The last time I heard from Verruca Almond was just over three months ago. She had fallen on hard times, on the run after stealing sensitive information, from the charity she had been working for, disguised as a tea lady. Verruca would stop at nothing to track me down, after I escaped her bonds just over a year ago. Last night, while blogging until the early hours, Ms Almond, as she prefers to be called, popped up in my inbox, that's a first for her, she had been off line for quite a while; I thought I'd seen the back of her.
She had sent me a message and a photograph of her, sat back in her palatial office, in Oxford. The last time we spoke, her surroundings were less than salubrious, sat in a poorly lit room, only distinguishable from the tattoo on her neck, glimpsed briefly through a flickering candle in the background. Her aggressive grin was smiling back at me, made all the worse, by her ground down teeth. Verruca was a teeth grinder. When she spoke, her jaw chattered, constantly. It always reminded me of chalk writing on a blackboard and sent shivers down my spine. You can tell a lot about a photograph and she had staged this one perfectly.
Verruca always had a demure, unassuming, almost modest persona, at least that is what she wanted others to see. She was dressed in a pink floral, figure hugging top, covered with a cerise cardigan, that had clearly seen better days; the biggest silver cross, hung from her neck, glistening in the sunlight, streaming through the office window; her religious credentials without question, in tact. She was sporting a new perm in her ginger locks; this time there were no roots visible. The Verruca I knew, never wore makeup, preferring the natural look. She once told me, she didn't need a mask, a painted face to hide who she was, because she wore a mask every day of her life. At the time, I had no idea what she was talking about. Looking back now, I realise exactly what she meant.
She was still sporting her trade mark thick bottle top glasses, eyes peering over the top, still piercing my very thoughts. On her desk, sat a golden charity box; in 2008, she had won, Manager of the year, for her endeavours, misappropriating funds, diverting cash to the less needy at Head Office. She was the first Manager in history to reduce the amount of money going to good causes and was used as an example, for others to follow. I remember her in a meeting once, complaining, that we always had to stick up for those in most need, when she herself was suffering; having to keep her company vehicle for another year, especially when it wasn't the colour she wanted. The deep cheery red paint, clashed with her barnet; she felt a laughing stock, discriminated against, because of her ginger hair and unable to do secret visits to other shops in her region, because she stood out a mile. 'You might as well stick a blue flashing light on my head', she shouted. You could see the others in attendance, look at each other in agreement; maybe that wouldn't be such a bad idea; looking down at the floor, trying to hide their laughter!
Verruca was indeed a character, always vocal on matters she held dear. She was a champion for over worked Area Managers, everywhere. She was instrumental in reducing the number of hours worked from 37 per week, to 22. According to Miss Almond, she could be most persuasive when she wanted to be. According to those in the know, she knew no limits, threats were commonplace, something she made on a daily basis, as a petulant child screams to get a bar of chocolate. When Verruca arrived at Head Office, there was an emergency plan of action, that would click into place. It was followed to the letter every time, without fail. 'As one prepares for a fire drill, one also prepares for FIRE.' whispered a colleague in my ear.
It was difficult for me to judge this woman, who had become a good friend to me. She had always tried to save me time in my job, reducing the 'unnecessary form filling', as she put it, filling in my annual reviews herself, signing on my behalf. She set my budgets, rejected the rigmarole of Health and safety and dismissed procedures when dealing with vulnerable people, all for my own benefit, teaching me the way things should be done, not the imposition of a few do-gooders sat on The Board of Trustees! I admired her, for her firm Management style, always willing to learn from a 'Golden Charity Box' winner, the oscars of the voluntary sector.
Verruca was a game player and always left little clues in her calls, messages and emails; clues about herself, her life and where she was at any given point in time. In all the years I knew her, she never once gave me a straight answer, always answering a question with a question. I knew she wanted me to look closely at the photograph and play her game. Well, I have moved on a lot, since she was in my life, that is for sure, but I did take note of a few clues she had left.
There was a card on her desk; 'Congratulations on your promotion.' Verruca was back in the fold, the charity family, as she always called it; the ones she was there to, in her words 'do business with!' Although she wasn't liked or respected, it was better to keep a person of her ability in one place, where she could do least harm to others. The charity had learned its lesson at least. She had two mobile phones on her desk. It was a standard joke, when I worked for them, that if you received a call from Verruca, there would never be a record of it, anywhere. We always used to call her 'Verruca two phones'; when she rang, no one picked up! There were other messages in that picture, the main one, a paper knife. The knife was her trade mark; a veiled threat against trying to undermine her. Underneath the photograph, there was a brief message:
'Back where I belong, still licking knives, be in contact soon!'
It was lovely to hear from my old friend, carer, ex boss and confidant. We aren't in contact as much as we used too, since I moved away, but it is kind of comforting to know, that Verruca is still the old person I knew; unhinged, but unchanged by circumstances that have characteristically shaped her and her life. On the surface she was a 1950s housewife, below the exterior she was hard as nails, determined to forge her way through life and take no prisoners. That meek, timid creature, I always loved and knew, was still there deep down. Her weakness, just wanting to be loved!
Disclaimer: Verruca Almond is a fictional character and does not refer to a real person, living or dead.
I first started writing about Verruca Almond, in my fist blog Bipolarcoaster. Verruca was a parody of my then boss Vera Lynham; the woman responsible for bullying, harassment, homophobia, lies and attacks against myself, my partner and other good members of staff. I created Verruca as a tool to offload my frustration and anger at the time and it worked.