Kensal Rise to Borehamwood

The lift call-light flickered, flickered again, and dulled. It was the stairs again for Gavin. He heaved the riveted door and began the four-storey ascent. Those from Fitch would need to sail on past, some another five levels. Every fraction of fate worse for someone else made it a little easier on Gavin.

He was already later than he had intended, having stepped off the bus four stops early to down a potable coffee and use a wifi that didn’t strobe like an eighties disco. It was always best to get some work done before it became near-on impossible to get any work done.

When he made it through Petra’s apologetic smile to his desk, he swapped his trainers for his day shoes and spun his Nikes and rucksack into the abyss beneath, steering them into the corner with his feet. The twin sagas of Kieran’s wedding planning and Sheena’s asthma were rattlesnaking one another as they had been yesterday, and the day before. In blissful ignorance, neither was listening to the other. Gavin eased the papers from both desks back over the crumb-catching cracks and eased on headphones the size of pillows, the smallest space possible between two unfolding tragedies. In defining his estate, his set out its limit. The sound of his own heartbeat was reassuring.

The last shard of morning light between the cabinets dividing Sales from Accounts made its way across his files, thinning to a razorpoint and out. They must have nudged the pillars of Stonehenge around for decades to hit that sweet spot. The fairytale Druid in him muttered a pagan prayer, as he opened his InBox. He wondered for a moment what twentyfirst century work would be without it, as he scanned the bold items for anything from Kelly. Nothing yet. She would be bored soon and the more bored she got the less Gavin could think about anything else.

Alan was wearing a resplendent tie again. It was a form of inner protest only he understood and persisted with. After years of unofficial and demonstrative campaigning for a more relaxed dress code, he had become dispirited by the greige all around him, the variant shades of indescribable drabbery his colleagues managed to source set against a backdrop of uniformly unchallenging drabbery the organisation managed to source. So he spiked the day as only he was able, like dropping a tequila in his own drink.

He could see Christine gesticulating at Frank, the office manager – her plant had been taken away again. It made regular journeys between her desk and the storeroom or the rear yard, depending on how far Frank had managed to get with it before the protest began. It was her own confused and bemused plant, answering only to her, but own plants weren’t allowed. Greenfly. But Christine was hardwired to connect with nature, she pleaded, but Kevin on the other hand was hardwired to the Policy tablets. There was no middle ground.

Gavin’s mobile rang, it was the agency he registered with last week. He slipped out of the cans and spoke very slowly as he edged out toward the lifts, trying to avoid any suspicion. Everyone’s lives were on show, a modern curiosity shop. As he reached the redundant lobby, the signal opted out – hello? Hello? Shit. Wherever there was a fragment of privacy, there was an accompanying curse. The toilet traps were no better, and the damp cold crept into every data packet. You could almost feel the caller’s bone marrow chill.

When Gavin returned to his desk, Simone waved him over. Hacking his way Indiana-Jones-like through sticky notes reminding of calls never returned, was a website and an idea – the “Elemental Workplace”. Gavin read the post and shrugged, more to himself than to anyone else.

“We could do with some of that, eh Gav..?” she nodded towards the flytipped contents arrayed before them.

Gavin paused and breathed deeply. “What’s in the bloody filing cabinets anyway?”. Everyone in earshot shrugged at Gavin. “Righto. Let’s get them emptied and out of here. This has to start somewhere”.

And in that moment, everything changed.


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