Do you like high stakes? Are you an internet search wizard? Can you keep a secret? We’re hiring! Call us today!
I’d been sat in front of the laptop now for at least 2 hours. Between ordering coffees from the comfortable surroundings of table 106 of generic coffee place number 5 in the city centre, I was busy checking my phone, biting my lip, checking my phone, picking my nails, did I mention checking my phone? The real reason I was here was to find myself a new job. This was day 1. Hour 2. Coffee 3. I was beginning to think this might be day 1 of a very long and laboured search. I’d better start drinking decaf, I thought.
I flicked through page after page of job vacancies. It had been a very unproductive day so far, unless you count raising my heart rate due to caffeine consumption as an achievement. Advert after advert of the typical office-type affair which I’d just left. I’d left with the ambitious/naive objective of actually doing something positive with my life. Offering something beyond just getting through the day to day.
I was approaching 40 at breakneck speed with no real direction in life. Yes, I had a nice flat, a girlfriend, a job. But was I happy? Nah, not really if I was honest with myself. I’d began reading self-help books, much to Jennifer’s amusement. I progressed to YouTube tutorials and lectures and then after becoming a complete fanboy of one particular Canadian professor, I went to see him speak live. It shot a jolt of energy right through me from the soles of my wildly uncomfortable Converse to the tip of my male pattern baldness. The final words he left the sold out crowd, of mostly men that looked pretty much exactly like me, with were:
“If you are not willing to be a fool, you can’t become a master”.
I don’t know why but it resonated. I’d read it in his book, I’d seen him say it a million times on online videos, but hearing it directly from him in the flesh just hit me like a clap of thunder. Butterflies immediately formed in me and my whole body tingled.
Was this an epiphany? A revelation? Whatever it was, unlike most of my ideas which tended to creep up on me and nest in my mind whilst in the shower, it stayed with me. I knew right there and then that I would grasp a hold of the thought and endeavour to live by it from then on.
So it was with this new found life motto in mind, that I marched into the office the next morning with my chest puffed out like a jacked-up kangaroo ready to throw down, and I quit. I quit my boring 9-5, Monday to Friday job.
So far so fool.
So, about this master part, when does that come I wondered.
Talking of fools, there was another area I’d been considering.
“You are not obligated to associate with people who are making your life worse” he’d said. Yeah, that resonated too.
I’d been with Jennifer for 6 years. We were going nowhere fast. Lethargy had sunk in and we were going through the motions. We’d sit down every few months and talk about making more of an effort with eachother, we’d talk about things we could do together and it was fine again, for a while. But those things never materialised. You know the type of things you tell eachother to convince yourselves you can turn things around – date nights, cooking for eachother, closing the bathroom door…..but yeah, we quickly fell back into our old routine. By that point my only real form of intimacy was bumping into fellow commuters on the underground. I was lonely, bored and sleep walking my way through my thirties. I made a promise to myself to talk to her when I got back from my job search/coffee marathon and began the scrolling through the vacancies again.
“Hey!” a voice said, her head down, rummaging through her bag as she plopped herself down at my table. “I’m so sorry I’m late, I had to take Roger to the groomers and then the traffic was….” eventually she looked up at me realising I wasn’t who she thought I was. I was a little speechless. This girl was absolutely gorgeous. Brown hair, beautiful green eyes, kind face. “Hey” I said laughing. She looked confused. “Oh my god!” she said, jumping up in surprise, the wooden chair screeched along the hard flooring, toppling over with a bang. The rest of the place turned in silent unison as if an unfamiliar cowboy had walked into the wrong saloon. Flustered she turned to pick it up then dropped the contents of her handbag. “Oh my god!” she muttered to herself again.
I got up and helped her pick up her stuff, there were bars of chocolate, hair bobbles, pens, lists and lists of papers with shopping to be bought on them. “I am so sorry” she said, “I’m supposed to be meeting my brother, I glanced over from the counter and saw a young guy sitting here, I thought you were him”. This is all came out in one breath as she scrambled about trying to pick up the rest of her handbag contents. I couldn’t stop smiling. “Blasphemy aside, it’s absolutely fine” I laughed. I eventually got my first proper look at her face as we both stood up looking at eachother.
You know that way where you have an idea which you’ve developed of how someone looks but then you see them close up and they look like a different person? Yeah, that. I thought I knew what this girl looked like until our eyes met. I genuinely felt dizzy. I don’t know how else to describe it except to say that I felt an instant connection with her. Almost like my brain was donking me over the head and saying “Ah, there she is”. Time seemed to pause for us both as we took eachother in.
