PAST, PRESENT AND FUTURE: SELF-EVALUATION IN AN AGE OF SELF-DOUBT

FADE IN: A small, boxed shape room with three figures sat behind a raised panel and a single wooden stool in the centre. MS PAST, a middle aged woman, sits on the left of the panel with short hair and a smart, grey business jacket. MR PRESENT occupies the middle seat, a young man with long wavy hair, wearing a colourful baggy t-shirt. On the right is MR FUTURE, a middle aged man wearing full business attire who is writing furiously on a notepad.

A man walks in and gradually makes his way to the stool. 

Mr. Present: Good afternoon Sam and thank you for coming in for your end of year review. You know me, along with Ms. Past on my left and Mr. Future on my right. As ever, we will be assessing your performance over the past year here at Life Ltd as well as looking at where you’re at today and, of course, your next steps.

Sam: Thank you sir, and good afternoon to you all.

Mr. Present: Mr Future let’s turn the cups on last year and have you begin.

Mr. Future moves forward with his hands clasped together. In front of him rests a cup of coffee, steaming and ink black.

Mr. Future: So Sam, where do you see yourself going in the next year, three years, five years?

Sam: Well this is a question I’ve thought about a lot, but as of yet I haven’t come up with a real answer.

Mr. Future sighs loudly and rests his right hand upon his forehead.

Mr. Future: So the same as last year then? What ever happened to doing a Masters at LSE, or was it UCL? Or moving abroad for 18 months to work on your languages? What about the weeks you spent looking at different law schools? The Teach First application you retracted? Or was it social work? Can you see how this is getting frustrating for me Sam? How can I paint you a masterpiece if you can’t decide on a landscape?

Sam: I’m well aware how frustrating this must be for you Mr Future. I’ve certainly been frustrated with it myself.

Mr. Future: So what do you propose? I can hardly give a high grade to your efforts judging by the lack of any clarity of vision.

Sam: But if I may sir, vision doesn’t always require a target. To take your analogy further, I would say that many painters do not know what their painting will look like when they begin. More important is what they bring to the canvas.

Ms. Past: You haven’t always brought what’s required to your canvas Sam.

Mr. Present: Please Ms. Past, your turn will come shortly.

Mr. Future: Thank you Mr. Present. Now Sam I empathise with your view, I really do. But life is a war, not a battle. You can’t run headfirst into the front line with all the valour you can muster and expect it to work out. There are a hundred front lines and each requires a different strategy. You need a plan to win.

Sam: To win what, may I ask?

Mr. Future: A position of responsibility which affords you the power necessary to affect real change in the areas important to you.

Sam: You sound like a civil servant.

Mr. Future: Maybe I am. Does that sound like a desirable future?

SAM and MR. FUTURE stare at each other coldly for several moments. MR. FUTURE turns to MR. PRESENT.

Mr Future: That concludes my part of this review. (Turning to SAM) Sam, all in all I’m disappointed. I wanted something tangible this year and you’ve given me a list of ‘almost’ projects which collectively tell me you haven’t a clue what you’re doing and prefer sprinting towards whims rather than planning for the long term. I hope you’ll bring me something to work with next year.

Mr. Present: Well, on to me then. So how are you doing Sam? Civil Servant now eh? How are you feeling about it all? Tell me what’s on your mind at this very second?

Sam: Well I guess I’m feeling cautiously optimistic. I have a job application in the runnings and I’m hoping…

Mr. Present: (interrupting) Watch out there, I’m talking about now, not possible futures. I want to know how you feel about work at this second. Remember, the future is full only of possibilities; but now is all that exists.

Mr. Future: I’ll excuse you for bringing my importance into question here, Mr. Present, seeing as I comprise of all that will be.

Mr. Present: Sorry if you’re offended Mr. Future, but I speak truth. All that will be is the consequence of what is.

MR. FUTURE harrumphs loudly. 

Sam: Well I guess I feel like I’m in limbo.

Mr. Present: That’s better, so where’s that coming from?

Sam: I imagine it’s rooted in a need for something beyond logic. I heard a quote recently that resonated. Barbra DeAngelis wrote “if you let your mind talk you out of things that aren’t logical, you’re going to have a very boring life. Because grace isn’t logical. Love isn’t logical. Miracles aren’t logical.” She puts it better than I could. 

Mr. Present: Sounds to me like you’re searching for magic.

Sam: That would be accurate. I’ve been living through one window for so long. It’s all I’ve ever looked through.

Mr. Present: Veering into the past there Sam…

Sam: I’m sorry but it doesn’t seem like there’s much room in the here and now without making reference to past and future.

