This is Another Very Important Message

This is Another Very Important Message

A Story by Jisad Oneida Cho

Ever work in collections? It sucks. Especially when your debtors are armed.


Day 174

"This is Stavros from MTB Solutions calling with another very important and very urgent financial related message for Sheila Winslett. Please call me back at your earliest convenience to discuss your situation at 1-800-555-3749 extension 525.” Before Stavros could click “next” on his softphone, his manager Nina stopped him.

“Stavros, what did I tell you about saying ‘financial’ on messages? That is considered disclosure, and we cannot disclose anything without them verifying first!”

“Sorry Nina, it won’t happen again.”

The everyday monomaty and hopelessness of Stavros' everyday existence is akin to the colour grey. Grey computer monitors sit on grey desks, where a grey old software program is contrasted only by the black block letters that spell out each client’s name and financial information.

The chairs are grey. The ceiling is grey. The carpet is grey. Everyone’s existence is set in a perpetual shade of grey. We all live a small, belittled and grey existence as collections officers at a large and faceless call center in the middle of nowhere, aka the suburbs of Saint John, New Brunswick. I sit behind Stavros, working the same routine as him every day, dialing on an automated system, trying to collect debts no one want to pay, negotiating down debts when we need to (but we can only go as low as 10% without manager approval, and of course our managers always say no. It’s better to keep the population in a perpetual state of debt than not raise our profits, right?)

I saw Stavros put his softphone on DND (do not disturb) a few minutes after that last call, being careful to not say ‘financial’ in his subsequent messages. 90% of what we did all day was leave messages, asking poor, indebted people to pay back credit cards and car notes to the Brunswick First Financial Group, a big bank from Moncton. Most of our debtors were locals from New Brunswick like us, immigrants or single mothers or disabled people just trying to get by as best as they could. When we did finally get someone on the phone, they would usually just call us names and shout and swear, while we have to remain calm.

Stavros stood up from his old swivel chair and I saw him looking out at the sea of old computer monitors, while immigrants and other people who generally lived just slightly better than most of their debtors clacked away at keyboards, entering notes and codes into the system using a collector’s shorthand (d na lvm = debtor no answer, left voicemail; lm w op = left message with other person; d hu = debtor hung up, etc). He removed his headset and placed it on his desk, his desk mate Latisha gave him a weird look as he walked toward Nina.

I could overhear him talking with her, “Nina I'm going to go use the restroom, okay.”

“Stavros your 15 minute break is in 10 minutes, get back to your desk and do your job!”

Stavros walked back to his desk looking ashamed and humiliated. Five minutes later the whole team got an email.


From: [email protected]

To: !BrunswickCollectors

Subject: Restroom Breaks

As is MTB policy, no collector is allowed to leave their desk outside of break time for any reason without a valid doctor’s note or management permission.

Nina Farazz

Manager, Northwest First Financial Group Department


MTB Solutions

3685 179th Street

Saint John, NB


Everyone looked over at Stavros with a glare.

This wasn’t the first time an email like this went out. In fact it happened about 10 times a week, when people were even a minute late from break, or when there was too much personal items on desks, or too many sticky note packs disappearing, or water bottles left behind in the break room, or people weren’t loud enough on the phones, and on and on. Managers found any petty reason they could to treat employees like trash, and employees accepted it because they needed the meager income that MTB provided, and many didn’t know any better than jobs where they were treated like s**t.

Five minutes after that email went out break time finally came around for us, except Stavros who was stuck on a call.

“Ma’am as I have told you, I cannot disclose any information until you can verify your entire address including your postal code.”

“Ma’am yes I need your postal code also.”

“No it should be letter, number, letter, number, letter, number.”

“No I cannot tell you the company I am calling on behalf of until you verify your postal code.”

By the time I was back from my smoke break he was still on the phone, moving back and forth uncomfortably. He really needed to use the toilet.

Five minutes after we got back to work Stavros finally had gotten off that call, I saw him quickly type into the system.

d no ver, was irate, hu

All that work for a hang up. Another stark reminder of our useless, grey life.

