Wednesday, 19 February 2014


There was a note on his desk that read 'Late'. It was written in stodgy red felt tip, double-underlined so he assumed it was serious, but they'd used a post-it hastily grabbed from the pile beside his monitor. Surely if this was a really serious matter they'd have written a formal letter or, at least, just emailed. No, this move, passing by his desk, noticing he wasn't present, but, moreso, investigating to make sure he wasn't in the break room or the kitchen, and then returning to leave a statement like this, a confirmation that - yes - his absence had been acknowledged, this was a more concerning degree of seriousness. It was passive aggressive.
    He balled up the note in his hand but didn't want to throw it away, he wanted whoever wrote it to know that it had been read, and it had not been tolerated. So, he placed the little scrunch onto his desk, nearest to the aisle, and slumped into his booth.
    Sure, he thought, he had been late, he'd been late every single day this week, but that was one week out of hundreds, and he'd had problems with the trains. Admittedly he'd sauntered to the station quite lackadasically, but they weren't to know that, he'd sent a text ahead to say that there were delays and he'd be in by half past.
    He called down to the reception desk, Julian answered.
    "Good morning, reception."
    "Hi Julian, did you get my text this morning?"
    "About the train delays."
    "Oh, that, yes. Yes."
    "And did you let anyone know about it?"
    "Er," the sound of a biro hollow tapping on the side of pouting cheek, "I don't think so, nobody asked."
    He hung up, irritated that his boss hadn't thought to call in with reception for any news of his arrival time. He sneered, shook his head, opened his emails, expecting some sort of continuation of the debacle, but there was nothing. Just a few spam messages and a request for him to proof some copy.
    Frustrated he picked up the stained coffee cup that the cleaner had ignored, and trudged to the kitchen.
    Michael was in there talking to Hattie, they were giggling over the personal ads in the free paper, but their shared chuckle halted almost immediately when he walked in and switched the kettle on, its boil erupting the cosy, quiet of the small sterile room.
    Michael folded up the paper, "Well, I'll leave you guys to it."
    He watched him slip out of the door, giving one last lingering look to Hattie before he left. She was staring down at the tabletop, at her own empty cup, waiting for something that he couldn't quite fathom.
    "Well, I'm having a shit day," he announced.
    After an uncomfortable silence the kettle clicked off, he poured his tea and grabbed the milk from the fridge, giving it a quick sniff before adding it to his brew.
    She set her cup down with an audible clink.
    "Sometimes, y'know," he shook his head, weighing his thoughts and curling his lip, "I just want to walk into that big office, go up to her and just, I don't know, give her a piece of my mind. Don't you?"
    She sighed, "Yeah."
    "What?" He could tell she wasn't really paying attention, her eyes seem fixed on a point on the floor, but there was nothing there, nothing at all. He shrugged to himself, glancing around the room, his eyes lost, before he deflated and finally leant over to her; "What's wrong with you?"
    She looked up at him, her brow furrowed, confused.
    "Didn't you get my note?"

Friday, 7 February 2014


Her eyes flickered open, prompted by the gradual illumination of her room. Despite facing to the south west, her apartment glowed with morning light generated by a meticulously "randomized" pattern of LEDs across the walls. With a contented, yet slumberous, sigh she shifted out of bed and walked down the hall, her bare feet padding on the easy-wipe linoleum.
    "You are ovulating. Excess caffeine detected," said the toilet.
    The spray from the bidet feature made her jump a little, as it always did, and she nestled into the warm air that followed, drying her off.

The dispenser buzzed harshly, she clapped her hand frustratedly on the side, but it continued to refuse. Defeated she continued to dress, checked the time, and left for work.

On her tab a travel alert popped up, she stretched it to fill the screen, two lines were down, but she didn't want to get the bus. As she left her building and walked onto the high street, she gradually moved herself into the yellow line, on the far left, for quicker pedestrians.
    She clipped the tab to her inVision unit and caught up on the end of the film she had fallen asleep to last night. In it the plucky heroes had finally broken into the capital and were about to bring down the evil empire.
    Stumbling suddenly, she glanced back and down, wheeled luggage being pulled tentatively across the lanes of commuter traffic by a wide-eyed young man, staring down at the map displayed on his phone. Having regained her footing, and with little time to spare, she picks up momentum and continues onwards, looking back to see another commuter - a tall man wearing a suit with trainers - berating the boy who seems to be lost in his words.
    Into the coffee shop, she stares bewildered at her options, the touch-pad having deliberately filtered out any caffeine products. She turns, desperately, to the customer queuing behind her, but his eyes are impossible to meet as they deliberately dart from left to right, and he jabbers away at whoever's on the other end of his head-set.
    Frustrated, huffing to herself, she presses for a banana muffin and a decaf caramel latte and proceeds to the collection point.
    Back outside, taking her first sip, she realises that the caramel shot hasn't been added.
    "Excuse me," she lightly pats the shoulder of the next in line to the service point, "do you mind if I cut in? I've just bought this and they haven't added my syrup."
    The customer looks down the line, as if asking permission, or - at least - judging the mood, and, buoyed on by nervous energy, apologises and sends her to the back of the queue. Her thanks are sarcastic, but the passive aggressive intent goes unnoticed.
    Three arduous minutes later she's back at the front of the line, the touchpad recognises her and beams: 'Welcome back, Katherine!'
    She pushes the button marked 'Help' and can hear the customer behind her sigh with deliberate volume.
    Having prodded the screen repeatedly, nudging through the tree of options, she finally finds herself at a window headed: 'Complaint'. With no specific button to press for her particular issue she chooses: 'Wrong item dispensed.' However, she's instantly informed - via a recording of the shop's doorway showing her leaving - that items cannot be returned once a customer has left the premises.
    Beaten, she orders another decaf caramel latte and makes sure she loiters around for it to cool so she can take a sip for certainty.