Mr. Present: From the past is born doubts and regret; from the future, agitation and a simple inability to be content. If you were incarcerated I’d still want you to focus on improving yourself here, in the present. The alternative – clinging onto what came before or tying your happiness to what you hope will happen – is at its core a pernicious form of escapism.

Sam: Fine, then I guess I’m unhappy. Let’s not go so far as to say deeply because I don’t think that’s the case, but I am tying my happiness to the future. There’s no doubt about that.

Mr. Present: Good Sam, this is progress. And the next step is to realise that a lot of this is about perspective. Let’s take yours: you’re in a job you’re not certain about and you doubt your world and where it’s heading.

Sam: I’m feeling worse now, FYI.

Mr. Present: Yes yes but let’s take another perspective, ok? You’re at the start of your career, exploring yourself and connecting with an array of interesting people. And the world needs people who doubt it, as long as that doubt is transformed into something that makes you feel compelled to change it.

Sam: Should I be paying for this service?

Mr. Present: Probably. But let me put this question to you: what are you today?

Sam: I can’t give one answer to that, and I don’t think you’d want me to. Most accurately I can say I’m a list of contractions. A desire for recklessness and security, inertia and proactivity, good and bad, compassion and coldness, wisdom and stupidity.

Mr. Present: And how does it feel to be these things?

Sam: It feels better knowing they’re there. Better than being a captain tied to the mast of his ship, forced to watch the wheel turning with the tide. I once read and largely agree with the idea that all people are built of contradictions; like an arch they hold us on a narrow path, insanity to each side. A man without contradictions to balance him will soon veer off.

Mr. Present: Thank you Sam that’s quite eloquently put. (Turning to Ms. Past) He’s all yours.

Ms Past: Thank you, Mr. Present. Sam, it’s almost been 25 years. That’s a quarter of a century. Now I have one question I want to ask you, but before I do, I want you to tell me what you think it is.

Sam: Well I’d imagine it would have to do with the last year – how I feel it went, for instance. Whether it met my expectations. What I’ve learnt etc.

Ms Past: And if it were?

Sam: Well Mr. Future will know as well as I that it didn’t go as expected, in large part because I had no concrete expectations…

Ms Past: Go on.

Sam: I had a lot of different plans, each changing rapidly the moment I got close. Like a sailor drawn to jagged rocks by the sirens of modern day employers.

Ms Past: Although some of those sirens deemed you unworthy for their jagged rocks.

Sam: (with a deep breath) Yes. That’s true. I was turned down from several positions.

Ms Past: And are you a broken man as a result?

Sam: Not broken, but definitely less keen on applying for new jobs. The amount I’ve failed to get, my subconscious is starting to associate the application process itself with failure. It’s become a self-fulfilling cycle.

Ms Past: A small problem and nothing you can’t overcome.

Sam: I know it is.

Ms Past: But knowledge is never enough – just because you know the right choice doesn’t mean you won’t pick the wrong one. You need to know wisely.

Sam: What does it mean to know wisely?

Ms Past: It means knowing not just reason for your actions, but your reason. People are like oceans Sam. Acts made from the shallows lack conviction and the change they can create is limited. But when you act from the depths you can shift the tide.

Sam: Sounds like I need to go diving.

Ms. Past: That would be a suitable first step.

Sam: And what of the question you wanted to ask me?

Ms. Past: Well you’ve heard these two make their claims of importance, so let me make mine. You are in no small part everything that has come before.

Sam: My experiences, friends, jobs and the like?

Ms. Past: I’d be more specific than that by saying that you are what you have survived. Just as it takes fear to become brave, as it requires the feeling of vulnerability to learn compassion, only by surviving do you learn to live.

Sam: Which brings us to your question.

Ms. Past: Exactly. What have you survived Sam? And – (turning to MR. FUTURE) Sorry for roaming into your field here – what would you like to survive?

Sam: Well let me start by setting out what I consider survival to mean. To survive, for me, is to be placed into a situation – which may in extreme circumstances be a matter of life or death – and through the resources at your disposal, to live through it and be stronger as a result.

Ms. Past: I can see how that definition has affected you in the past.

Sam: Then I’ve survived many experiences abroad; from Sierra Leone and Kenya to Australia, Japan and Grenada, each circumstance bore its own challenge. Each I succeeded in surviving. And even now I am surviving something. This job, this lifestyle; I feel lost in it. But I am surviving.

Ms. Past: The way you describe it, it sounds like you feel more at home abroad and more lost at home.

Sam: That’s probably something I need to address…

Ms. Past: Talk to me of the future.

