47 Random Fragments of Unauthorised Hope and Despair


IT WAS freezing cold as well as pouring with rain. There was no way I could go ahead with my usual walk around the town.

And yet, what else was there? I was hardly going to hang around at the work centre, enduring 45 minutes of stagnating, airless, neon-illuminated nothingness, punctuated only by the inane babble of my fellow associates and inevitably cut short by an urgent inquiry from managerial level well before the conclusion of my allotted rest-time.

I stepped back, without thinking, under the frontage of some office or other and set off the sensors, which informed me I was trespassing on private property and if I did not vacate the area within 30 seconds I would liable to prosecution under the blah blah blah Act.

Pulling my very non-waterproof jacket closer around my neck to shut out the streams of water trying to sneak under my shirt, I knew it was going to have to be the Sunshine Centre.

Even as I entered the mall, and my chip beeped contact with the doorway monitor, I wanted to get out. The soothing, semi-audible background music, the hint of artificial coffee aroma and toxic plastic flavouring, the dead air-conditioned atmosphere that was perfect for the brain-dead conditioned consumers who breathed it in - all of this was poison to me.

I walked into a newsagent’s and confectionery chain just inside the entrance. I knew exactly what I had to do and bought one packet of gum, guaranteed 100 percent taste-free.

Then I headed for the very furthest end, to a rather obscured door tucked away beyond the lingerie and v-sex boutique.

The staircase still smelled new, even though the centre was a few years old now. Everybody used the lifts and escalators.

I went up two flights, almost to the top level, which was quieter than the others because not all the units were let.

I stepped onto the last landing before the top and sat down.

This was perfect. It was dry here; clean, quiet and at last I could do what I had been aching to do - nothing.

I would say I was thinking, but even that wouldn’t have been true. It was nothing as conscious or structured as that, nor as fanciful or entertaining as day-dreaming.

There I sat in my nothingness-bliss, tucked up in the corner of the stairwell for a length of time that was as invaluable as it was inevitably short.

The two security guards burst in through the door at the top level, which took me by surprise. I had expected to hear them coming up the steps from the bottom. They must have used the lift or the escalator, like everyone else.

Needless to say, they wanted to know what I was doing in the Sunshine Centre and, needless to say, my packet of gum did not entirely mollify them.

Too small a spend and too long ago, they told me after checking my chip.

I had no reason to still be on the premises. What was I doing hiding in here?

I told them I wasn’t hiding, but resting. I said I’d had trouble breathing because I had come all the way up the stairs.

They looked at each other from under their helmets and I knew what they were thinking. But I’m not like everyone else.

“And which unit in particular were you heading for, Sir?” asked one of them with a delighted air of supreme cunning.

I told him it was the first one out of the door - that was why I’d come up this way - save some time - couldn’t remember its name.

I got away with it. They didn’t do an on-the-spot conviction. But they took me up, in person, to the first shop at the top of the stairs, which turned out to be one of those uncategorisable abominations that sells nauseating novelties, fluffy polyester bunnies, baubles and distractions of a kind to prove for once and for all the obscene vapidity of our contemporary non-culture.

“Now if you’d care to make your purchase, Sir...” advised the same supremely scheming custodian and I scanned the price labels until I found the lowest, then grabbed whatever it was - some kind of jaunty plastic notice - paid and was on my way out of the Sunshine Centre with full security escort.

It was only when I was back outside in the rain that I pulled my purchase out of its bag and glanced at it, as a prelude to disposing of it in the nearest recycling bin.

“Tomorrow,” read the tweely decorated sign, “is the first day of the rest of your life.”

A total cliche, of course, but for some reason it seemed to speak to me personally.

I wonder what they made of it at the work centre when I never came back from lunch.