“Willing to be the fool“.
Screw it, I thought. What’s the point in having a motto if I’m not willing to live by it?
My body was clearly on board, because the next thing I heard was my voice saying “So, do you want to sit down? Unless of course you have a different god to be cursing out somewhere else?”
She smiled and pursed her lips at me which looked to me like, oh you poor thing.
I’m getting really good at this fool thing, I thought.
“I’d love to, but I really have to meet my brother. I’m so sorry” she said. With that she apologised maybe another 5 times and offered to buy me my next coffee. My shaking hands and thundering pulse suggested that was maybe a bad idea. Then she disappeared back out the door.
My rosy complexion and wounded pride at being politely turned down by thee most beautiful girl I’d ever set eyes on aside, I was pretty chuffed with myself for giving it a shot. It cajoled me into ordering a bottle of water and recommencing my search. I promised myself I’d give it another hour, then head back to the flat. Back to Jennifer.
The mood must have been contagious because the next vacancy I scrolled over was short, to the point and about as perfectly ambiguous as it could have been to reel me in. It hit me straight between the eyes like a knockout punch.
Do you like high stakes? Are you an internet search wizard? Can you keep a secret? We’re hiring! Call us today! 0845 670 670
I laughed to myself and took a quick photo of it with my phone to share in the group chat. It sounded like a private eye advert from a kids comic strip. I wondered if it came with regulation fake spectacles and moustache.
It was intriguing though. For one, it didn’t involve the most generic of all vacancy descriptions ‘policy development’ or worse, secretariat duties to some fancy pants, chin-stroking group of cheap business suits kicking ideas around but ultimately never doing anything.
I thumbed the number into my phone and called.
“Where are you?” snapped a familiar sounding male voice.
“Um, I’m in Tascaun Coffee on Bridge Street, table 106”. Why was I telling him my table number?!
“Did you recently meet a female looking for her brother?”
“Ummm, em, what?!?” I stuttered.
“Please answer the question”.
“Yes, I did but how did you…”
The line went dead.
I sat back in my wooden chair, confused, staring blankly at my phone. As I looked up from my computer I saw the doors to the coffee shop open and with it my stomach hit my throat. She was back and looking directly at me. Thee most beautiful girl was beaming a full gleaming toothed smile at me and making her way towards me.
“Hey!” she said, and very deliberately pulled out the seat and sat down opposite me. This time there was no clumsiness, no blasphemy. She was deliberate and clinical. She asked if I’d received the call, and following my mumbled, stuttering confirmation, she gestured for me to pack up my things. “We need to go then”, she said and stood up from the table.
In a daze I was still throwing my bag over my back as I followed her out the shop and along the street. She beeped open a blacked out Range Rover and jumped in the drivers side. She opened the window and smiled at me as I stood rooted to the spot. “Well?” she asked. “Are you willing to be a fool in order to become a master, Connor?” I jumped in the passenger side.
Through a mostly conversationless journey, she drove us out of the city and into a small village on the outskirts. The windy, unassuming roads were flanked by beautiful fields and trees. Finally, she slowed to a canter, pulled up by the side of the road, popped her belt and gestured for me to follow. I followed her for ten or so paces down the quiet road when she turned to me and smiled. “Here we are” she said. “Your first test”.
She explained that I was to walk to the end of the road and turn right at the junction, around 50 metres down the road in front of us. She told me to close my eyes just as I was in the process of turning right and to walk forward.
Without questioning these instructions, I turned on my heel and started making for the junction. As I made my way down the road I heard the revving of a car engine and turned to see her taking off the opposite way. Guess this was a solo adventure then. I assumed the chances were she’d somehow nabbed my wallet and I’d been well and truly honey trapped for the £30 in my back pocket. A pat across my jacket and jeans pockets revealed the answer, my wallet remained safely tucked in the back right hand pocket of my jeans.
I reached the end of the road and took a deep breath before closing my eyes and forcing myself to turn right, half expecting to end up on Platform 9 3/4’s with the Weasley’s.
A strange sensation came over me, like when you walk down a stationary escalator, or when you jump on solid ground after trampolining for an hour. I stood in a dark room which seemed to be moving. The lights flickered on and I realised I wasn’t alone.