Sam: I want to break out of my current frame; the desire for a job with status and the belief that this is the answer to my frustrations. It won’t be, I know it. I’ve been seeking competency question experiences rather than wisdom, CV appendixes rather than true passion.

Ms. Past: So you’re looking to live passionately?

Sam: I’m looking to take a risk on myself. I’m looking to change the rules. Changing is in my nature, and whether I’m looking inwards or outwards I see a need for change. I love the words of Jose Arcadio Buendia in 100 Years of Solitude, when he refuses to play checkers because he ‘could never understand the sense of a contest in which the two adversaries have agreed upon the rules’. I’m looking to play by my own rules and no-one else’s.

Ms. Past: You sound determined, but where will this lead you?

Sam: As I told Mr. Future, I don’t know, but what I can say is that my decisions in the next years are going to be anchored to my core values. One of those will be the desire to disrupt my life, to sink or swim by my own terms. Better that than riding a ferry with the expectations of the world at the wheel.

Ms. Past: Very well Sam, that concludes my questions and your end of year review.

Sam: See you next year.

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This Blog is About Me

fall

This blog is about me. Does that sound strange? It does to my ears. Let me explain how I got here.

When drafting another piece, I found myself generalising about what people ‘tend to think’; anything to escape giving an opinion myself. Shining a light on this brought forth an obvious revelation: I can only write about what I think and feel, in other words, about me. Writing about the opinion of an unknown and unspecified group of other people gives a sense of normality to what I’m saying. The logic, that “If these people I’ve made up agree with me, my opinions are definitely normal’, is fantastic. But the effect is an escape, a closed opportunity to speak from an honest place.

What I hope to express here is a series of open, honest and at times painful reflections. I have been so used in the past to playing poker with my thoughts and feelings; I’ve bluffed and raised my way through, trying to end each day without revealing my hand. If recent months have taught me anything, it’s that this is not how I want to continue to interact with the world around me, by hiding alone under a rock with a handful of copper change and copper thoughts. The most beautiful experiences of my life have been the result of the honest connections I’ve made with other people. There is nothing more important.

The only truth I can tell you with full confidence is that I am not in control. I have no idea what I’m doing with this terrifying sounding and intangible thing called ‘life’. It’s 18:00 and I haven’t even eaten lunch because, honestly, I couldn’t decide if I should cook or eat out. End result: no lunch. It’s hilarious, absurd and utterly humbling to think about what would happen if I applied that thought process to my life.

To look at this admission on the page I’m slightly amused. It’s amazing how different a vulnerability looks on paper, compared to when it’s hidden in my mind.

I want to end this piece with an anecdote from here in Brazil. We ran an activity a month or so back. In a pair, one person was told to close their hand into a fist. The other person was given a minute to get them to open their fist, without touching them. Needless to say there wasn’t a particularly high success rate. At the end, our instructor asked why many pairs hadn’t opened their fists. ‘I never told you not to,’ she said, ‘you made that assumption’.

For me, that is the punchline. I believe that a society of open hands is healthier than a society of closed fists. My purpose, by writing this blog ‘about me’, is to do exactly what my mind is telling me not to: to open myself to the world in the hope that one open hand can do something.

Past, Present and Future: Self-Evaluation in an Age of Self-Doubt

FADE IN: A small, boxed shape room with three figures sat behind a raised panel and a single wooden stool in the centre. MS PAST, a middle aged woman, sits on the left of the panel with short hair and a smart, grey business jacket. MR PRESENT occupies the middle seat, a young man with long wavy hair, wearing a colourful baggy t-shirt. On the right is MR FUTURE, a middle aged man wearing full business attire who is writing furiously on a notepad.

A man walks in and gradually makes his way to the stool. 

Mr. Present: Good afternoon Sam and thank you for coming in for your end of year review. You know me, along with Ms. Past on my left and Mr. Future on my right. As ever, we will be assessing your performance over the past year here at Life Ltd as well as looking at where you’re at today and, of course, your next steps.

Sam: Thank you sir, and good afternoon to you all.

Mr. Present: Mr Future let’s turn the cups on last year and have you begin.

Mr. Future moves forward with his hands clasped together. In front of him rests a cup of coffee, steaming and ink black.

Mr. Future: So Sam, where do you see yourself going in the next year, three years, five years?

Sam: Well this is a question I’ve thought about a lot, but as of yet I haven’t come up with a real answer.

Mr. Future sighs loudly and rests his right hand upon his forehead.

