Survive The Jungle
My whole life I’d had warnings running through my head. Warnings about things that might happen, things that might happen again and warnings about what might happen to ‘girls like me’. To be honest, I was never quite sure what a girl like me might look like, might do or might have done to her. All I do know is that by the time I finally left home I was scared of just about everyone and everything.
Answering the phone was stressful (‘You don’t know what they might want’), answering the door was full of barely concealed fear and as for going out after dark: unheard of. Every day I went to work. It was deemed ‘safe’ as there were a lot of people around, not far from where I lived, in a ‘nice’ area. Daily I lived with the deeply embedded fear, of an unknown world of ‘maybe’, while completely missing the world of ‘what actually exists’ that was right in front of me. My parents were, of course, over-protective. The death of my older sister had put fear into their heads and nothing would move it out. Nothing would shift the idea that danger lurked everywhere and they had passed that fear onto me. I live mainly inside my own head and haven’t risked letting anyone in unless its on my terms. As a result, I’m a bit shy, a bit old-fashioned and I don’t really fit in at the office. I’ve never been drunk or really had sex.
Sometimes I wonder if I'm going to be alright. Will I ever be one of those women who knows what they want in life, and just goes out to get it? But I do know what I want, I think. I want what my parents never had. I want love: someone who will protect me from all those monsters out there. There was Bob. I really liked him but my mother’s voice in my head shouted so loudly that I couldn’t even hear what he was saying to me.
My little house is lovely but I don’t really feel safe until I have locked all the doors and closed the curtains. The girls in the office used to ask me out for drinks but I never went, so they’ve stopped asking. Holidays are very stressful. I've been on a couple of touring breaks but I hate it if anyone sits near to me and I always pay the extra for my own room. I know it’s sad that Penny died but I wish I hadn’t had to die with her. I know it’s a jungle out there but I want to join in and make my world into something.
In all the magazines, it would be at this point that a new man joins the company, meets me at the water fountain, takes away all my fears and shows me what love is all about. The only thing is, this is real life and no man joins my company and I remain unswept off my feet. However, there is a danger about which my parents know little. They have failed to over-emphasise in super-dramatic form everything that could go wrong online. They vaguely fear the internet, assuming there are ‘bad people’ who want to break into my bank account, so buying anything online isn’t to be done, because really ‘you never know’. Not only will they take money, ‘they’ will steal my identity and my virginity. Clearly cybersex is very real to them. But they have no idea. I hide in my forums and they never think I am talking to people if I am on the computer when they come round on one of their multiple visits. They don’t suspect that I am talking to someone in another continent. ‘Lisa is always so busy you know, she works so hard, she's always on her computer when we come round’, they tell the one or two friends who have passed their acid test of reliability.
They know nothing of James or of Pete or of the lovely Gary. The men I snuggle up with every night. You have to be tough to survive with these guys. They want a lot from me. Gary likes sex early mornings and I’ve found a way to angle my laptop to get the cutest views. James texts as well; he pops up all day long. He wants money to get to visit me; I’ve got plenty but he’ll have to earn it. But really it’s the lovely Pete that heads up the gang. Well, it’s not a real gang because they don’t know they belong to it. But it’s my gang. My jumbly jungle of wild men. Pete wants everything all the time. Pete tells me I’m gorgeous.
Pete’s going to keep me safe; he just needs to sort out some stuff from his divorce. He’s nearly finished now. I’m careful how much I give him at a time. I need to look after him and he won’t need much more once it’s all sorted. Then he’ll come to me. He says he can’t wait. I’ll stop Gary and James then, but right now I like having them around me. I know James works hard but he usually manages to text every day; if not I just send him a little text to remind him about me! Gary says I should be in the cinema and he says he enjoys replaying the films we make together because it keeps us close.
No one knows about my world. It’s my real world. The big frightening bit is shut away by the locks and the curtains. I know I can’t survive in that jungle. Dad always said that I’d never manage. But the jumble of my men is safe. I know they all care. I’m happy to give them money from time to time, poor loves. After all, it’s not as if they can hurt me is it? It’s a jungle out there and they have to survive to keep on helping me.
“I think you’d be first in the pot if that happened to us, eh Eco.” Inspiro gave my stomach a playful tap. “You need to be careful or the Community Supportive Punishment Team will be back to see you.”
Inspiro never let me forget what a good turn he was doing by employing me. Having being sentenced to three months in Behaviour Therapy Camp aka “The Jungle” for being twelve kilogrammes over my target weight and illegal possession of synthetic kebab meat, it wasn’t easy finding work.
The Community Supportive Punishment Team had picked me up from the camp, weighed me, arranged a weekly dietician session and enrolled me on the Work Smile Rehabilitation Scheme. After three weeks, they’d found me a position here. It wasn’t much – Executive Director of Strategic Management at the Chartered Institute of Corporate Social Value Planning – but it was a job.
“Only joking, we’re all really proud of you Eco… still, seriously, watch the weight, we don’t want to lose you. You’re doing great. Everyone thought I was crazy taking on a ‘fatty’, but we’ve proving them wrong, eh?