The small, dusty looking man stood in the corner of the room facing me, his beady little eyes boring holes into me. He was dressed in an official looking faded brown suit which had seen much better days, he had on wide, circular-rimmed glasses and had a bushy moustache which hid his top lip. His skin looked an unhealthy shade of grey, and if I was forced to pin an age on him, I would have to guess that the funeral home would soon be in touch with him to reserve a spot.
“Lovely day”, he croaked at me in a hushed voice. “Won’t be long now, we’re just heading to the 14th floor”.
So, I’d been accosted by a beautiful stranger, invited into her car, dropped off in the middle of nowhere and had now wandered into a…..lift operated by what appeared to be a 100 year old man? OK, sure. I nodded my head to the old man in acknowledgement and tried to get a look at him, without staring. He chuckled, mostly to himself, but as his raspy chuckle turned into a cough he looked up at me again. “Don’t worry son, there’ll be alot more interesting than me for you to look at soon”.
As I began to form a response, seemingly trying to ask him a number of questions simultaneously, the lift pinged and the doors stuttered open. “Good luck young man, you’re in for an interesting day”, the old man wheezed and gestured for me to step out of the lift. I thanked him and made my way out of the lift and into a small, dark corridor. As I turned to see the lift doors shutting, the old man was no longer visible to me. I cried out for him to wait, rushing forward towards the lift doors to get a look at him again, but to my confusion the lift was completely unoccupied and the doors slammed tightly shut on one another.
I turned and looked out towards the corridor in front of me. Without the light of the lift illuminating it, it was dark and cold. The walls flanking me seemed to be some sort of metallic material. I could just about make out a strange, blurred reflection of myself in either side. The floor was carpeted, an inoffensive beige colour which wouldn’t be out of place in any new build property across the country. The contrast of the industrial walls and homely flooring was odd but then again, nothing about this made much sense so far. I slowly paced my way along the dark corridor, hands out in front of me to check for any obstacles. My obscure reflection in my peripheral vision was beginning to give me a horrible sense of being watched so I purposefully kept my eyes ahead to avoid looking at myself on either side.
After 50 or so metres, my hands met another wall. After some mild panicking that I had been dropped off in some sort of doorless room which was about to begin closing in on me, my right hand landed on a round door handle which I hastily turned.
My eyes clamped tight shut as the brightness pierced it’s way to the back of my eyeballs like arrows shot from an Olympic archer. I instinctively dropped to my knees and covered up my eyes with my hands, screaming out in pain. In the distance somewhere this was met with amusement. A solitary, familiar laugh echoed it’s way around the room, then footsteps became louder and louder until they came to a stop. I could sense this person was well within my personal space and could feel their presence just in front of me.
I squinted out from between my clasped fingers, trying to let the brightness in slowly. The arrows pierced my eyeballs again as I slowly opened them further and further. In front of me were a pair of shiny white Nike Classic Cortez leather trainers, the red Nike tick and blue rim looked immaculate. How did I know this particular brand of trainer so well? Because they were the exact same shoes I was wearing.
Through the bright of the room, I looked up, squinting at the person standing above me. As they smiled and greeted me with a casual “Hey!”, I was overcome with a sudden and extreme sense of nausea before my legs disappeared from under me.
As I came to, still in the same spot, I was aware of the presence still there, gently rocking me back and forth.
My eyes adjusted to the bright room much more easily this time and I looked around before settling my eyes on the figure again. The nausea hit me again and I bit my teeth down hard to try to stop myself from throwing away £15 worth of coffee from this morning. My mouth was awash with saliva but I managed to fight it back.
“I know what you’re thinking”, he said to me. “This is messed up”.
“I tried to make it as easy as I could on you. A car ride with a beautiful woman was OK right? And I thought the old guy would be comforting. He’s sweet!”
The words were coming out of his mouth but he may as well have been talking an alien language. I was sat on the floor, recovering from fainting, trying to prevent a stomach full of coffee erupting whilst being talked to by, what appeared to be a slightly younger version of myself. From the Nike shoes and patchy beard to the unmistakable attempt at hiding imminent early pattern-baldness on top, this was 25 year old me.
“Am I dead?” I muttered to him, well, me. He laughed and put a hand on my shoulder. “You’re not dead, Dad. I’m so sorry to do this to you but you’re the only one I could tell. I’ve come to try and stop it all from happening again and you specifically told me I shouldn’t contact anyone I know, but I couldn’t do it without you”.
“Dad?” I said softly as the floor flew up to meet my face once again.