By all accounts, Monday was a bad day to begin a new job. England woke that morning with a heavy sense of loss that, as the hangover cleared, would worsen as more and more news reports came in of racism, thuggery and drunken devastation. (Once again, the little island defecates on itself and then, sometime later, starved, resorts to devouring its own excrement with feigned and stubborn enthusiasm.) Too, it was a grey morning with falling rain and cold unlike July. The train was late against the buffers. Although Mondays are not too busy, this was even less so; a thin splattering of people huddled out of the weather, looking in one direction, shoulders hunched, dreary. The dream was over; how quickly and how predictably it had ended! Among the few alighting from the train were seven men in England shirts, emerged sunburned stumbling and limping, raw, bleary-eyed, they began arguing halfway down the platform, puffed up, threats of violence and then exhausted silence beneath the slanted wet lines. We crossed paths slowly and briefly, them on their way and me on mine.

Of course, I could not sleep on the train. I was nervous, excited, eager. As tired as I was, I could not sleep, and my guts were all in a ruin. This was the culmination of three months preparation, a decision made one Friday afternoon to do something about my life, and now, in slightly unfavourable circumstances, I had arrived. There were forty-five minutes before I was due to be greeted by my new boss, so I took myself into a café and sat down. There was one other gentleman in there, who rolled his belly over his trousers and read a newspaper. The staff rattled behind the counter and talked to a streetcleaner who had wandered in from outside for conversation. I was reading a book about quantum physics and trying hard to understand it, drifting off to imagine all the theories it presented, my hands trembling violently. The route to my new office was one I had walked many times – maybe hundreds – but always from the opposite direction so that approaching it from the other side led me to believe I was in an entirely new place. I said good-morning to the man behind the front desk as he rifled through a handful of post. He looked up—‘Visiting?’ I told him that it was my first day. He asked me to hold on for a minute. Another gentleman appeared behind me and asked for the same office. He was a handsome sort, unmasked, shook my hand and introduced himself. It was his first day, too. I sought to appear as confident as him—‘I had hoped to be associated with victory, triumph, Sterling… Now I’m just going to be associated with failure, misery and racism.’ We exchanged words until the other had finished with the post, then he let us into the lift, one by one. My reflection in the lift; everything was still in place, if a little glazed with rain & perspiration. Upon my stepping out the elevator, a young lady asked—‘So which newbie are you?’ I wanted to say ‘the best one’, but instead I just told her my name. She led me through the quiet office to a desk where a large balding man sat, making last minute adjustments to what I assumed to be my computer. He looked up at me and I at him. She told me that Beck was just on a call and would be with me soon, so I took a seat and caught my breath. The office was tremendously dark, not for the lighting, but beyond each window was a very drab London sky, with such little sun getting through, and I noticed that upon the glass were stains from rain that had fallen before. In spite of my exhaustion, I was alert, too tense to blink, swivelling on my chair, taking in what I could. One of the directors who I had interviewed with came over and greeted me, but I found him difficult to communicate with and after a few sentences I abandoned any effort to do so. He left me to swivel in my chair. Beck came off the call and I arose, shaking his hand. During my interview, which seemed so long ago, I had decided that I liked him, and these things were of greater importance than many others. His physical impression did not diminish my opinion. He sat right behind me, and for the rest of the morning I found that quite comforting.

At half-twelve, he told me were going for lunch, accompanied by the large balding man who had been adjusting my computer and a lady who was sat near me. The bar was dead, and only artificial flowers lent it any colour beneath the weather. The lady sat opposite me; she may have been a model; she delivered every sentence, motion and gesture as though she had long ago lost all interest in entertaining the company of others. Regardless, the large balding man sought to flirt with her, or to at least to pay her unrequited attention, until, with little invitation, he began to dispute the evidence of racism aimed at black members of the English football team. This disturbed Beck who disagreed in the strongest possible terms. I shook my head and stared at the large balding man, wondering if this was some sort of test Beck had organised to gauge me. The lady rolled her eyes and twirled the base of her glass of mineral water. The large balding man drank and delivered his nonsense with remarkable oblivion to its weight. When we left, Beck said to me—‘See what I mean?’ and we talked back to our desks.

