Image by Christine Renney
The reception area is so vast that it easily engulfs all of those waiting. Each has found a space for themselves, somewhere to sit, to stand or to lean, even to pace, unhindered. Only he is unencumbered – he hasn’t a briefcase, no portfolio, no evidence of his brilliance. He has nothing to declare.
He watches the girl behind the desk and awaits his chance, the opportune moment to approach. Unlike the others, he hasn’t an appointment but instead a little insider info and a name and his plan is simply to wing it.
He isn’t sure if he is ready for what might be possible here and, standing in front of her, is suddenly aware of his ambivalence and casually he begins to improvise.
‘I don’t have an appointment.’
‘Oh,’ she looks up at him.
‘I know this is a little unorthodox but about eighteen months ago I worked with one of the employees here, freelance of course. He said that I should keep in touch, that I could contact him at any time. Well, I’ve been trying to reach him for days now, on the number I have for him, but keep hitting a wall and so I decided to come down here myself.’
This little speech rings in his ears, echoes in his head and sounds like utter bollocks. Even if it were true it couldn’t possible convince, could it? Surely not. But, yes, she asks it, the loaded question.
‘If you let me have your name,’ she says, ‘and the name of the employee I’ll see what I can do.’
And so he tells her and watches as she scrolls down the screen of her computer, searching for the name and number, for someone to call. He doesn’t bother to act incredulous, doesn’t pretend to be surprised when she tells him his colleague is no longer there. But although he isn’t really listening to the answers he already knows, when she asks him to go sit and wait he obeys.
It has all gone swimmingly and now that he is safely parked in lay-by a mile or so from there, he can give it some thought. It had worked like a charm; the name and his supposed association with a long since departed maverick. But his complacency had played its part, he had been impressive. They had repackaged their offer again and again. Coaxed him with the finer detail and all he had done was act aloof, as if he was about to get up and go.
Yes, without a doubt it had been the most auspicious of beginnings and eager to talk with his wife he reaches for his phone in the glove box, waiting impatiently for her reply.
‘It worked like a charm.’ It feels good saying it out loud but he now almost incoherent and the complete antithesis of his earlier self. Excitedly he blathers on, trying to tell it all at once, just what it will mean for them. A regular salary and the proposed bonus scheme, the health cover, the pension plan and the projected trajectory of promotion after promotion.
‘Are you sure about this?’ his wife sounds doubtful.
‘What do you mean?’
‘I mean are you absolutely sure about this?’
‘But we discussed this already, we decided together.’
‘Yes, I know, but aren’t you doing okay on your own? We’re all right aren’t we?’
‘Is it the deception? Because I lied?’
‘No, it isn’t that, well, yes maybe. I don’t know, I’m not sure. I know that you’re good at what you do and of course you will be good at it there and I know that it doesn’t matter, that we’ll forget but, I’m sorry, can we talk about it when you get home?’
‘Isn’t it a little late for that now?’
At her end she presses the red button and for a moment or so he sits with the phone clamped tightly against his ear to listen to the silence, to the highly charged static.
He is being led to his work station, not by one of the guys who last week conducted the impromptu interview. No, this is a fresh face, although following behind he hasn’t seen much of it.
The office is scarily large and he is reminded of a news room in one of those old black and white films, the chaos and the clamour. But he is mistaken, overwhelmed by the sheer scale and number of employees, all of whom are quietly engrossed at their screens. No, there is no chaos, no clamour here.
Up ahead, his guide is talking but he has fallen back and can’t hear. He can see the windows at the far end and hopes his desk will be in that area. At least then he will be able to look out.
And there it is at last – the empty station, his allotted space. He doesn’t stop but instead, forging forward, he pushes through the fire exit and wonders if it is alarmed.