A few hours went by. The numbers were going into their positions. It was all working out well enough. The company I had originally been working on was still hemorrhaging money on executive privileges and the new company was sinking money in traditional marketing. It didn’t matter. As long as they stayed clients then it was alright. Eventually someone would mold the numbers to the point where the execs would keep thinking that they were doing fine and would continue to pay us money to keep telling them comforting lies.
Finally it got to be 8pm and the forms were looking good enough for a day’s work. Looking around there was nobody left in the office. Carol had left, the dickhead who wanted me to stay this late had left before the sun had even set. It was just me and my little office space. An ad popped up on my screen. I hate ads. I hate them so much that I have a little notebook where I track all the advertisements that I’ve seen and I never purchase anything that is branded by that notebook. Sure, it severely limits my options in terms of purchases but it also makes me feel like I’m not being tricked or deceived by a bunch of arseholes trying to get me to buy an inferior product. But, for some reason, this ad really spoke to me. Probably because it was speaking directly to my current position.
‘Feel like you’re stuck?’ went the first caption in bold white letters surrounded by an enticing red background. ‘Get out and see the world for what it really is!’ went the second caption, with the same red but also with an undesignated airplane flying over the ad. Mindlessly my mouse wandered over to the advertisement and clicked and I was taken to a sales page. The cheapest one I could see was ‘Round trip to NZ. $800. Limited time only.’
My eyes focused on the $800 in the ad. I pulled out my phone and opened my mobile banking app and saw that I had $2’400 saved up from all my prior work, and also the multiple weeks I had been working in this hell. There was something I wanted it to go towards, but right at this moment I couldn’t remember what it was for the life of me. All I wanted to do was get away from this fucking chair – get as far away as was financially feasible.
The sane part of my brain had clearly been burnt out from working 100 hours a week for god knows how long. Unconsciously I ordered tickets from Melbourne to Wellington for when it was cheapest – only two weeks from now. I sat there, staring at the map of New Zealand that showed it as barely the size of Melbourne to Sydney. A small country to be sure, but somewhere that wasn’t here. That’s all I really cared about. I just wanted to be anywhere that wasn’t this fucking cubicle and under the thumb of that incompetent moron and his little wench Carol.
My 6am alarm woke me up. The time I’d normally have to get up in order to get into work on time (meaning an hour early), but I was already at work. I had fallen asleep at my desk. The imprint of the keyboard was clear on my face and my back and arse hurt from having to sleep in such an uncomfortable position. I hadn’t dreamt at all, but I remembered a genuine memory that seemed more dream than real. I took out my phone and the first message I saw contained something along the lines of telling me that I had just purchased a ticket to a foreign country and that the plane would be leaving in less that two weeks.
A few minutes pass. Or perhaps it’s a few hours. I don’t believe that I’m not dreaming. Only in my dreams would I think of escaping. In the real world I had obligations and debts. I had rent to pay and loans and there was the factor of bare essentials like food and hot water. I couldn’t have wasted $800 on some fool hardy attempt at genuine freedom, not knowing that the feeling came equally with a genuine feeling of hunger and homelessness.
I spent a fair while searching for a way to get my money back and cancel this expense before one of my colleagues came into the office in order to pick up the work that they had left off late last night. I clearly looked desperate because they took one glance at me and asked how late I had stayed up the night before – presuming that I had been working all through the night. I replied that I didn’t know. That all the time before now had kind of melded together. He laughed a knowing laugh. Then I asked ‘hey, why would you leave here?’ without knowing what I had asked or why. It came out naturally, as if there was no other conversation two people could have in an accounting office this early in the morning.
He stopped at his desk. I didn’t even know his name, and I doubt he knew mine. He place his equipment on his desk, turned away from it and looked directly at me and said ‘I would leave here at any opportunity that was given to me.’
He stood there with absolute certainty, and I stared back at him with utter confusion. ‘How do you mean? Isn’t this a great job?’
He relaxed his face from the seriousness that he had been maintaining for who knows how many years and – for the first time in a long time – he looked genuine. ‘Listen,’ he said, standing over me, ‘who the fuck do you owe?’
After a small while and flittering my eyes nervously from corner to corner of the room I replied ‘uh, no one I guess. I think I have some loans for my degree, but those are only payable after I reach a certain income. Aside from that I owe no one anything.’ I didn’t mean to tell this – well this essentially a stranger – stranger everything that owed to everyone, but he seemed like a future me sent back to help me from making a terrible mistake.
He took a while to adjust himself and breathed in deep. ‘You wanna know why I’m staying here? It’s because I owe my family this much at least. Life isn’t as easy as it was for me, and it was pretty fuckin difficult for me. I need to make sure that their lives are at least as easy as mine. And, trust me, that’s going to take a lot of early mornings and late nights at this fucking hell hole.’ He paused for a while and looked around at the rest of the empty offices. ‘So who the fuck do you owe?’
I was struck silent for a moment. I couldn’t tell what he meant by anything he meant, but I still understood the greater context. I knew that he was in far worse than I’ve ever been in, and he was in for far worse than I’ve ever been in. I looked around me. There was no one else. Just me and this sudden gypsie who I had seen before but whose name I wouldn’t be able to recall if you put a gun to my head. I knew he was a lowly worker like me, but he made more sense than any of my instructors in my, admittedly, less than prestigious career.
Finally, after staring into his hard eyes, I replied ‘I don’t owe anyone anything. I have no wife, no girlfriend and no kids. The only debts I owe are the ones I used to get the degree that would get me here.’ I would’ve spilled my guts to him. But I feel like if I had gone even a sentence further then the would’ve punished me for wasting his time. But, right now, I was too busy cowering in my fucking office chair that was tucked in tight to my cubicle.
‘Go.’ he said with an intense sort of sincerity. ‘You have to go. You have to take any opportunity you can to go, and it seems like you’ve already chosen for you. Just go.’ And that was the last thing that man ever said to me. I never even got his real name. After that sentence, and a rather intense staring competition, the other workers and management started flooding in and it was impossible for me to get even a single second to talk about anything that wasn’t directly related to work. But every minute I looked at the ticket I had purchased the night before to Auckland.
I closed everything on my computer, and sat there staring at a blank computer background, trying to find the question that I had so obviously already answered. It was only when I began to look around me that I finally found not only the question, but also found that my answer was correct. All around me I saw miserable sacks of flesh that wished they were anywhere else but here. I also spotted the sack of flesh and debts that had spoken to me so early in the morning – he glanced back at me and gave me a thumbs up before returning to the menial task that he had set himself to ensure that his children would never have to endure the sort of things he had had to endure his entire life.
After that I just got up and left. I never told anyone anything. Not my boss, not my colleagues. The only person in that room who had any idea what I might be doing was the old man. I left with a smile on my face, and an idea, finally, of where my life was headed.
Continue the story here.