Mr. Future: So the same as last year then? What ever happened to doing a Masters at LSE, or was it UCL? Or moving abroad for 18 months to work on your languages? What about the weeks you spent looking at different law schools? The Teach First application you retracted? Or was it social work? Can you see how this is getting frustrating for me Sam? How can I paint you a masterpiece if you can’t decide on a landscape?

Sam: I’m well aware how frustrating this must be for you Mr Future. I’ve certainly been frustrated with it myself.

Mr. Future: So what do you propose? I can hardly give a high grade to your efforts judging by the lack of any clarity of vision.

Sam: But if I may sir, vision doesn’t always require a target. To take your analogy further, I would say that many painters do not know what their painting will look like when they begin. More important is what they bring to the canvas.

Ms. Past: You haven’t always brought what’s required to your canvas Sam.

Mr. Present: Please Ms. Past, your turn will come shortly.

Mr. Future: Thank you Mr. Present. Now Sam I empathise with your view, I really do. But life is a war, not a battle. You can’t run headfirst into the front line with all the valour you can muster and expect it to work out. There are a hundred front lines and each requires a different strategy. You need a plan to win.

Sam: To win what, may I ask?

Mr. Future: A position of responsibility which affords you the power necessary to affect real change in the areas important to you.

Sam: You sound like a civil servant.

Mr. Future: Maybe I am. Does that sound like a desirable future?

SAM and MR. FUTURE stare at each other coldly for several moments. MR. FUTURE turns to MR. PRESENT.

Mr Future: That concludes my part of this review. (Turning to SAM) Sam, all in all I’m disappointed. I wanted something tangible this year and you’ve given me a list of ‘almost’ projects which collectively tell me you haven’t a clue what you’re doing and prefer sprinting towards whims rather than planning for the long term. I hope you’ll bring me something to work with next year.

Mr. Present: Well, on to me then. So how are you doing Sam? Civil Servant now eh? How are you feeling about it all? Tell me what’s on your mind at this very second?

Sam: Well I guess I’m feeling cautiously optimistic. I have a job application in the runnings and I’m hoping…

Mr. Present: (interrupting) Watch out there, I’m talking about now, not possible futures. I want to know how you feel about work at this second. Remember, the future is full only of possibilities; but now is all that exists.

Mr. Future: I’ll excuse you for bringing my importance into question here, Mr. Present, seeing as I comprise of all that will be.

Mr. Present: Sorry if you’re offended Mr. Future, but I speak truth. All that will be is the consequence of what is.

MR. FUTURE harrumphs loudly. 

Sam: Well I guess I feel like I’m in limbo.

Mr. Present: That’s better, so where’s that coming from?

Sam: I imagine it’s rooted in a need for something beyond logic. I heard a quote recently that resonated. Barbra DeAngelis wrote “if you let your mind talk you out of things that aren’t logical, you’re going to have a very boring life. Because grace isn’t logical. Love isn’t logical. Miracles aren’t logical.” She puts it better than I could. 

Mr. Present: Sounds to me like you’re searching for magic.

Sam: That would be accurate. I’ve been living through one window for so long. It’s all I’ve ever looked through.

Mr. Present: Veering into the past there Sam…

Sam: I’m sorry but it doesn’t seem like there’s much room in the here and now without making reference to past and future.

Mr. Present: From the past is born doubts and regret; from the future, agitation and a simple inability to be content. If you were incarcerated I’d still want you to focus on improving yourself here, in the present. The alternative – clinging onto what came before or tying your happiness to what you hope will happen – is at its core a pernicious form of escapism.

Sam: Fine, then I guess I’m unhappy. Let’s not go so far as to say deeply because I don’t think that’s the case, but I am tying my happiness to the future. There’s no doubt about that.

Mr. Present: Good Sam, this is progress. And the next step is to realise that a lot of this is about perspective. Let’s take yours: you’re in a job you’re not certain about and you doubt your world and where it’s heading.

Sam: I’m feeling worse now, FYI.

Mr. Present: Yes yes but let’s take another perspective, ok? You’re at the start of your career, exploring yourself and connecting with an array of interesting people. And the world needs people who doubt it, as long as that doubt is transformed into something that makes you feel compelled to change it.

Sam: Should I be paying for this service?

Mr. Present: Probably. But let me put this question to you: what are you today?

Sam: I can’t give one answer to that, and I don’t think you’d want me to. Most accurately I can say I’m a list of contractions. A desire for recklessness and security, inertia and proactivity, good and bad, compassion and coldness, wisdom and stupidity.

Mr. Present: And how does it feel to be these things?

