He liked the absence of Maria, the nice cleaning lady. From Belarus, he presumed. She was hired by him personally, without alerting the human resources department to this informal arrangement. A nice little perk, courtesy of his contract with the bank. She did not provide any references, nor did he need to commit his signature to paper. An honest working agreement. Ozymandias met her only once, when she was being interviewed and briefed on her tasks by his personal assistant. The main point was that Maria was expected to take good care of the office when he vacated it, regardless of his highly irregular hours. She observed this point religiously, always alerted by the security system which bleeped her on her mobile whenever he left for the night. Maria then had the space of an hour or so to vacuum, dust, spruce things up and to do whatever necessary, as instructed.
Maria’s absence meant she had already left the office pleasantly fragrant and fresh, as if her youthful and eager femininity had rubbed off onto the walls and furniture. A sort of radiance pervaded the air. At best, Ozymandias liked walking into his office at nine am, sharp. Evening cocktail parties, which it was his duty to attend, rarely permitted him this luxury. But when he was in luck, he relaxed in his versatile recliner that appeared to those not in the know to be an old-fashioned money-lender’s chair, made of hardwood and adequately austere, a polite adjective for uncomfortable. ‘Where would we be without protestant ethics’ mused Ozymandias, recollecting his MBA days when he was assigned to read something by the French economist Maxime Wehber. A brainy fellow, though apparently a catholic himself. ‘Perhaps, his father-in-law introduced him to the true ways of down-to-earth capitalism?’
He put his palms down on the smooth surface of the elegant teak desk, warm to the touch. Ignoramuses praised Ozymandias on his environment-friendly choice of easily renewable and economic pine. Fools. No profit of serious proportions can be generated on the cheap. It is essential that the mind of a financial wizard is freed from everyday concerns and irritations like ugly, aged, or simply worn out pieces of furniture. To think of the abstruse and complicated structures of global finance, one needs a crystalline clarity of thought. Everything must be subjected to evoking this unique state of mind, so strenuously difficult to achieve, so easy to miss. Artists cursing the fickle muse do not know what they are talking about. Their arty muse is like a loose woman, not always available, but often enough. They pretend. No real need for arts councils. They should try corralling the goddess of high finance, or is it a he?
The top of the desk was polished and empty of the clutter that is so typical of lesser minds. In the middle sat a large computer screen, placing Ozymandias at the center of the bank’s nervous system. He saw himself as the head crowning the spinal cord of the institution. Following the post-crisis near-nationalization of the bank, it zombie-walked, because for months on end it remained headless, like Belgium without a government. ‘Then I arrived’ Ozymandias smiled to himself. It was the best thing that could have happened to the bank. He made good on the taxpayers’ investment. During his almost two years in office the bank already operated once in the black for two consecutive quarters. Who would not like to have such a splendid return on their investment in these difficult times, eh?
The more irritating it was then to receive unsolicited email messages. What were the guys in the security unit doing? More layoffs and restructuring were necessary. Ozymandias began to jot down an appropriate memo to this end. By the week’s end the matter would have been resolved. Then a well-earned weekend at a golf course near Varna. They assured him that it was the poshest sporting destination at present. Membership cost him a lot, but the place was apparently organized to the most exacting standards. No wonder as it was privately run by a mooltee-grupa, a euphemism, he was informed, for a joint venture between civil servants and postcommunist mobsters. Brussels made good on the developmental promise of integration, pumping billions into similar schemes that attract high-flying jetsetters from all over the globe to Eunion’s poorest member. ‘We save the state’s economy and the citizens’ bacon,’ Ozymandias thought, ‘we are the real Europeans, come what may.’ In return for their world-saving efforts, while concentrating on the tee, they could enjoy the splendid nature reserve, the last unspoiled stretch of land, from which non-card-carrying natives were barred by the electrified security fence, posted with guards brandishing automatic firearms. Menacing, but only appropriate.