Inspiro couldn’t even give an insincere compliment without being sincerely obnoxious. Besides which, I knew damn well I’d been foisted on him against his wishes as part of the company’s corporate social responsibility drive.
He’d been talking about some stupid plane crash in the South American Federated States where the survivors had been stuck on the mountain for so long they’d ended up eating each other… imagine that, so hungry you’re driven to eat real meat!
“It’s only Snowdon Park, Inspiro. I can’t see us being stranded up here for that long if we get lost.” Inspiro was obviously lost in some fantasy wilderness of his own imagining. He’d had to wait eight months to get a group ticket to Mount Snowdon Park, in the New Wales suburbs of North-West Citadel; a chance for the team to bond high above the sprawling urban jungle below.
“Probably as high as the Rockies, though, Eco,” he replied nodding upwards. I was on the point explaining that the Rockies were in North America not South America and that both the Rockies and the Andes were a damn sight higher than Snowdon Park, but then my brain kicked in and I kept quiet.
I sighed – what was the point of escaping the tangle of the urban jungle if I had to take the smiling viciousness of the office jungle with me? I walked on, lengthening my stride to put distance between me and Inspiro. I found myself at the head of our little group, alongside Aspira.
“Hi, Eco,” she turned towards me, smiling. “What did you think of the spot training at our breakfast togetherness event this morning?”
“Yeah, it was very interesting. It really made me think.”
“Oh, I’m so glad. I always get a bit nervous when I’m asked to contribute to the training. It’s so hard to meet everyone’s individual learning objectives and align them to the team goals at the same time. But, then, I suppose that’s something you do all the time in your role, Eco.”
“You know, this reminds me of our day job,” came an excited voice from behind as Inspiro scampered up.
“I know what you mean,” replied Aspira, smiling.
“Do you?” he asked.
“Well, sort of, but not really. Just in a kind of general sense, you know. Like metaphorically.”
“Exactly,” exclaimed Inspiro. “That’s exactly what I was getting at. I love the way you’re able to tune into your colleagues, Aspira. You seem to know just what I’m thinking. Sometimes I feel like I don’t need to say anything.”
< OH! I WISH! I WISH! I WISH!>
“Do you know what I’m thinking, Aspira?” I wondered, beaming my thoughts outwards in a line that zapped her just above her cute, little nose. “Well, when we get to the top of this mountain I’m going to push Inspiro right off. So, tune into that!”
“Yes,” continued Inspiro, resting one hand on my shoulder and another on Aspira’s as he walked along between and behind us, steering us forward. “It’s as if we go to work and we have a mountain to climb.”
“You’re so right, Inspiro. That’s exactly how it feels sometimes,” simpered Aspira.
“And it’s a high mountain and the peak is a long way off… but, you know what?” Inspiro paused and patted our shoulders. “We don’t mind. We don’t mind at all, because we’re climbing that mountain together. What do you think, Eco?” Inspiro squeezed my shoulder in a way that fed my destructive ambition.
“Yeah… yeah… that’s really quite profound. I never thought of it like that. You know, you should be one of the speakers at the bi-annual Institute Encounter. You’re so good at just... well… summing things up.”
Inspiro’s smile widened to the length of a fatty’s bum crack.
“Thanks Eco. That really means a lot. You know, I love these team-building days. How often do we get to talk together like this in our busy working lives?”
“Always,” I thought, beaming the words “Inspiro!” and “Plummet!” at Aspira’s forehead.
Looking up, I saw a man standing in the middle of the path, holding one arm up and wafting the other one to the left. He wore the universal uniform of the self-important – a yellow, fluorescent thingy.
“You’ll have to wait, I’m afraid,” he announced. “If you’ll just gather at the side of the path here. We need to allow twenty minutes to ease the congestion ahead.”
We moved dutifully to a holding area next to the checkpoint. There was only one path up Snowdon - and a parallel one back down - and it got very crowded. What with the team-builders, compulsory neighbourhood fitness programmes, motivational payback days and the like there could be thousands of people on the track at any one time and the flow of people had to be carefully managed.
Eventually, we were allowed to move forwards and approached the final part of the hike; the steep climb that would take us to the summit. This entailed another delay at the bottom of the soaring ascent where we underwent a “medical” – having our heart rate monitored and basic fitness checked to make sure we stood a good chance of making it up to the top without leaving anyone the problem of a corpse to carry down.
“Don’t worry, Eco,” grinned Inspiro, winking. “I’m sure you’ll be fine. Your little belly bulge hardly shows now.”
“Yes,” added Aspira. “You’re doing really well. You’ll be fine.”
I stood still while someone in a white coat did a few things to me to assess my fitness and then stuck a Snowdon Park Adventures Ltd disclaimer form in front of me to sign. The company that owned the park obviously didn’t want anybody suing if they had a heart attack.
“Okay, your body mass isn’t ideal but I think you’re okay to ascend as long as you take it easy.” Whitecoat waved me onward with the same official disdain that Flourescent man had used to wave me sideways, as if I was a bit of human litter being wafted along by the haughty minions of the powers that be.
