The Evening Party


To the stranger in Cambridge—I see you. I’m doing better now, or at least I’ll be doing better soon. The sun has returned and, in the garden, birds can be heard; I trace their calls to the trembling end of a branch in an attempt to identify them. Last week a blackbird would not cease his irritating singing from dawn till dusk, and then yesterday I saw him in the grass with his mate and silent, picking at some seeds my mother had scattered. I was happy for him! would you believe it? Not only for his quiet, but mostly his companion. To the stranger in Cambridge—I thank you.
    The company is going through a difficult time, as we are often reminded, with fees running exceedingly low and little in the way of work. Many of the staff have been furloughed and I always assumed, given my position on a few projects, that I was protected from this. It has been three months now and I have worked the entire time. The managing director called me ten days ago and threatened my job—‘During this time, I’m separating the men from the boys . . . I don’t want the boys! . . . I need you to step up and be a man, because right now you’re a boy . . . I’ll leave you to read into that how you want.’ I sat there, angrily grinding my teeth and saying—‘Yeah, all right,’ as I know he finds this infuriating; as he once told me—‘Don’t sit there saying “Yeah, all right” at me, my kids do that and I know they’re not listening to me!’ He was enraged, and I admit I took great pleasure in the reddening of his face. I pictured his face reddening at that moment. He is a foul man and he is changing for the worst, unrecognisable from when we first met fourteen years ago. It is not enough for me to loathe him, but I sit there, hang-up his call and grind my teeth, before putting him out of my mind.

    A week later I had just returned from my walk when my phone rung; it was my boss, one of the partners. I ignored it, preferring to enjoy my cigarette and catch my breath. Not a moment later my friend text me—‘I’ve been furloughed!’ He was ecstatic; it was something he had been anticipating eagerly for weeks. I became nervous, made a pot of coffee and sat down to return the call. I felt most uncomfortable as he told me the news. My mind was spinning. ‘Yeah, all right,’ I said, over & over. (Even recalling it, I can feel my stomach grow heavy.) After he hung-up, I poured myself a cup and told my parents. As I spoke I arranged and fiddled with the items on my desk, before closing my laptop with resigned finality; no more work for today, at least—although in the morning I would have to put together handover notes. It was raining outside. I went under cover with my coffee and another cigarette and called Nathan—‘I won’t gloat too much because I know others aren’t as happy about it as I am,’ he said. After half an hour on the phone to him I called up a colleague on my projects and told him. I could hear him shaking his head. Was I so useless? I had been working hard, but they always had a problem with me, especially that maniacal managing director. He was surely gunning for me! He’d been gunning for me for years. All the ‘inspirational’ lectures he’d given me had fallen on deaf ears, and I suppose it incensed him tremendously. On one of our first excursions to site, he had told me—‘You can either be a general or a soldier!’ to which I responded—‘I’d rather not have to go to war at all.’ It was not out of the question at all that he had proposed me for furlough with a palatable amount of satisfaction. The next morning I set back to work, listing out my issues and tasks at hand. By lunchtime I had finished and, after my walk, set down early to write a letter, then continue with a painting. On Friday morning I had a meeting with the team who would be taking over my workload. Admittedly, I found a strange sort of exoneration tempered with guilt when handing over my burdens, knowing they were no longer my own. Yes, my ego was dented somewhat, but in the back of my mind was the realisation that I could—for at least the next three weeks—focus on writing, painting and reading. On a scrap of paper I had already formulated a routine, that I assured my worried mother would keep me sane; after all, immediately upon finding out I had been furloughed she had said—‘I’m just worried for your state of mind!’ Still I could neither deny nor hide the fact that my self-esteem had been knocked, and was worried about eventual redundancy.
By the afternoon, my work was over. A couple of items had to be submitted secretly and back-dated—I was not permitted to work—and, quite truthfully, I assisted because, despite previous experience, I assumed it might hold me in good stead for the future. All paperwork was either put in the bin or stacked neatly and put in my backpack, I cleaned the desk of coffee-rings and sat there in thought for just a moment more, struggling to come to terms with my new predicament.
    As the rain continued to fall outside, a friend called, and we talked about work and the company. She said the partners were losing their minds, there was no doubt about it. She told me to look for another job, or train myself in software so that I might be more employable. ‘But you’ll probably just spend your days drawing butts.’ We both left to have a drink and enjoy our Friday nights.
    To the stranger in Cambridge—I struggle to sleep. My mind is racked with worry. As I lay down my head, it begins to work with a frenzy! I lift up and blink heavily to shake myself out of my worries, but they do not end, and I sigh. In the mornings, I awake from nightmares, or, rather, I awake with nightmares. It is the weekend and it is quarter-to-ten; I fell asleep at two. Downstairs my niece takes me by the hand and leads me into the garden where she pulls out an extensive collection of swimming goggles and tries them all on, which I find amusing and charming, despite the hour of the day. To the stranger in Cambridge—at least this lockdown has afforded me the opportunity to become closer to my nieces, who regard me with greater fondness than before, when, due to our distance, I would see them every few weeks or so. The youngest is especially fond of me; she is obsessed with me, staring and smiling constantly—‘She doesn’t take her eyes off you!’ Often she will see me and break out into a smile.
    To the stranger in Cambridge—now it is the week again, and I have no work. The windows permit cool air into the guestroom where I sleep. I’m awoken by the binmen, sounds of the street, birds singing; thankful for not having nightmares. I finger the blinds open and watch the lady across the road talking to the binmen as their engine growls with its mouth wide open. It is a sunny day and I cannot help feeling like spring has passed me by. To the stranger in Cambridge—I see you; thank you for reading these words. I go downstairs at the same time as I did when I worked, showered and enthused for another day; it is imperative that I maintain routine. I sit on the sofa and read during my first coffee of the day. The sun is so hot, so bright; the smell of flowers perfumes the room and about me flies hover & pester.