47 Random Fragments of Unauthorised Hope and Despair


HIS FATHER had shaken hands with him on his way off to work in the morning.


“Good luck, Michael!” he’d said, with a man-to-man clasp.

His voice had been serious, formal, but the look in his eyes was one of great anticipation.

His mother was the same and had been so for the last couple of days.

She was as excited as a child in the run-up to Christmas. She probably hadn’t even slept last night, judging from the unearthly hour that Michael had been woken by the water running through the pipes behind his headboard.

He’d heard her on the phone yesterday, when she thought he was up in the top room.

She had somehow managed to be babbling and whispering simultaneously - it was something about reservations and special occasions.

And she’d been sorting through her posh stuff in the wardrobe, he’d noted.

She could hardly wait for him to finish his breakfast coffee.

“Well? she said at last, unable to keep quiet any longer.

“Are you going to see if they’re up there now. They said nine o’clock and it’s ten past already.”

Michael tried to smile, but it didn’t come out right and his mother noticed.

She put her hand on his shoulder.

“There’s nothing to worry about, Mikey. You’ll be OK. I know you will. Everyone gets nervous about this sort of thing, but...”

He shook his head and stood up.

“It’s not that,” he said, although he knew she wouldn’t believe him.

“I’ll do it now,” he added and headed up to his bedroom study.

As he poked around in his drawer for the print-out with the access code, he found his latest junior credit statement. It was pretty healthy, with all the birthday and holiday money he hadn’t spent - not because he was saving it for anything, but because he hadn’t got anything he particularly wanted to buy. Or the time to think about buying it - up until the exams had finished three weeks ago, anyway.

His credit would probably be even higher by this time tomorrow. That’s how his father had rewarded him last time.

And before he knew it, he’d be on the adult system, receiving monthly top-ups from whatever corporation he signed up with to take him through university.

The brochures were all in a pile, in the corner of his room, underneath a selection of discarded t-shirts.

The glossy worlds of banking, policing, investing, auditing, taxing and controlling were all waiting for him with open arms, offering anything from 20 to 30 year tie-ins (with the obligation purely on his side of the deal, of course!).

He was spoilt for choice, yet left feeling he had none at all.

Once online, he got caught up in the football results on his home page. Even the ones he didn’t care about seemed to exercise a peculiar fascination.

After a few minutes, he became aware of a creaking on the landing.

“Mum?” he called.

“Yes, dear,” she replied, all wide-eyed in his doorway.

“I haven’t done it yet,” he said. “Could you shut the door?”

She murmured something about checking the washing and backed out.

Michael sighed, made the necessary key strokes, entered his access code and found his exam results.

He’d got them all, Straight AA**s. All seven of them.

He had been through this moment - or rather this possible moment - so many times before in his mind that it was almost like stepping into a well-rehearsed routine.

He picked up his junior credit card and a few other bits of plastic, grabbed a handful of clothes from his chest of drawers and stuffed them into his school bag.

Picking it up, he realised it was a bit heavy and found the side pocket still full of revision notes and exam timetables.

He quickly pulled them out and deposited them in his wastepaper basket.

Then he had second thoughts, took them out again, ripped them in half and returned them to the bin.

“Mikey?” came his mother’s voice, still lingering outside on the landing.

He switched off the computer and, bag in hand, strode over to the door and opened it.

“Well?” said his mother a little nervously. “How did you do?”

Michael looked her straight in the eye.

“Ungraded,” he said. “Every single one. I failed the lot.”

He looked away to avoid seeing the expression that was about to take over her face and walked past her, down the stairs.

“But... I don’t... There must have been a mistake! Mikey! Mr Prentice said... Your father... Michael?”

“I’m going out,” said Michael as he left the house for the last time.

“Bye mum.”