Sam: It feels better knowing they’re there. Better than being a captain tied to the mast of his ship, forced to watch the wheel turning with the tide. I once read and largely agree with the idea that all people are built of contradictions; like an arch they hold us on a narrow path, insanity to each side. A man without contradictions to balance him will soon veer off.

Mr. Present: Thank you Sam that’s quite eloquently put. (Turning to Ms. Past) He’s all yours.

Ms Past: Thank you, Mr. Present. Sam, it’s almost been 25 years. That’s a quarter of a century. Now I have one question I want to ask you, but before I do, I want you to tell me what you think it is.

Sam: Well I’d imagine it would have to do with the last year – how I feel it went, for instance. Whether it met my expectations. What I’ve learnt etc.

Ms Past: And if it were?

Sam: Well Mr. Future will know as well as I that it didn’t go as expected, in large part because I had no concrete expectations…

Ms Past: Go on.

Sam: I had a lot of different plans, each changing rapidly the moment I got close. Like a sailor drawn to jagged rocks by the sirens of modern day employers.

Ms Past: Although some of those sirens deemed you unworthy for their jagged rocks.

Sam: (with a deep breath) Yes. That’s true. I was turned down from several positions.

Ms Past: And are you a broken man as a result?

Sam: Not broken, but definitely less keen on applying for new jobs. The amount I’ve failed to get, my subconscious is starting to associate the application process itself with failure. It’s become a self-fulfilling cycle.

Ms Past: A small problem and nothing you can’t overcome.

Sam: I know it is.

Ms Past: But knowledge is never enough – just because you know the right choice doesn’t mean you won’t pick the wrong one. You need to know wisely.

Sam: What does it mean to know wisely?

Ms Past: It means knowing not just reason for your actions, but your reason. People are like oceans Sam. Acts made from the shallows lack conviction and the change they can create is limited. But when you act from the depths you can shift the tide.

Sam: Sounds like I need to go diving. 

Ms. Past: That would be a suitable first step.

Sam: And what of the question you wanted to ask me?

Ms. Past: Well you’ve heard these two make their claims of importance, so let me make mine. You are in no small part everything that has come before.

Sam: My experiences, friends, jobs and the like?

Ms. Past: I’d be more specific than that by saying that you are what you have survived. Just as it takes fear to become brave, as it requires the feeling of vulnerability to learn compassion, only by surviving do you learn to live.

Sam: Which brings us to your question.

Ms. Past: Exactly. What have you survived Sam? And – (turning to MR. FUTURE) Sorry for roaming into your field here – what would you like to survive?

Sam: Well let me start by setting out what I consider survival to mean. To survive, for me, is to be placed into a situation – which may in extreme circumstances be a matter of life or death – and through the resources at your disposal, to live through it and be stronger as a result.

Ms. Past: I can see how that definition has affected you in the past.

Sam: Then I’ve survived many experiences abroad; from Sierra Leone and Kenya to Australia, Japan and Grenada, each circumstance bore its own challenge. Each I succeeded in surviving. And even now I am surviving something. This job, this lifestyle; I feel lost in it. But I am surviving.

Ms. Past: The way you describe it, it sounds like you feel more at home abroad and more lost at home.

Sam: That’s probably something I need to address…

Ms. Past: Talk to me of the future.

Sam: I want to break out of my current frame; the desire for a job with status and the belief that this is the answer to my frustrations. It won’t be, I know it. I’ve been seeking competency question experiences rather than wisdom, CV appendixes rather than true passion.

Ms. Past: So you’re looking to live passionately?

Sam: I’m looking to take a risk on myself. I’m looking to change the rules. Changing is in my nature, and whether I’m looking inwards or outwards I see a need for change. I love the words of Jose Arcadio Buendia in 100 Years of Solitude, when he refuses to play checkers because he ‘could never understand the sense of a contest in which the two adversaries have agreed upon the rules’. I’m looking to play by my own rules and no-one else’s.

Ms. Past: You sound determined, but where will this lead you?

Sam: As I told Mr. Future, I don’t know, but what I can say is that my decisions in the next years are going to be anchored to my core values. One of those will be the desire to disrupt my life, to sink or swim by my own terms. Better that than riding a ferry with the expectations of the world at the wheel.

Ms. Past: Very well Sam, that concludes my questions and your end of year review.

Sam: See you next year.

CHAPTER FOUR

The mind, my father used to say, is but a prisoner in a boat adrift. Come stormy or starry skies, it has no control over direction, nor destination. A mind can only stare at the wheel of its ship as it turns to the whim of the tide. The notion of control is only a mirage the mind creates to appease itself. Yet this mirage is shattered by the emotional maelstrom of humanity. This was the memory that came to me as I stared down the barrel of a gun.