He stood up and started walking toward the door. That’s when I heard Nina. “Stavros where are you going? Break is over!”

“But I couldn’t go on break, I was on a call.”

“I didn’t see that, get back to your desk.”

“Check my call log if you want Nina.” Nina did not like being called out, she always had to be right.

“Come with me to the boardroom right now Stavros.”

I saw him walk out a few minutes later as I was on a call.

“Sir that’s right you haven’t made any payments on your car in five months, they get repo’d after 3 months of delinquency.” He didn’t like being called a delinquent and he exploded on me, I had to disconnect.

d ver, ref to pay, was irate, hu

I got off the call in time to hear Stavros telling Latisha that he got written up for insubordination. After two write ups in a month you would be suspended, three to get fired. I knew that this was Stavros’ first write up, he looked like he was about to cry.

I watched his autodial on his screen as the system tried to call millions and millions of numbers in the system, over and over again.

D. Forks of Saint John, NB

Ameen Satar from Charlottetown, PE

Kefir Odong from Bridgewater, NS

William Saterburg from Moncton, NB

There’s a few different types of people at collection agencies. There’s the type who just don’t give a f**k, they usually last for at least a year or so until they get fired. Usually they’re more laid back, don’t follow the rules very well and perform pretty good in numbers. Then there’s the type of Stavros, those that try really hard, could probably be in a much better job if not for circumstances, last about two years, and do okay in their numbers. Then there’s the type that hate their job and get pissed off all the time at management and debtors, these people usually only last a month or so and have terrible numbers. I fall into the third category, hence why I’m writing this story.


From: [email protected]

To: !everyone

Subject: Paycheques


I am about to hand out Paycheques. As is MTB policy, no one is to open the envelopes on the floor, nor discuss pay with anyone else here.

Thank you for your cooperation.

Ali Noora

Assistant Manager, Northwest First Financial Group Department


MTB Solutions

3685 179th Street

Saint John, NB


Finally it was almost the end of the day, and it was payday! $460.69 after taxes for 80 hours of work. Enough to almost pay rent. I guess I didn’t hit commission this month as I only got one envelope.

That’s right, I didn’t tell you how commission works in collections. If you don’t hit target, you don’t get any of it, the agency will keep it. If you do hit target, you get 5% - that extra $200 or so is how I can afford to buy meat in a month. Guess it’s Dollarama brand cereal and ramen again for another month.

I heard Stavros groan about his commission in the row ahead of me too.

And you probably noticed that email was sent by Ali, not Nina. Ali is Nina’s b***h essentially. He's not a very smart guy, and he wears the same old blue flannel sweater every day, and his mom still drives him to work at 43. That's the kind of winners that do life at MTB, the lifers as we call them.

Day 175

“This is Stavros from MTB services with another very important and very urgent message for Ralph Sanchez. Please call me back at your earliest convenience at 1-800-555-3749, extension 525.”

“Nice message Stavros, louder next time though.” F*****g Nina.

“This is Stavros from MTB services with another very important and very urgent message for Martin Alfredsson! Please call me back at your earliest convenience at 1-800-555-3749, extension 525!”

“Don't shout at them Stavros! Find some middle ground okay!” Goddammit Nina.

The day proceeded as normal, with no bathroom issues today. For lunch I heated up a packet of off brand Mr. Noodles, Stavros sat with me in the fluorescent bright break room eating a ham sandwich and we talked about last night’s hockey game. I wanted a coffee, but of course MTB wouldn't spring for a coffee maker and the closest coffee shop was like 3 kilometres away and this was no time to be wasting money on gas. Or coffee either really. They did so graciously have a pop machine with $2 pops, so I grabbed a Mountain Dew instead.

When we got back from lunch, we walked back to our desks, under the same bright fluorescent lights, walking the same dirty old grey carpet, to those grey desks with grey old ViewSonic monitors on them, those old deep monitors that take about 5 seconds to light up when you hit the power button. The computers ran Windows XP still, with all games disabled of course, no Minesweeper or Solitaire for us collectors!

