Paul was excited. The staff though, not as much.
They would have to do this at a severely reduced budget. Which means a much lower salary for everybody.
"It would be fun! Like playing Who Wants To Be A Millionaire!", Paul exclaimed to muted reception earlier. He quickly realized how inappropriate that was and tried to apologize, "I mean, Who Wants To Be A Millionaire after Covid!".
Melchor, the most senior in the team, forced a half-laugh.
"Okay, that was dumb. Let's just play, Survivor: Covid".
"I found another job", Rishika carefully told Paul over the phone. "I'm very sorry but I have a son and a fat lazy cat to support".
Paul paused for a moment. He was the one who actually floated this idea a few weeks back. Given the uncertainty surrounding the hotel, he suggested that it would be prudent for staff to consider backup options in-case the situation does not improve. How magnanimous, he thought.
Well, it still hurts a bit. So quick to take him seriously?
Once he got over that though, he felt relieved in a way. He had stopped taking any salary for several months now and had been keeping the hotel open primarily for the staff. Now, at least one of them would be okay.
"I understand. But Rishika, be honest with me..... It was the quizzes, wasn't it? That's what pushed you over the edge. You know I was going to give you the easy questions..."
Rishika rolled her eyes and smiled.
"I'm feeling slightly better.", Vasil said the next day. "But the test results came back. I'm positive for Covid."
"Sorry to hear that. Just take good care of yourself and don't worry about work". Paul tried to say in a re-assuring voice.
Just in case, he double checked the last time Vasil was physically in the hotel. Thankfully, it had been several months ago. So no need to quarantine the rest of the team.
"It gets worse. My medicine costs are over $100 /day after health insurance." Vasil continued, "I'm sorry, but I would need to find another job soon to pay for all these".
"Oh no! You as well?", Paul exclaimed with a sigh. Damn those quizzes.
"If this is really about the puzzles I assigned you, you can totally ignore them. It was a 'rhetorical puzzle' ". Paul continued, "A good one though".
"What puzzle?", Vasil asked.
"(Sigh) Nevermind, I'll save it for next time. Let me see what we can do with those bills.", Paul said.
"No, I know the situation of the company. I don't want to be a burden. Besides, I have a bigger purpose. I want to get married soon."
"Wow, was it such a life-changing illness? Did you feel a deeper understanding of what you really want in life?", Paul asked with genuine astonishment.
"Uhmmm... Yes. Also, if I get married during the pandemic, my parents can't invite 500 guests".
The next day, Paul called Myla, the treasurer.
"Before you say anything, the quizzes are all just optional. Nevermind that I designed them brilliantly with nice colorful charts, animated icons and cute buzzing sounds. You don't have to do any of them! Isn't that great! It's like having a dream you were slogging it out in school, then waking up at home realizing that you don't have to go to school anymore. Like heaven on earth.", Paul said hastily.
Myla started, "Really? I was looking forward to it".
"Ohh, really? Well... they are very good quizzes. I'm glad somebody looks forward to them.", Paul replied.
"Right. But I was referring to the part about going to school.", Myla clarified. "In general".
"Fine. How's our financial situation? No need to sugar-coat it, just throw it at me. I can take it.", Paul mimed a Karate stance.
"We no longer have enough for payroll after next week."
Paul's stance dropped, he felt cornered, out of moves.
"What do you want me to do?", Myla asked after a brief pause.
"Let me get back to you tomorrow, there's someone I need to talk to first".
Paul dialed a number. It was for a friend named Mario. A teacher in the hospitality industry whom Paul had consulted with weeks before. He had offered to help the hotel. Paul tried to reach him earlier, but he was traveling to Mexico on a business trip. Paul thought he can try again.
"Ola! this is Mario", an energetic voice picked up.
^ The Mangrove Inn and all other names were changed to protect privacy. This is a fictional account based on a real hotel.