The four of us had been driving for around an hour and a half out of the city when Jordan requested we stop so he could frequent the toilet of a country pub. It had been a long hour and a half. Lionel and Jordan had bickered back and forth as always is the case when dogmas collide. Lionel said Jordan was the dead end of human progress, Jordan said Lionel was at the forefront of human depravity. Both had valid points. I pulled faces at my window reflection, echoing their puerility to my own amusement.

While we waited for Jordan outside the pub, I got out to consume as much fresh air as possible. At this point, two things happened. The first was that I realised Lionel had fallen asleep and that just maybe the next thirty minutes would be enjoyed in silence. The second was the sound of a gun being cocked so close to my head I could taste the iron.

Behind me stood a man with the moonlike eyes of a psychopath but this time, there is no melon slice smile, only pursed lips.

“What can I do for you sir?” I inquired.

“I’m here to kill you”

“Can it wait?” The man’s eyes crumpled. At that moment, James slams into him, a hulking mass of muscle. I hadn’t even seen him leave the car, he just erupted from the shadows. The man is thrown sideways, the gun knocked from his hand. A short gasp of air is all he can muster before he crashes into the ground and tumbles several metres.

I look at James, who looks at me. I smile. He does not.

Just then Jordan appears with the barkeeper next to him. Whatever they were discussing comes to a distinct halt as they perceive the scenario.

“What’s going on here?” asks the barkeep.

I look from face to face in the group and shrug.

“Well, this man’s trying to kill me. The man your standing next to is paid to kill me. And this man’s paid to keep me safe, although sometimes I wonder if that’s the only thing stopping him from killing me.”

The policeman stares at me, his mouth hanging in an ‘o’ shape, waiting for orders from the mothership. After a few seconds he asks “Can I assist you?”

“No, I think we’re alright.”

At that moment Lionel gets out of the car, a yawn spreading over his face. I curse.

“And who’s this?” Asks the barkeep, still bewildered.

“Oh he’s just a selfish cunt.” I say. Lionel nods with a shrug.

Chapter Three

“Don’t you just love the sight of a wind farm in the middle of the ocean?” I ask nobody in particular as the three of us stand at the edge of a coastal precipice. “Like great custodians they stand, maintaining their dignity even on the stillest of summer days when their purpose is all but gone.” I find it odd, but it is on those days, when their blades hang still, that I am most drawn to them.

“What do you think of the scenery Jordan?” I smile at the little man, a childish smile well fit to cover somber thoughts. “What I think isn’t relevant, my job is to know what you think, Melldovian,” he says, the response of a man with no concept of aesthetics. My smile clings to my face only by habit.

It is not quite dark yet. Thin veins of light are retreating over the water, clinging at the surface like desperate sailors lost at sea.

Jordan’s gaze is vacant. He may be enjoying a delightful reverie, but I assume his mind has momentarily switched off to preserve battery life. He jumps a little as I put a hand on his shoulder and murmurs something incomprehensible.

James is a menacing silhouette behind us. He looks like a statue of some viking warrior, the image ruined only by the tinted sun glasses that frame his face.

“Is this the place Melldovian?” Jordan asks after a while, looking somewhere between my top button and my chin.

“Give me more than a minute Jordan, this isn’t a small decision!” I cross my arms and stare out, searching the crumbly coastline for an answer.

“I don’t like it.” James says. Slowly I turn and gawk at him, both amused and bemused at this rare expression of opinion.

“You… don’t?”

“I don’t”

“Why don’t you?”

“It’s the ambiance” he says in the voice of a stone cold killer.

I don’t know what to say to that, so I just shrug at Jordan.

“You heard the man.”

Jordan squints his eyes and pouts like a blowfish. “If I may be so bold, Melldovian”

“Please”

“You have ten days. I need to know your decision on this by tomorrow evening at the latest. The amount of time you’re giving me is already very short to do the… preparatory work” He wipes his face, splashing sweat onto his collar.

Now I understand how the man got into this career. It was his innate ability to make anything sound mundane.

“The way I see it Jordan, death is the only moment in life that can truly be perfect. Hindsight and introspection destroy the rest. As such I won’t settle for anything less than perfection. Now come on, I need a drink as well as a new recruit, and I know where to find both.

As we walk away from the precipice, I stretch my gaze back across the lonely turbines, finding selfish solace in the fact that, unlike them, I will be gone before I break down.