I had a voicemail, I listed to it to hear an old man yell “Dirty Jew!” in my ear then hang up. Stavros had a voicemail too, I watched him intently as he listened deeply to the message.

He dialed Nina after the message was done. I got more curious about what it said.

“Nina.” “Yep. Listen to the last message I got.” “He sounds serious.” “Thanks.” Then he rejoined the outgoing calls queue. I was burning inside.

Matthew Blackwood of Saint John, NB

Nick Haroughe of Charlottetown, PE

Lyle Attley of Gagetown, NB

I listened as hard as I could to see if I could hear Nina after she took off her headset, her brow wrinkled she walked briskly toward the big boss’s office. Johnny was not a man to be fucked with. If this message was that bad she meant business.

“Hey Stavros, Stavros.” I whispered loudly.

“Yeah?” He turned his head slightly and rolled back about a foot.

“What did your message say?”

“I'll tell you at break.” And he rolled back up to his desk.

But he never got a chance to tell me that day, as he was called into the boardroom with Nina and Johnny. Two RCMP joined them a few minutes later. What. The. F**k.

Break was filled with rumours. I hopped in Artan’s beat up black Civic with Jose and Rick, three other members of our 11 strong team. Artan lit up a joint that we passed around while circling the parking lot slow, behind the tire and brake shops, the Sherwin Williams paint shop, the Motel 6, looking at the polluted river and the empty Highway 1. Oh yeah, I should tell you, if you get a call from a collector, chances are that he’s high, or going to smoke up soon, or did yesterday, or will smoke tomorrow. We all smoke weed, or at least the young men and many of the young women too.

So without Stavros we speculated. Jose was convinced that Stavros was in trouble for something, but the rest of us were more convinced it was some kind of threat made by a debtor to him or the company.

We hoped to see Stavros when we got back in, but the door to the boardroom was still shut, and the RCMP car was still outside our dilapidated office building.

Day 176

The next day Stavros wasn't in, the day was normal otherwise. Nina was working like normal at her desk, but no one would dare ask her what went on the day before.

An uneasy tension seemed to hang in the air. I texted Stavros below my desk, as cell phone usage is a huge no-no in the collections world, for fears that someone would steal the identity of the chronically indebted and try to sign up for cards they would surely be declined for. He never replied to me.

Day 177

“This is Stavros from MTB solutions with another very important and very urgent message for William Stapleton. William it is very important that you return my call as soon as possible at 1-800-555-3794 extension 525.”

How could he mess up the phone number? A number he had repeated probably more than 20,000 times in the last two years? Something was going on, it was wrong, so wrong, it was eating me up inside.

“Yo Stav! Stav! Stavros!” I whispered loudly to him. Nina shot me a piercing glare as if to say ‘get back to work’.

He just waved his hand and kept dialling away on the automated outgoing queue.

I was staring intently at his screen ahead of me, reading the names, listening to the messages and discussions

Mickey Rosewood of Moncton, NB

“Can I leave a message for him?” Click

Sage Santabrush of Fredericton, NB

“This is a very important message...” Click

Maria Espanosa of Bathurst, NB

“When will she be home?” Click

Jonathan Smith of Halifax, NS

“message for Jonathan Smith...” Click

Kelly Gupta of Yarmouth, NS

“Can you note down my number ple-” Click click click

No those weren't clicks of hang ups or buttons on a keyboard, those were clicks from a jammed gun, like the one my father taught me how to shoot in rural New Brunswick as a kid.

Click click click BOOM!

The sound was deafening. I heard a woman shout outside the door. Some collectors dove to take cover under their desks. The door crashed in, with only a leg visible.

“Where the F**K is Stavros?!”

F**k. It's an angry debtor.

Nobody moved or said a word. Some people still sat with their headsets on, but for the first time other than Sundays or 10pm-8am - the floor went completely silent.

The man started walking, starting everyone up and down. Then it seemed that he noticed the Brunswick Financial flag hanging above our head. He was still in the Rogers department ahead. He had to get through there to the ScotiaBank department, then be to us.

He was in Scotia in a few seconds, only a few more seconds to reach us.

