Static from the television, like an intoxicated mass of mosquitoes rocks me to sleep, my eyelids barely open, like eggy half-moons, staring at the ceaseless circling of a ceiling fan. Its dull blades swim through the mosquito swarm in my mind, both simultaneously alive in virulent synergy. An old flyer in the metal wastebasket lies crumpled.
I get up. My bones crack like dried twigs stepped upon. The window streams pale light refracted and reflected off myriad glass buildings, now empty, like shiny chrysalids without caterpillars. The static in my old slippers builds and dissipates as I reach for a different chair, two feet away in an adjacent room, and put on my glasses. A laptop screen beckons me, staring back at me with its Excel tabs – and hundreds and hundreds of cells, formulae, words, codes, graphs. The formuale are precise, unbroken, like a working, mechanical thing, giving precise results and outcomes. The Work From Home policy is a resounding, roaring success – how could it not be, in the face of all these observed, calculated results? Commerce and business staying ever-resilient in the face of the New Pandemic, the one we actually call a pandemic: the ones that kills more generously, the one that’s honest about what it is,
which doesn’t lie. More emails now, with the firm-approved font and font size, the ‘good morning’ and ‘hope you had a lovely weekend’ to sandwich yet another problem in. The client’s reply also follows the same archaic strategy, a hint more aggressive than before, but the sandwich protects and shields the pinched feelings. Another email, a ping, casually opened.
“Good morning, Sir,
We regret to inform you…”
A gulp. Nothing good ever started with those sinister words. The sinking feeling on reading those words is perhaps worse than the news itself.
A warmth rises to the throat as I google what ‘furloughed’ means. ‘Leave of absence’, ‘non-essential staff’, ‘delays in promotion’ – things I didn’t care about suddenly become viscerally real – the mosquito swarm becomes menacing, biting, drawing blood. The stress projectiles from my mouth as hot vomit. Then meetings with blank screens and faceless managers, grinning, their photos on a screen “consoling” me – the reality is sandwiched again between many kind words.
“I think it’ll be hard” – they say. Of-course – the mosquitoes and fan, their unfailing presence is the one constant in a life of variables. And doing nothing in the racing, wrestling world of corporate London with its glistening, plant-heavy offices, beautiful men in crisp red ties, and its poisonous appeal of power, here – doing nothing on this ladder would only cause the rung to snap, and I’d slip.
Days cycle by, as surely as the blade of the fan circles in perpetual motion, as predictably as the static rages, and then one day – something is different. I trudge to my laptop with its still-open Excel tabs, the light of the screen lurid in the darkness. I’m not sure how long it has been since the furlough was announced. I look at the Excel cells, and click on one, with a long formula embedded in it, giving a crisp clean numerical result. The sources of the formula that give this clear result are coloured and traceable. One mistype and the result is muddled. One mistype and there is no answer. Like me – this undefinable, unsimplifiable, incomprehensible Excel code of beautiful, bizarre origin.
I blink hard. Once. Twice. The static halts, the fan stops, and in the screaming, still silence, out of the corner of my eye, I notice the flyer. I gather it from the trash and flatten in out in front of me, the colours unfurling themselves like a butterfly opening its wings. It is a socially distant Pride picnic. I can’t remember when I picked this up. The event is… this evening!
I gather my boots with the rainbow laces I bought at a forgotten Pride event years ago – maybe my ex left it for me or I bought it because I had no rainbow-themed attire and he had plenty? I left him because I was working too much. I shower and wear the nicer hair gel I save for special occassions. I puzzle over the best alcohol to buy, using my workplace math skills to quickly calculate the drink with the most alcohol per volume. The wind messes up my hair on the three hour walk there. I
should’ve worn more gel.
The mosquito swarm is, for a brief moment, lost in the wind, the ceiling fan back home, further away. The rhythm is new now, and other sounds fill the air. The grass at Green Park is greener than I remember. The trees seem mightier, taller, reaching to the yolk-yellow sun like giants with their hundred skinny arms in the fresh air. Blue birds bounce around curiously in the grass next to a rising mound of violet Strongbow cans. Red Santander cycles weave through the field.
“Oh my god! I can’t believe it’s you – you never show up to these events!” A friend almost hugs me, but stops himself, pauses and has a short chuckle. “We’re all here, come on! I’ll introduce you.”
We sit in a circle. A friend makes a joke, and rips the grass playfully, sprinkling it over his boyfriend’s face. Things not in our comprehension, our awareness, take centre-stage, people we’d forgotten and ignored seem realer, our past connections burning brighter. When we get up, more people have accumulated into a pride of LGBT youth in dazzling clothes. Butterflies flit through the wind like tossed confetti, and I realise that we are both the rainbow and the treasure at its end.
On the long walk back, looking at my grass-smeared shoes, the old rainbow strings, I finally dig up an old number, buried deep, deep in my text archives, the boy who gave me the rainbow laces, and send a nervous text:
I put the phone back in my pocket. The phone pings only a few seconds later.