Reaching the terminal she throws her arms up, discovering that four lines are now experiencing severe delays.
    "Someone under a train," another commuter says.
    "Oh, for fuh-" mutters someone laden with shopping bags.
    She decides to take her chances, hoping others have been put off by the chaos. She takes a free paper from the stand and is beeped through the gates. The escalator down is packed, but, craning her neck, she can see that someone about ten steps down is standing on the left and wonders why nobody's asked them to move over.
    Once they reach the bottom she can pick up speed, and, over-taking, she notices that the person who was standing on the left is blind and she feels bad about having tapped her foot, groaned quietly and wanted for someone to give them a little nudge to move.
    The platform is quite quiet, she moves down to the area where the second from last carriage arrives, there are suggestions on the floor to encourage passengers to use certain carriages for certain stops. She always feels a little pleased with this addition, having signed an online petition for it about seven months back, now it's going through a trial on this line.
    On the first attempt to leave the automated voice comes on over the speakers; "Please keep personal items and belongings clear of the doors."
    There's a second attempt, a repetition of the annoucement, and then, when the doors finally close - no thanks to whatever obstruction it was - the voice adds: "Obstructing the doors causes delays. Respect your fellow passengers and keep the doors clear. If you see any unattended items or suspicious behavior please alert a member of staff or a police officer. Thank you for travelling with London Underground. The next station is Pimlico, alight here for the Tate Britain. Doors will open on the right hand side. In hot weather it is advised to bring a bottle of water with you on London Underground services. If you feel ill do not press the emergency alarm button, as this will cause delays. Instead, alight the train at the next station stop. We are now apporaching Pimlico. Delays are reported on the Victoria, Bakerloo, Northern and Piccadilly lines. There is a good service on all other lines. This is Pimlico..."
    And, as the doors opened, another automated voice joined in, adding a harmony of; "Please mind the gap between the train and the platform edge. Allow passengers to alight before boarding the train. Please keep personal items and belongings clear of the doors..."
    She never really took much notice of the announcements, they seemed to register on some level, as she would keep an ear out for further disruptions which often seemed to be slipped in, almost subliminally, amongst the barrage of information. Sometimes though, especially at the weekends or during the early hours, you'd find yourself walking towards a closed tube line without even knowing it, there being no indication anywhere that the trains weren't running until you found yourself up against a partition wall emblazoned with the words: 'Line closed.'
    Almost as soon as she thought this the train came to a halt, somewhere in the tunnels between Pimlico and Victoria. The lights dimmed a little, then there was nothing, not even the distant rumble of other stock moving along the tracks. Usually, the policy was for announcements about a delay within 15 seconds of stopping, but the voice wasn't there.
    She tried to check the service update, but her connection was out. Wireless was usually patchy during peak hours thanks to a rush on the service provider, the computer would just cut it if traffic got too high, and with all these delays it's not surprising.
    It was getting hot, the last splash of her coffee had cooled, but the caramel syrup had grown tart and unpleasant on the tongue. She wished she hadn't got it, but she was in a rush, she wanted something to start her day, and it looked so nice on the screen, she felt like she deserved a treat. The banana muffin had grown warm, squashy, and unappetising in her bag. She clawed out a chunk but it was dry and flavourless, she needed something hot to balance it out.
    To kill time she flicked through the paper, not reading anything in detail, just getting an overview of the news. Nothing much happening, nothing that really grabbed her attention, some conference of world leaders was taking place later that month and house prices were falling by the coast, otherwise it was the usual mix of human tragedy and celebrity gossip. She skipped ahead to the sports section, read the football results from yesterday and let the paper fall onto the vacant seat next to her.
    Someone got up, began pacing, he was dressed in jogging bottoms, but had a pressed shirt, perhaps on his way from the gym to the office. He went over to a panel by the door, hit the button marked 'Assistance'.
    "This service is currently unavailable," came the automated response.
    He dropped heavily back into his seat and asked if she was done with the paper.
    "Sure, it's all yours," she said, and he reached across to take it from next to her.

Twenty minutes passed before the train began to move again, crawling slowly into Victoria station, where they were herded off by police officers.
    "Out of service," they barked, waving passengers out of the carriages and onto the platform. There was no indication of when the next train was due, the overhead screens were blank, and once the train was clear and closed it was sent on its way, vacant.
    "Is there a problem with the line?" the man in jogging bottoms asked a police officer.
    "Technical difficulties," she responded, before turning away and speaking into her communicator.
    "Technical difficulties," he reiterated, nodding at Katherine. "Engineering works I think, those workers always leave something to fuck things up on a Monday morning."
    She nodded, people at the office had complained about similar things, so it must be.
    "Where do you work?" he asked.
    "Just down from Warren Street."
    "Me too, fancy spliting a cab? Might be quicker."

He hailed a taxi, having found where an available one would be via an app. He had designed it, his team worked in mobile technology, with a focus on solutions to make the everyday easier. She told him about her company, branding and market recognition. They exchanged information.
    They shared the cost, selecting the highest percentage to tip the driver, who had remained entirely anonymous behind their screen for the journey.
    "Well," he smiled, "have a good day. Hope, after all this, the elevator makes it to your floor."
    She laughed, shook his hand, they parted.
    Inside the building she was beeped through the security gates - knowing that her presence would be alerted to her P.A. who, hopefully, would start brewing her a coffee - she stepped into the elevator, the doors closed, and it began to ascend.