Free Drinks

John looks at the newly-opened bottle of beer on his table. He told the lads that he would drop in to the canteen “for one” before heading home. This would be his third bottle. Stuart simply placed the bottle next to John’s as-yet-unfinished second bottle and returned to the other lads, all flirting shamelessly with the women from their neighbouring team on the second floor. John doesn’t really mind, of course; he has no plans for the evening and, besides, work drinks are free drinks. It’s standard to have free drinks and some trays of sandwiches or finger food, that’s one reliable thing about every work-do. And it doesn’t count as over-indulging when work are providing the supplies.

John sits at the table listening to Gerry Byrnes, the oldest member of the team, a man that always makes a point to introduce himself as Gerry Byrnes and is thus always referred to by his full name, as he regales John about the glory days of Louth Gaelic Football. It’s a brief enough story, with a recent episode involving Meath in the Leinster Championship Final that makes Gerry Byrnes visibly furious. Sinking his second beer and beginning the third, John moves the conversation along to a lighter subject.

“Tell me this, Gerry Byrnes,” he begins, “what is it that we’re here for, anyway?”

“Ah now,” Gerry Byrnes replies stoically, “that’s the grand question we’re all asking, isn’t it?”

John smiles and shakes his head. “No, no,” he corrects himself, “I mean, this thing right now. What’s this shindig all about?”

Taking a moment, Gerry Byrnes scratches his head and folds his arms, fixing a stare on the ceiling. He turns back to John after his pondering with a fleeting grimace crossing his face.

“D’y’know what, I haven’t the faintest wee clue, hai,” Gerry Byrnes says in a way that is not at all a caricature of a Louth native. “Sure, no matter, there’s free drinks anyway.”

John scans his brain for possible causes of celebration in the building. Is there a new manager appointment? Someone getting a promotion? Is it a birthday? Someone retiring? Is the company being bought or sold or taken over? John dismisses each possibility after due consideration and arrives at no clear explanation for this evening’s work-do. All that he remembers clearly is that the lads insisted free drinks would be available. Looking around the canteen, John sees that Rosie from his team is scanning the room for a free seat. John waves and points to the empty chairs at his and Gerry Byrnes’ table.

“I feel like an eejit for asking,” John says as Rosie takes a seat at the table, “but do you know who or what this ‘do’ is for?”

Rosie shrugs as she rests her glass of red wine on the table. “No idea. All I heard is that there’d be free drinks.”

“Fair enough, so,” John nods. Rosie makes the mistake of asking Gerry Byrnes what they’ve been talking about and as Gerry Byrnes re-opens the old wounds once more, John continues to look around the canteen for an answer. He tries to tell himself that it’s not important, but it’s mystifying that no one seems to know anything about this event beyond the detail that there are free drinks.

At a nearby table, John sees his manager Robert about to move off from chatting with that group. John beckons for Robert to come over.

“This may sound a bit silly,” John starts, “but do you know what this is all in aid of, by any chance?”

Robert glances quickly around the canteen, lowering his voice as he leans between John and Rosie in a confidential manner.

“Honestly…” Robert says, with a sheepish look on his face,”…haven’t got a clue. I was finishing a report upstairs and all this just happens to be going on. Apparently, the drinks are free… I think there’s some food somewhere, too.”

While a part of John accepted Robert’s answer as the standard line, he pushed for something more. Not a promotion? Or a birthday? Someone retiring? Is there a novelty cake in the room with a nice, clear dedication written on the icing to provide an answer?None of these things. Robert shakes his head and shrugs his shoulders, as confused as John about the whole event. Dissatisfied with there being no clear reason, John takes it upon himself, discreetly, to mingle among the assembled group and gently prod for more information.

Except, no one in the assembled company actually seems to know. One of the women from the fifth floor admits to arranging for food. “Oh, I always do,” she explains. “Once there’s an event on the calendar or I hear about free drinks going on, I book the caterer. I’ve been with this company for 18 years and for the last 12, whenever there’s a little event, for whatever reason, I arrange for there to be food. That’s just the way it’s done around here, I suppose.”

John discovers that, in a similar way, a man from the fourth floor arranges for the chairs and tables to be laid out with the facilities staff, without ever being asked by someone directly. “That’s my little part in any of these things, I suppose,” the man said with a vague sense of duty. “Couldn’t have the food here and the free drinks and not have a few tables and chairs about the place for people to sit and all that.”

John is perplexed. What is the reason for this gathering? What are people here to celebrate? Or, do free drinks just appear on a table in the canteen and everything else falls in to place around them? John, now on his fourth bottle, takes a large gulp and tries to calm himself. Really, did there need to be any sort of reason? When John asked this of a group, one woman volunteered that it would be her 25 year anniversary with the company in a couple of weeks. Her immediate colleagues raise a toast and a congratulatory round of applause. Behind them, one of the managers points out a woman from his team that recently returned from maternity leave, while a male colleague from her team announces that his wife would soon be having twins. Both of these offerings receive applause and congratulations, also.

With that, John forgets about finding a reason for the event in favour of simply enjoying the evening. Conversation flows, food trays move around the room, and the drink supply steadily decreases. Over the course of the evening, it emerges that there are many reasons for celebration, even though no one could quite agree on the main cause for this particular event to happen in the first place. By the end of the night, all agree on the need for another such event the following week for…

Oh, who knows! Anyway, there’ll be free drinks.