He raised his AK-47 up to head level and fired a few rounds. F**k Tommy is hit. Tommy, the funny portly guy who was the nicest guy face to face but a demon on the phone had fallen.

S**t Kanoo is down too. Right beside me. Kanoo, the hardworking, middle aged Guyanese guy with a thick accent was dead.

I wish I could say that I pulled a Bruce Willis kind of move and subdued the attacker. After the fact I knew I would always consider myself a coward for not wrestling the gun out of his hand and smashing it into his face, or shooting him with it. But I have to admit that I was completely frozen, watching my coworkers, my friends die around me.

Somehow I noticed Stavros in all this too. I assumed he would feel the same way tomorrow (assuming he, or I made it out alive). He still had his headset on, boxes popping up on the screen as the auto dialler kept working.

DeAndre Atkinson of Saint John, NB

Felicia Jones of St. John’s, NL

I don’t remember ever having a debtor from Newfoundland, I remember myself thinking, they’ve almost all been from the Maritimes. I think I had one from Quebec once. Riviere-du-Loup maybe? Or Rimouski? Where the hell was he from? Wait. Why the f**k are you thinking of this right now?? Do something!!

John Jackson of Edmundston, NB

Felix Williams of Moncton, NB

But I was frozen, I couldn’t move. Everything was moving in slow motion, and I was stuck in molasses, not just my body but my brain too. Stuck in molasses and freezing at -20 degrees Celsius.  

Patrice Terrell of Sydney, NS

I saw Latisha, who either had the biggest smile or the biggest scowl on her face fall next. I didn’t even hear a bullet. Did he shoot her or is she just falling for some reason? I don’t know. I can’t tell. Yes there’s blood. WHY IS THERE BLOOD?

Cody Imani of Summerside, PE

I remember driving through Summerside when I was a kid, going to visit my aunt in Tyne Valley. Was that Thanksgiving or Christmas? There wasn’t much snow but maybe it wasn’t a cold year. Was there a tree? I couldn’t remember.

My mind couldn’t comprehend what was happening.

John LeGroux of Pugwash, NB

I noticed movement out of the corner of my eye.

Is Damon walking? I saw his tight yellow dress shirt, his man bun on the top of his head. Definitely Damon.

Did Damon just tackle the gunman?

That’s when I saw Stavros snap into it too.

Tanner DeShawn of Truro, NS

Trevon Canton of Lunenburg, NS

Damon from Rogers Credit, the biggest douchebag in the office knocked the guy in the back of the head, suckerpunch. There were always rumors he was banging half the girls in the office, or at least the hot ones. He had apparently donkey punched Sara from ScotiaBank once.

I started laughing. I don’t know why, I can’t explain it. I howled, thinking of the word donkey punch. I pictured a smiling a*s dancing the tango, wearing a sombrero and chugging margaritas on a beach in Cabo or Tijuana. I imagined him flailing, falling over while punching everyone around him.

As much as I was making an a*s of myself, bouncing between being stone cold frozen and laughing my butt off while a man killed my colleagues and Damon and possibly Stavros fought him.

I finally came to, and wiped the grin off my face. I saw the gunman on the ground in a pool of blood, groaning. I saw Damon pinned underneath him soaking in blood, and I saw Stavros, poor, poor Stavros lying dead on his computer monitor.

Raymond Taylor of Shelburne, NS

Ebony Jefferson of Saint Andrews, NB

Richard Jackson of Dieppe, NB

As I would be told afterwards, Stavros got up and jumped on his desk, lunging for the gunman while Damon was coming from behind. The gunman simply let out a few shots and downed the poor Stavros, then was hit from behind by Damon, who ended up using a knife in the gunman’s belt to stab him as they wrestled.

Damon ended up in the limelight, getting the credit for stopping the guy. I still hated him though.

