Young British Slacker
By Rowan Edmonds
Cubicle hell – there’s no one gonna save you.
You kneel down and crawl underneath your desk in the open plan office. You know which square of carpet tile is loose and you have the section prized up already, revealing the hard, plastic grill beneath. The cover comes away silently, exposing a surprisingly large cavity directly below. Without looking back, you ease yourself feet first into the empty space and, pulling the grill in place behind you, disappear into the void.
“Compels the readers’ attention with its unique writing style and tactile-perfect realism in its stream of consciousness thoughts and emotions of a wage slave.” (Midwest Book Reviews)
ISBN 978 1 912226 26 9
You will never be the best. It is to your credit that you have accepted this fact. You have spared yourself from wasting years of your life on misdirected activity and pointless enterprise. Ambition is bad. Admit it, it was a relief to give up the dream.
There had been a time, in primary school perhaps, and then occasionally later, when you were always being told that you were the best. Best at English; top in Maths; fastest runner; most popular pupil: there was a brief bubble of existence back then when you genuinely thought that you were the best. It was a good feeling. You can still recall it with a warm glow. But the world of your youth had been very insular. You had been a big fish only because your pond had been so small. It is all a question of perception, and whatever inflated opinion that you may once have had about yourself, you had been never left in any doubt that visually, you had always been impaired.
You blink, slightly myopically, at the flashing screen in front of you. An error message demands your immediate attention. You hit a button on the keyboard at random, but nothing happens. The computer has frozen. Again. You feel a degree of empathy for it: teeth clenched with frustration, you sit, fixed in a catatonic stance of immobility, like an ice statue, seated at your desk. You wonder how long it would take for someone to notice your stationary pose. Hold your breath. Rigid. Eyes wide-open, unblinking, unflinchingly staring at the attention-seeking cursor; your hands poised, motionless, four outstretched fingers hovering just above the keys ‘I’ and ‘A’ and ‘M’ and ‘N’. Not moving a muscle. Your feet planted firmly on the floor, resisting the persuasive impulse to swivel your chair. The computer is emitting a faint, constant tinnitus-like hum: the background music to your working day. Out of sight, a photocopier is noisily spewing out a stream of paper and, at the far end of the room, several different voices compete, no one talking to each other, the headset in their ears their only answer: the loud false talk of vying ambitions. There is the rhythmic sound of a stapler being used on a monotonous chore, and a telephone ringing balefully at a vacant desk.
You exhale. Cubicle hell. There is no one gonna save you.
Best of Young British Insurance Administrators. It could have a snappy ring to it; perhaps if it was said with enough conviction. Although perhaps you are unduly flattering your status. Best of Young British Clerical Officers. What exactly is your job title again? Best of Young British Executive Assistants to the Corporate Claims Manager.
You have a non-job. In a non-organisation. In a non-industry. Don’t knock it: it has taken you several years to achieve this level of inconsequential indolence. When you were new––shiny, like a polished egg––you had worked hard at your job. You had been more innocent then; you had still talked about a career. The ‘c’ word had been used a lot in those days. You remember using it a lot yourself. Conscientious. It was how everyone had described you. Nowadays, no one even registers your existence, let alone comments upon you. Now you are wallpaper. And don’t go flattering yourself that you are some fancy patterned anaglypta. You’re not even a swirly flock, which everyone secretly loathes but is too polite to mention. No, we’re talking woodchip, plain and simple. Unloved and unnoticed.
This level of invisibility is not without its benefits, though. Indeed, it is the main reason that you have been able to devote so much time to your … What word best describes it? Moonlighting? No, not really. Calling? Rather too spiritual. Stick to factual accuracy. Exploration. That pretty well sums it up.
Best of Young British Explorers. Now that would be an accolade worth attaining. But you know who they’d give it to? Ranulph Fiennes, bet your life. Ignore the fact that he is older than your great uncle Billy, has undergone major heart surgery and lost several significant body parts to frostbite, he would still top the list. Or Benedict Allen. Or Bear Grylls. Or that other chap. The one who whittles. What’s his name? Ray Mears. Let’s face it, there are quite a few contenders ahead of you for the prize. And you know that you’d be penalised because your own exploration is not quite so far-flung. But what is the big deal with distance, in any case? Live where you are; don’t fool yourself into thinking that just by travelling halfway across the globe you are somehow going to alter who you are. There’s a big world out there. True. But there’s a far bigger world right beside you, if you only have the imagination to open your eyes to it.
You haven’t told anyone else about the tunnel that runs under your desk. You know what people are like; they’d jump to the wrong conclusions. They’d probably assume that you had dug it yourself, like it was some kind of Wooden Horse-type escape plan. It would only confirm what they already thought: that perhaps you were a little bit weird; best avoided. People don’t understand this kind of stuff. Talking in broad generalisations here.
You can hear someone calling out from the other side of the partition from you. Maternity Cover is asking if anyone has any more Rexel 9mm staples. You are too bored to answer. The open-plan office is a soup of indifference to you; each cubicle inhabitant an insignificant crouton, half-submerged in a viscous mix of bureaucracy, ambition and fear.
The tunnel––your tunnel––provides a lifeline away from the cruel reality of nine-to-five existence. You crave the womb-like security that it provides. Physically, there is no light at the end of it, but metaphorically it shines like the brightest beacon.
You push your chair back and stand up. The coast is clear. No one is looking; a battery of downcast eyes lost amidst an ergonomically designed maze. No one is moving. Now is your chance.
You kneel down and crawl underneath your desk. Wires and plugs entwine like serpents on the floor of a dark electronic jungle, each vying with one another to find its matching socket: phone line; internet connection; printer port. It is dusty on the floor and you find yourself wiping your hands together, instinctively. You know which square of carpet tile is loose and you have the section prized up already, revealing the hard, plastic grill beneath. There are screws at each corner––Philips head––but you have left them loosened from before and you are able to undo them swiftly by hand. The cover comes away silently, exposing a surprisingly large cavity directly below. Without looking back, you ease yourself feet first into the empty space and, pulling the grill in place behind you, disappear into the void.
Also available by Rowan Edmonds: The Probation.
Coming soon: The Working Dead and One Lost Glove, Found.