A brief taste of freedom
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Hellfire and Team Management. By Jon Ware.

I lose the will to live just as the minute hand reaches its zenith for the second time this afternoon. My eyes drift around the room searching for something, anything, to alleviate the pain and lift me into the glorious haze of the daydream, but they have passed over everything three times already, and now the mind is just going through the motions before it gives up and dies. Some have stopped fidgeting. Everything in the room, or so it seems, has been deliberately removed of anything that might be considered at all interesting. Even the window, to which several are even now looking hopefully, dreaming of possible panoramas, has been tightly sealed off behind clean plastic blinds.

“…and now on to time management,” said the young lady, who, I’m sure, is a wonderful person, despite her shrill, nasal voice that jars the soul and frightens the eardrums. A new slide appears. It consists of the exact same words as the ones that the speaker is now reading mechanically out, as if she were inviting us to sing along. For a diverting few seconds this becomes a serious possibility in my mind. I stare down at my sketchpad, where even the doodlings, stick figures and representations of the speaker’s gruesome and drawn-out death can no longer entertain me. Higgins is sitting on my right, long gone; several of the management team are frowning and I know that I should wake him, but I decide graciously to let him sleep while he can. Anna on my left has suffered utter disillusionment; the neat, eager notes and diagrams she was jotting down at the beginning of the lecture lie in furious little paper balls around her feet. I cannot see where the other half of her biro went. I fall into stupor. I begin to pray, feverishly, childishly, under my breath for anything. A fire. A hostage taking. The entire building to be wiped out under Godzilla’s foot. Anything more interesting than this.

It takes me about thirty seconds to lose my faith. I begin to do quick estimates of probability in my head; the chances of the speaker suffering a spontaneous heart attack…a thousand to one…the chances of the speaker swallowing her tongue…ten thousand to one…the chances of my getting up and braining the speaker with a chair…dead cert. My fingers actually close around the plastic legs.

Then; a sail! A sail! On the other side of the room, an attractive young blonde turns to stare at the clock. Our eyes meet. They convey pretty much the whole of human suffering in a split second. She smiles, checks the time, and turns back to face me, and then, as a tingle spreads up my spine, which I remember now I used to call ‘enjoyment’, she holds up a finger to her lips and quietly ducks down behind the person in front of her, as if to pick something up from the floor. The next second, she has vanished; no, not quite; I catch a glimpse of red and black moving stealthily along the ground amongst the slumbering legs. I have to make a split decision. I look at the other two, wondering whether to include them in my escape plan, but Higgins is too fat and it looks like it’s too late for Anna. She is even now gnawing on her fingernails with a bestial look in her eyes. I drop my pen. It’s on. I somersault unsteadily down to the floor. It’s a dangerous route. I squeeze under row after row, counting, ever counting, and feeling perhaps that life might just be worth it after all. I catch a stray leg against my own and freeze. There is a moment of silence, and then a whispered,

“Good on you, mate,” and I push on. Then, suddenly, a corridor of light opens up in front of me. It’s the exit, guarded by the stern gazes of the management team, watching their dying prisoners with a kind of grim amusement, no doubt ready to sack elopers at the slightest opportunity. This is a thousand of my macho childhood fantasies combined into one; I look across to my fellow escapee; she is grinning with just as much excitement as I am. It’s my turn to come up with the plan.

Practically giggling at my own ingenuity, I reach for my mobile phone and dial Higgins’ number. For a second there is nothing. Then, an almighty burst of hellish Beethoven drowns out the speaker for a few heavenly moments and Higgins wakes up with a colossal yelp of distress. The management team sigh, not without satisfaction, and head quietly towards him to escort him off the premises. Some people are laughing, laughing for joy at this unexpected variety in their eternal damnation. The speaker does not laugh; she stands, slightly confused; she was not programmed for this. We run, both at the same time, unnoticed by any of them, but I have imaginary foes chasing behind me and a beautiful woman running in front of me and so I charge and retreat at one and the same time, whooping like a schoolboy.

We burst through the main doors and pelt out into the rain that is Birmingham. It’s not important. For us at this moment, the lifeless grey apartment blocks and roaring traffic really could be paradise. There is life here, scabrous and hectic, and all the better for it. She twirls like a ballerina; I leap up and down, waving my fists at nothing in particular. We embrace. The joy of life washing through us, we feel nothing more than the desire to spend the rest of eternity in this place, at this time, together for ever. It’s unexplainable, and yet without it nothing makes sense. I can feel again; this soggy pavement, I declare to myself in my mind, blowing in strips through her floating hair, is my Utopia, and this is where I shall remain. My bones will be consecrated on this spot, my little blonde-haired children shall visit it with their children and tell stories of how they were conceived upon this spot.

But we go back inside for coffee and biscuits when it’s all over.


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