Once we were all safely through the medical, Inspiro brought us together for a “Team Scrum”.
“Right, everyone! This is the tough bit! The final push. I want you all to remember we’re a team. Either we all win or nobody wins, okay.”
He paused to give the little group of listeners the chance to nod enthusiastically.
“Now,” he continued. “We all know that Eco faces particular challenges. He’s always between quite open about his weight crime.”
This wasn’t quite true. I’d never been open about it. It was Inspiro who’d been open about it; wanting everyone to know how he was using his skills to turn around my poor, wasted life.
“So, let’s pull together, team. Let’s get Eco up there.” He pointed to the spiked peak above. “We’re going to show him he can do it. That’s he’s a winner like us.”
“Well said!” cried Aspira.
“Yes, come on Eco, you can do it,” shouted Aerial raising his fist triumphantly.
“We’re with you every single step of the way, Eco,” added Flame in his quiet but firm way.
This was awful. Anyone could walk up what was, after all, a hill... especially as there were at least half-a-dozen cafés by the side of the path, a handrail for those who wanted it and a fleet of electric jeeps for those who didn’t mind paying.
I didn’t need motivating. I didn’t need them with me every step of the way. I didn’t need them to plonk me on the peak so they could marvel at their own stupendous teamwork abilities.
I pushed on, trying to put a bit of distance between myself and the others, but being thwarted by the crowded path.
.“That’s it Eco,” said Aspira, walking beside me, her face red and her hair dishevelled. “You’re doing great. Keep going. Think of it as one step at a time.”
“Thanks, Aspira. You keep at it, too, and you’ll soon be at the top.”
“Oh, don’t worry about me.” Her voice had the quiet calmness of someone repressing annoyance. I’d obviously offended her by gee-ing her along. “You don’t get to be Senior Principal Policy Analyst without knowing a thing or two.”
I had no idea why policy analysis made someone a better hill-climber but she obviously did. Apparently, my role was that of motivatee rather than motivator.
I strode on and, as the path began to level out, joined Inspiro, Aerial and Flame as we waited for River and, finally, Aspira to join us. From here it was an easy walk to the summit. We arrived at the summit gate and awaited our turn. Reaching the front of the queue, we moved up the path to the peak, where we stood and gazed out over the cliff edge.
Far below, we could see the long, snaking line of hikers as they made their way up. Our group had been allocated six minutes at the summit so we had plenty of time to enjoy the view.
To the east, I could see the edge of the park and, through the haze, the sprawling North-West Citadel suburbs of New Wales heading into the distance. To the north was the enormous, grey stone dam that held back the sea and ran from the Citadel’s western tip where travellers who had permits to leave the city were able to access the tunnel to Greater Dublin. Long trains ran along the top of the dam all the way to the infamous Liverpool Lido.
I stared at Inspiro’s broad back. I’d known from the outset that I would never have the conviction or malevolence to do him harm. Murder fantasies were just my way of getting through the day. I’d slaughtered most of my work colleagues in one hideous way or another. I still felt ashamed of what I’d done to Aspira; I didn’t think I was capable of such a thing.
“Right, everyone!” called Inspiro “Our time’s up. Let’s get back. You set off. I’ll follow with Eco in a minute. I just want a quick word… he’s done ever so well.”
He smiled and moved towards me. My heart sank; here we were on top of the world and he was going to poison the view with his motivating, little ways.
“I just wanted to say well done. You’ve been awesome today.” He beamed as he walked towards me and put his hand out to shake mine…
… and then his arm shot forward.
As my body fell over the cliff edge and my feet scrabbled pointlessly in the air, I looked at his smiling face.
“Sorry,” he said, “but it’s for team morale... You understand.”
hurl barbed comments, hit cement
The Stepfords jog out salsas
against the wind's lament
and quietly, some mothers sigh
to see their children grow
with collective pride which permeates
this urban jungle show.
Kids, like monkeys, outperform
In ever-rising cries
Women with sunglasses shade
Their ageing, tired eyes.
A solitary father stands,
subsumed by oestrogen,
we line up prehistorically,
The bell shrills out and then,
The children file in two by two,
Like animals to the ark
the mothers join their cliques,
take their babies to the park.
The school playground stills,
all arms bereft of maternal gain
keep low, keep low, this ritual starts
On Monday, once again.
The voice within (the honest one)
may question why we shy
from criticisms, indecision,
the logic reasoning - why?
We grew up in these playgrounds,
thickened skins from veiled taunts
and still, and with great impact
each unsaid jibe still taunts.
We cannot play in castles
nor fling mud, nor clamber trees
so why then still, does playground shill
bring you down upon your knees?
A mother now, I'm forty,
With my days of gingham past.
And yet, the stench of bullying,
has sadly, never passed.
My daughter, I will shield you
From all I can prevent,
with the contemptible army
of justice's loud lament,
but this place I drop you, daily
is a seething mass of grey
and I'm sorry, little girl,
For the debris in which you play.
I'll hold you when you come home,
crying from your hateful day.