That evening I got home and was glad to tell my parents how it had gone. I noticed that I was in good spirits. No part of me had any regrets. I had walked home with a good feeling. Yes, my days were longer now; I awoke an hour earlier (five) and arrived home an hour later (eight), but it was hard for me to remember all the sourness and scandal of my former position. It was a million miles away now.
The next day I was second into the office of a hundred people. I said good morning to a gentleman in the far corner, then I opened all the blinds, sat down, and began my work. All was still for an hour, then everyone else showed up in muted dribs and drabs. People introduced themselves to me, and all were polite. ‘Come to every meeting with me,’ Beck said—‘we’ll split the jobs up soon enough.’ At times throughout the day I would turn around to him and ask—‘What can I do? How can I lighten your load?’ He delivered and I carried out the task. Again, at one o’clock he stood up, lifted his jacket off the back of his chair and asked me—‘Fancy a drink?’ When I first started full-time employment, just before the crash, it was commonplace to drink at lunchtime, and I missed it. I went to the pub next door with him and another older gentleman. I knew the pub briefly, having visited it many years ago with a girl who introduced me to In The Aeroplane Over The Sea, and she still hung on the walls, still offered music recommendations, tales of her journalistic adventures ringing in my ears as I said—‘The music in here is better than yesterday’s.’ The older gentleman slapped his thigh out-of-time. He talked Beck into another round. I was wonderfully at peace. The pub was dark and outside there was that London line of businesspeople and tourists going by an empty taxi rank.

After work there were leaving drinks for a man by the name of Stjepan. I took Beck along, showing him the way. We got in and I pulled up a place next to the young lady who had asked me which ‘newbie’ I was. In the most predictable of scenarios, I already found myself attracted to this stranger. She had removed her glasses. Her wrists were slim and her fingers elegant, nail varnish the colour of peachflesh, her hair like vinyl. Her skin was superb and she carried herself boldly, but I sensed this was not in her usual nature at all. She told me that she likes classical music, so I made a joke about Rachmaninov. She told me her boyfriend was bald, so I did not even touch my own head of hair. At the back of my mind, I remembered my old drinking colleagues, and the many evenings we would spend together down the pub. Now they would go to the pub without me and there I was without them. In a flash, I necked my pint, stood up, mumbled good-bye and dashed off.

Wednesdays I work from home. I work from my parents’ home. There were many meetings to go through. During one of them I introduced myself to a friendly group of people; one of the women said—‘Very pleased to meet you! Good luck!’ ‘What did you say “good luck” for?!’ I asked. She laughed. ‘That sounds foreboding!’ and she laughed some more. I worked until late. Beck and I would message each other during meetings, poking fun at the attendees—‘This guy’s an arsehole.’ ‘Really?’ I asked—‘He doesn’t look like one! Maybe I’m just distracted by his haircut and earring.’ My routine was thrown into disarray. Strangely, working from home urged me to call a former colleague, although I resisted. It would have been a pleasure to hear his voice and to catch up. When I left, he told me how much he enjoyed our conversations, and I enjoyed them as well; working from home and not speaking to him at least once was a shock to my system. The meetings went on till late. Finally I said to Beck that I was going out for a walk and would speak to him the next day.

