Enter the Dragon
You emerge from the Victoria interchange a different man. Twenty minutes of cramming, two double-shot lattes and a cheat sheet have you de-programmed and ready to re-enter the workforce. The frenzy of peak-hour London unravels before you in hushed whispers and stolen looks. The undead have arisen and are wearing Primark.
Mindful of the advice of your peers you avoid all eye contact with your fellow commuters. Only the omniscient narration of machines, the flutter of Metro’s and the slurping of coffee punctuate awkward silences.
The rickety train bobbles across the mid-summer Thames. Everywhere Impressionists rejoice at the interplay of light and water, of reflection and induction. From this watery grave, branded into London’s fleshy hindquarters is Battersea Power Station’s commentary on Industrial decline. Pink Floyd’s post-apocalyptic vision of flying Pigs is a welcome footnote to your own never say never reality.
“Please ensure you are in the correct part of the train the next Station is Battersea Park, this is a Epsom train travelling via Norbury.” Coffee is slurped. Pages are turned.
You alight to the chill Northerlies whistling across your naked flesh as failed traffic lights leave civility in their wake. Piggybacking a young mother and pram as human shield you stroll past the calamity expertly dodging the maddening crowd.
Children run. Horns blare. Strangers exchange profanity.
Defiantly, the overworked forge a path through the wall of stalled commuters with the righteousness that accompanies the scoundrel. The irresistible force and the immoveable object cast each other as villains sneering and waving their arms in furious incomprehensible patterns.
There’s a temptation to observe futility, to see struggle as cause as an idling Hyundai Sport stands equally useless beside the fuel-injected inertia of modernity.
Bodies in motion, bodies at rest.
For every action an equal and opposite reaction.
Anger is just depression turned outwards.
All these thoughts flash through your mnd as you type in your entry code for Thompson Thompson and Smith, your prospective employer.
You’ve prepared heavily for this moment, fraud that you are. You wear the suit of a more learned man and the demeanour of the believer. Buzzwords, catchphrases and assorted cultural memory combine to create the carbon copy that enters the office and enthusiastically greets the interviewer with a firm, double-handed shake.
“I swear to god, I had a short back and sides when I left this morning” you venture, forgiving for a moment the clammy paw engorging your phalanges in one grateful assault. There’s enough in your tone to reveal that this, in intent if not in practice, is humour, the appreciation of which sends Thompson, Thompson or Smith into a spluttering ensemble of desperate gasps for air perforated by harsh, guttural coughing.
You have the presence of mind to intimate intent towards the water cooler before Thompson, Thompson Smith’s handkerchief wielding hand re-directs you to your seat. Gratefully you retake your position and return to mentally rehearsing the push-pull strategy you’ve honed over the last series of interviews: dotcom gift-wrapper, medical guinea pig and subway sandwich artist. I’m nothing if not versatile you consider, careful to note-to-self for future application.
Self-congratulations are short-lived however as you recognize the riotous applause ricocheting through your subconscious to be the still beating larynx of this suffocating managing director rather than a random sampling of your peers.
Startled and betrayed you slink behind the hulking mass and let out a random assault of consonants in a sudden burst of Latvian shock therapy. Your expert application is by no means the end of the cacophonous onslaught proving no match as still wave upon wave of peristaltic aftershocks bring his eyes to water and his life within inches.
‘Not hiccups,’ you surmise, as much accusation as diagnosis. Unable to pool the cumulative knowledge of a recovering professional student to anything of a positive medical nature you let the staccato continue as you de-lint your shirt and straighten the trite ‘world’s best’ ornaments adorning his desk.
“The whole world’s going to hell,” he manages at last, as if picking up from where you left off, as though the last three minutes of confidence shaking vibrato were as natural as his Windsor knotted Mickey Mouse tie.
He regards you with suspicion, as an Emu might its wing.
“Are you a tea man Johnnie?” he asks.
“Who isn’t a…”
“I can’t stand it, that dog piss gives me gas. You know what gas is Johnnie?”
“Well I’m not an expert, but…”
“Yeah you Princeton fairies are never experts are you?”
“But I never went to Princ…”
“Rebecca!” he hollers into the gravely buzz of the desktop intercom eliciting a startled yelp, followed by the scurrying feet of his effeminate personal assistant.
“Get me and Tinkerbell a couple of JD’s neat. Neat sweet cheeks, that’s no ice.”
Rebecca rolls his eyes playfully.
“No ice princess - write that down!”
Rebecca looks to you for support his last vestige of humanity before you, a whimpering kitten beneath your wheels. You stand up and drape a reassuring feline-loving appendage around his quivering shoulders.
“Rebecca?” you ask, looking quizzically from Thompson Thompson Smith to his long-suffering assistant.
“I have to say sir, may not be much for brains but she’s got a grr-eat ass.” You finish, an ear-splitting horse bite your punctuation, in one foul haemorrhaging swoop unburdening a lifetime of little brother syndrome on Rebecca’s ballooning epidermis. Aghast Rebecca turns a hasty retreat chased by more hearty coughing.
A warm patriarchal grin peels across Thompson Thompson Smith’s sun-ravaged features. Ten years of farmed UV’s silently wrestle his generously cherubic features, cornering his intent into a familiar lob-sided grimace. The awkward interplay of raised eyebrows and see-sawing emotion leads you around his labyrinthine Victorian offices answering a few unasked questions as he gesticulates indiscriminantly. “What makes Thompson Thompson Smith a world leader in consultancy?” He slams his hand on a stack of photocopy paper. “The people. Like Winston here.” Winston turns a half-hearted wave as he talks on his headset and absent-mindedly snaps his pearl suspenders. “I’ll ask the questions James, you just find me answers! Don’t give me that, don’t you give me that Mister I need these reports dancing by lunch time! Well I…yeah but…I was thinking Maze for canapés. Yeah eleven’s good.”
You drink in the affluent environs and executive excess. The offices hum with all the activity of its cast of thousands. “What’s the difference between success and failure? Understanding the market. You see Tom you buy cheap you get cheap, if nothing changes, nothing changes. You get me?” He pauses looking at you for a flippant summary of his inane doublespeak. “Hey look my name’s Jack and your arse ain’t buyin’.” He slaps your back with enthusiasm and his face creases into reassuring leathery dimples.
Rebecca brushes past offloading two Campari’s on soda. Thompson Thompson Smith takes his to hand and drinks in the musk in a single mid-sentence gulp. “Jack look around here and tell me what you see.” You know this is rhetorical, that he’s just waiting for a chance to interrupt you so you let him hang a beat. Two beats. “Since you ask…” “I’ll tell you what I see, I see the best years of my life passing me by. I’m not an unhappy man Jeffray, just a lonely one. Do you know what its like to feel the dark closing in, to see the homeless drinking in the streets and to feel envy? Do you know what its like to cry yourself to sleep at night knowing that tomorrow is inescapable?” He’s fucking with you. “With all due respect sir…” “I’m fucking with you asshole! You should see your face!”
Rebecca returns shaking a polaroid with a look of self-satisfaction, “This is your office dickhead, enjoy.” He slaps the unflattering polaroid on the door with ‘2ic’ pencilled along its base and the office creakily reveals itself. “I’ll leave you to get better acquainted with team Crystal HQ, as Project Manager for Crystal I imagine you’ll want to get stuck in.”