———————————-

I stand at a table inhabited by a man in his early seventies. Stretched purple pockets hang below each eye and white tufts of hair congest both nostrils. Whiskey is his choice of company and humanity his favourite topic of derision. For these reasons I consider him my best friend, although I’m fairy sure he despises me.

“Lionel, grant me the pleasure of your company and let us share that fiery spirit in front of you”

I am granted a cold stare and take it as an invitation to sit down.

“Aren’t you dead yet?” He asks.

“Evidence would suggest not”

“Are you dying soon then?”

“Are you planning my funeral?”

Conservation stops for a second as Lionel blows his nose into a stained handkerchief.

“Where’s the drone?” He asks after long gulp of whisky.

Drone is Lionel’s nickname for Jordan, quite apt I’d say. The two don’t get along. It’s not surprising really, with Jordan, the epitome of the efficient modern man – a horrible invention greying the barrier between humans and machines – and Lionel, whose skills largely consist of drinking and complaining, often together.

“At work” I reply. “Doing what I pay him to do”

“Let me guess, he’s writing important letters on expensive paper, typing infallible numbers into orderly spreadsheets and masturbating over the thought of masturbating.”

“Not over the expensive paper I hope.” I get a small smirk from that, which is enough.

“Anyway,” I say, bracing myself, “I’ve come to ask a favour.”

The smirk disappears.

“Favour you say? I don’t remember ever favouring you.”

I take a deep breath.

“I’m having a location issue and, well, I could use a second pair of eyes”

“No.” Lionel’s crossed his arms like a petulant child.

“And better company”

“Again, no.”

My tongue finds itself jabbing a cheek. I’d expected this, but perhaps in a less hostile manner.

“May I ask for your reason?”

Lionel leans forward, hands rested far past the half way point on the table, exhaling petrol fumes.

“You may, my dear Mellow. It’s very simple. I don’t want to, and at this stage in my life, with doctors condescendingly shaking their heads at test results and my wife picking out my funeral suit, I have no need to appease anyone.”

He leans back and I gasp in fresh air.

“Don’t take any offence. I’m a selfish cunt boy, that’s all”

“10%.” It’s my turn to lean forward, although I keep to my side of the table.

“10% of what?”

A barely noticeable glint in the eye, I can see the cogs turning. He’s approaching the hook, now I just need to offer the bait.

“Everything.”

I spread my hands out dramatically.

The stare Lionel gives me is cold and calculating. But greed doesn’t work the facial muscles, it pulls the puppet strings.

“You’d renegade in an instant” He says, slowly, as if doubting the words coming out of his mouth.

I pull out a sheet of paper from under the table and lay it out.

“It’s in writing, my dear Lionel. Ink tells no lies.”

He smiles a sharkish smile.

Chapter Two

It’s between nine and ten at Jackson’s Bar. It’s dim, not to set a mood but to keep costs down. Jackson’s doesn’t break even like it used to. Still they continue to call it Eldorado from a time when clientele paid with notes crisp as autumn leaves. I occasionally come by for a drink, a remnant of Eldorado. It’s my money that keeps the place open.

The man sat opposite me won’t stop talking. His jaw looks strangely detached, moving up and down as if it were dangling on a cord. I’m sure he’s asking for something. People with nothing always are.

He wears a contorted expression, a melon slice smile complemented with the moonlike eyes of a psychopath. His words sound desperate.

While the man decants his ideas into empty space, I shift my attention to his drink. Neon blue with a wilting straw – he’s drinking kryptonite. My own, a stout with a consistency nearer butter than liquid, looks rather boring in comparison. I take a long drink, consoling myself for my archaic sense of taste.

The man is staring at me now, searching for a reaction like a cat watching a flaccid piece of string. I make hard eye contact and nod vigorously, my eyes thin cutlets of enthusiasm. He is inspired, nodding with me and speaking a good deal faster than before. ‘Too easily influenced’, I think.

Just then, James approaches the two of us from behind. James is his second name. He’s large and is apparently here for my security. He gives the man a sour look and bends down until we’re eye level.

“Mr Regis, we’re waiting.” He exhales.

“You are?”

“We are.”

I grin up, my smile stretching across the canvas of my face. His expression remains a fossil of monotonous distain. Future generations would think us a dull bunch if they chiseled that expression out from the subterranean.

I raise a figurative glass to the man across the table and get up.

Turning, I inhale the chirping buzz of the bar and stroll towards the exit, humming. I like to hum. It’s my way of synchronising the inward and the outward. Chaos would ensue if that balance were interrupted.