When I went out it was warm and, because of the hour, most were indoors cooking dinner and so forth. It was peaceful and although I was weak – things were truly catching up with me – I moved with a terrific glee. Not only that, but there was an evening light upon the scenery that I had not experienced in some months. I reminisced on the winter that had been & gone, the walks I took back then, the colour of dusk, the chill through collars. As I rounded about and came back to the face of the sea, the sun was upon me and no breeze at all. There was still the odd person in the sea, and fisherman setting up. There were half-a-dozen sailboats manoeuvering together and tightly in the silk and still blue of minor waves. One sailboat lingered behind; a speedboat went out to meet it. The northern sea was flat; it shimmered so beautiful that one had only to glance upon it to be peaceful. I paused: a maggot was upon the pavement, and it was being attacked by a number of ants; it wriggled. The maggot turned and kind of danced as it was being attacked. I watched for a while. Should I cheer for the maggot or the ants? The ants had their numbers but the maggot had its size. It was unattractive and wriggling on the doorstep of a pub as I stood there, headphones on, dripping in perspiration. The ants were really ruining it. The maggot was the colour of custard. The ants poked in and pinced, then retreated. The maggot twitched. The ants moved and darted like 8mm film. I did not wish to watch the end of things, but the sunset was indeed a marvellous curtain for such a tragic death.
Although it was my wish to go to bed early and get some rest, and in spite of my tiredness, I did not place my skull upon the pillow until late, and even then could not fall asleep no matter how hard I tried! The next day Beck worked from home and that was a great disappointment because it left me quite alone. Still unsure of myself and my tasks, I was prone to looking about at the activity around me; people talking and laughing and working together. A Greek colleague spoke to another in Greek so I watched and listened to them keenly. I thought how wonderful it must be to talk to someone in your mother tongue in a foreign land. Maybe it is like coming across an old dear friend even though they are but a stranger. As a fool of an Englishman, monolingual and mumbling, speaking another language is as difficult for me to comprehend as quantum physics. At lunch, everyone around me went out together. I sat there and began to whistle, then I remembered that I should not, and stopped. There was only the sound of computers. It would have been wise to get something to eat, but I was not hungry. Exhaustion was getting the better of me, driving me to tears. When they all come back, I thought, then I will go. I went for a cigarette, uncertain of where to stand. How I missed irritating my last security guard and how he would chase me from the spot. I stood across the road. Through music I heard some screaming: there was a vagrant walking along, shouting and cursing, he was kicking a dead pigeon. The pigeon was limp, many broken bones. The vagrant kicked it a few feet, caught up with it, howling, and kicked it again. The pigeon was in the air for a moment, then it landed with a strange sound. Every now and then, the sun would catch the neck feathers of the bird in their iridescence. I threw my butt in the gutter and went back to my desk. They returned soon enough, ending conversations as they sat back down around me. There was always someone to talk to before; I knew them intimately; knew the names of their mothers, their children, where they lived, their sense of humour, their music, cultural references, knew their friends and the football team they supported. Now I was lost and had to learn all these things about new people and all of a sudden did not feel up to the task. They were still talking to each other across me. I will get lunch. The voice came louder; the man at the desk adjacent was addressing me. I spun. ‘Pardon me?’ I said. ‘How you finding it?’ An olive branch? I told him, lying a little. He then engaged in a conversation with me, bent down, elbows on his knees, leaning in close, lowering his voice until his volume built and so did mine. He was interested. He seemed interested. He asked me questions and listened, and then he answered other questions about my answers to the first questions. I asked him questions and stared into his eyes so that I might portray an air of confidence, and really his eyes glared fiercely back into mine. Some time passed during our conversation that I became hungrier and hungrier, yet not wanting to walk away. When it eventually ended, I bade him good-bye and went for a walk in the hot sunshine with something of a smile on my face.

She said that I might have to forgo writing on account of being too tired to do so, and I said to her that I would try, regardless, that I would have so much to say. And it was true, I was tired and I had much to say in the evenings, things that I wanted to get written down, but when it came time to do so, it was as though I had never written a sentence in my life! I could not sleep, could not write, but this will not be forever I told myself, over and over—‘This will not be forever.’

Friday was an intensely hot day. The waves of humidity that had been rolling over us for weeks, sneaking under our bedsheets, keeping our towels wet, were beginning to be burned away. I was energised by the end of the week, the light at the end of the tunnel, so to speak, six o’clock. In something that I later regarded as a moment of weakness, I called up a friend and former colleague. ‘It’s hard for me to work from home and not speak to you at least once,’ I told him. The line was noisy; he was in a service station on his way to Devon with his partner’s family. He asked me how it was all going. I asked him how he was doing. We spoke for ten minutes, laughed, during which I felt relieved to hear him again. It was certainly true that I felt guilty for abandoning him, as though a true friend would stick around. However, at the sound of his voice, at our common jokes and measures of reference, part of me that had been away for two weeks returned at once. I missed him so! How tempted I was to enquire after my old office, people, projects, but locked my tongue behind my teeth. In the background I heard him move away from the till, could hear the gathering of chatting around him, and then outside everyone excited by the car, opening closing doors as we said good-bye to each other.

At the end of my shift I turned the laptop off with a spirited sigh, smiling, and took a beer from the fridge, raised it for myself and said almost silently—‘First week.’ I took a few beers that evening and went to bed feeling proud and ready to sleep.

As is often the case, my good mood did not last. I could not tell you what happened to me during my sleep that night, but by the next morning things had taken a turn for the worse.