Stavros became nothing more than a small footnote. Depending on the paper you read or the channel you watched on, he was either one of the four innocent collectors gunned down that day in suburban Saint John, or one of four evildoers who finally got their comeuppance. The rundown, dead looking stretch of land squished between the Saint John River and Highway 1, in a plaza with a paint store, a few tire shops, a Motel-6 and a Fireworks Outlet would never feel the same again. It was always the kind of place that people drive by and feel sorry for everyone there, if they think of them at all, now they will either feel worse for us, or wish that more of us died that fateful day at MTB. Despite the Bay of Fundy being right there, one of the wonders of the world, this was a grey hole along the coast of it.

Anyways, back to this fucked up day.

I saw Damon struggle a bit, and finally push the guy off of himself. He stood up, dripping in blood. Women and men from across the office slowly stood up, the bright fluorescent shining down on everyone like a retarded sun with the brightness setting turned right up.

I heard someone on the phone with 911, I heard sirens in the distance. I saw some people tying the hands of the gunman with extension cords, just in case he had any fight, or life for that matter left in him.

Richard Crawford of Charlottetown, PE

John Munroe of Dieppe, NB

I was about to stand up, to go shake Damon’s hand like everyone else was doing (I still hate him though), when I saw the door to Johnny’s office open. It was rumored that his office was like a suite, apparently you go through the first door into a tiny lobby area, then you open that door to find a massive office, apparently like 800 sq ft with a big, antique desk. On top of that, he has a private restroom with a shower, and I once overheard Sara from Rogers claiming that she had banged Johnny in a small bedroom that was behind the office too. How much truth there was to all of that, I’ll never know.

Johnny and Nina walked out of his office, and they looked shocked. He looked put together in a suit as always, but surprised look crept across his face. Nina on the other hand was a whole other story. She had disheveled hair, and the buttons on her blouse were done all wrong. Her makeup was smeared and running, they were literally f*****g while we went through all that.

“What is going on everybody? Why aren’t you working?” She shrieked at the top of her lungs. Everyone stopped and looked at her, dumbfounded.

“Well c’mon people, back to your desks!” I literally saw the cum on her face try to hide from her high pitched whiney screech. They had no clue what happened here.

“Uh Nina? Do you seriously have no clue about any of this?” Sangrev asked her.

“Any clue about what Sangrev? Why is everybody running around and talking?”

That’s when the cops ran in, SWAT team first, then regular uniforms then Paramedics. Nina was so f*****g embarrassed looking, about as bad as I was after laughing.

Bill DeCant of Welsford, NB

Nicholas Andropoulos of Hartland, NB

They secured the scene and started taking statements from everyone.

“Alright everyone, before and after your statement, there is no reason why you cannot be working!” Nina yelled out to the office.

Henry Joilet of Chipman, NB

“Uh ma’am, that’s not really the best idea. This place is a crime scene and these people are all victims right now. By the way you’ve got some kind of jelly or something on your face.”

© 2018 Jisad Oneida Cho

My Review

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This is f*****g great. You're up my alley. This approach to fiction and s**t - this is the way. Or, it's one of the ways. It's a way I dig.

Posted 3 Years Ago

1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Jisad Oneida Cho

3 Years Ago

Thanks Waconda! check out my other work, its not all as raw as this, but pretty similar style. Appre.. read more
The Twin Arenas

3 Years Ago

Yeah, I've checked it all out. I'm a huge fan. Best stuff I've come across here in years.
Jisad Oneida Cho

3 Years Ago

Wow great feedback, thanks so much! That makes me feel awesome! :)
A little different, unusual, yet amusing in a weird way. I could really see that grubby call centre office in my mind as the background to the narrative and the dialogue. Perfect cameo of minimum wage working.

Posted 3 Years Ago

1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Jisad Oneida Cho

3 Years Ago

Thanks a lot for the review ajmilton! I aim to write as weirdly amusingly dark as i can

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2 Reviews
Added on February 2, 2017
Last Updated on September 19, 2018
Tags: guns, shootout, terrorist, call center, collections, debt, poverty, canadian


Jisad Oneida Cho
Jisad Oneida Cho

Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Whoever I am really has no bearing on any of this. Like my s**t or not, it's up to you. I write weird s**t, I call my genre bizzaro fiction. more..

Beth Beth

A Story by Jisad Oneida Cho