Outside, I stop on the pavement and my eyes turn skyward. It’s a pleasant change to the hustle of the city streets. The night sky smiles down with countless sparkling teeth. Its face is one which knows more than it cares to share and I can’t say I blame it. How it must detest the plague that is humanity.

“Mr Regis?” It was James.

A car is parked on the road where before there had been nothing, shining like money doused in midnight oil. The back door opens and inside sits a timid man with scraggy hair. A smile fish hooks the side of his lips, a most unattractive smile, but with good intent. This was, after all, the man I was paying to kill me.

————————————–

“Good evening, sweet Jordan!” I sing the words, trying my best to counterbalance the man’s complete lack of geniality. Moreover, I hope my exuberant manner might force him to smile properly or not at all; the current expression on his face would be most unacceptable in polite company.

“Hello Melldovian.” The fish hooked smile remains, greasy as batter. Serves me right for spending too much time with the man. He’s become used to me. Also, he insists on using my full name.

“I hope this evening’s destination is better than last”

“I have heard only good things.”

“Inspiring,” I say dryly, although Jordan doesn’t seem to notice. I often think he must have been vaccinated against emotions as a child.

Grimacing, I give the sky one last wistful glance before getting into the car. James follows and I find myself wedged in between the two of them, unsure of which one I would prefer to be closer to.

The car ride is uninteresting, the company even more so. Jordan’s voice is more sleep inducing than a lullaby, albeit less soothing. James sits perfectly still, even when the car drives down thin country lanes pimpled with garden stones. I know better than to try him for conversation.

Chapter One

Light pierces the blinds and invades my slumber. My head’s hot and pounding.

I wrench my eyes open and the pounding increases, drumming upon my cranium. My vision is distorted and my mouth feels as if it has been lined with sheep wool.

My father told me that you could judge a man by his response to hangover pains. I have since retold the idiom numerous times to numerous people, laughing at the ridiculousness of the idea. Nevertheless, with a groan I drag myself out of bed and set about readying myself. Fuck you dad.

I find my way to the toilet, staggering across my room and falling upon the bowl. No man should piss stood up with a hangover; it is a dangerous act and misses ample opportunity for self reflection and subsequent loathing.

An aptly placed mirror above the sink indicates to me that the descent of man is not far off complete. A splash of cold water is a welcome but temporary relief.

Going back into the room, I see a sheet of paper sitting in the centre of my desk, the corpse of the latest attempt at putting my life into words. It is soaked in some dark spirit – perhaps saying more about my life than words ever could. Draining the soapy dregs of a bottle at the edge of the table, I scan the page.

Consider yourself fortunate dear reader, for within these pages you will find not one tale but two, for my father and I have a great deal in common, yet he is too selfish to share his own story and my life is hardly worth reading about.

There are countless industries in the world, silly ideas bursting with false values.

‘See this car’ the advert says. ‘It’s what you’ll drive your son home with after you’ve watched his first football game’.

The father fails to realise that during that moment, when his son scrambles up the pitch – past not one player but two – a Herculean effort followed the goal that wins the game, his mind will be in the parking lot. How can he know what to feel when his emotions are chained to the world around him.

The business of my father and I is one of the few I consider to have true value in a world where value has been massacred without mercy. Our industry is death.

For years we have prided ourselves on providing bespoke packages which encompass the process of dying. We leave the after part to you and your chosen deity, or not if you are so inclined. Call it ‘glorified euthanasia’ or ‘going out with a bang’, it all comes down to a simple truth: no-one fancies putting themselves through those last unforgivable months or years, the painful creaking joints, the sympathetic yet patronising people who may or may not be your family and friends, the embarrassing regression into infantility. Why must one atrophy when the choice is there to end it in dignity, and in doing so to take command of the one element in life previously thought to be uncontrollable.

And who better to tell this story than myself. Death was my mother and father, my provider and it is from her silence that I leave this to you.

I reach the end of the passage and feel my stomach tighten and my heart sink. The page meets a similar end to all of the other pages, one of a hundred failed beginnings.

A knock on the open door pulls me out of my revery. Andre stands at the entrance.

“It’s Jordan on the phone sir, he wondered if the meeting tonight was still as planned”

I nod and the matter is settled.

Andre walks cautiously into the room, a worried look on his face.

“Sir, is it wise you going outside?”

“Take a man at his worst Andre, he’ll show you his best.”

Andre stares at me blankly.

“That’s a saying right?” I ask.

“I don’t think so.”

“Well start saying it and soon it will be.”

I drag myself to the window and pull back the curtains. Sunlight assaults my eyes, a figurative ‘fuck you’ from the heavens.

Ten days. Ten days and it will be over.