Modern Day Slaves
Face lit every night
out my high tower down
neck curved - engrossed
sitting in a big grey recliner
like everything else
amazon boxes filling every corner
A framed photograph beside
you a smiling highschool swimmer
now just floating inside
lines of ones & zeros
communicating only with a core
a modern day slave
not noticing me
or any others
But in restive dreams (unlike us)
you see the bigger picture
a mixing of men & machines
of new gods rising out
into a heavenly cybernetic reality
A woman gazes out of an upstairs window:
To escape or stay?
Risk everything or have a bed?
Dream to the skyline, tower blocks to hide among,
Ugly corners of this city will swallow her,
People march eyes down, thumbs twitch on phones:
no one will see her.
Another girl will fill her shoes, her saggy dent in the mattress,
Will do their bidding, will be beaten for her benefit,
To learn respect, to learn to comply:
no one will miss her.
Point the camera.
Hurriedly she steps back into dank darkness,
The tattered curtain flaps uncertainly
As an arm, thickset, reaches forward:
pulls the glass firmly shut.
‘What?’ I watch him sit and do that move where he stretches his arms above his head angling his groin forwards. It’s an alpha male gesture but I’m never quite sure if it’s a conscious one. I don't like to think he does it on purpose like a Peacock.
‘Linked-In are advertising your twenty-fifth work anniversary here.’
I walk round behind his desk and look at his screen. I groan. ‘Noooo! Who’s going to believe I’m only thirty-nine now?’
‘I can put it about that it was work experience while you were still at school. Infant school.’
I go and sit the other side of his desk as if he’s interviewing me again. ‘That would be kind. Thank you. If I’ve been here twenty-five years, however long have you been our beloved company’s wage slave?’
Will focuses on a distant point, far behind me. ‘Must be twenty-eight. Did we make the right decision, do you think?’
Why is he asking me pretty much the same thing again? He looks tired tonight, his face is unusually gaunt. I am afraid there’s something wrong, that he’s about to tell me something I don’t want to hear. ‘Look out there,’ I gesture at the glimpse of Central Park from his corner office windows, ‘you get to spend your days here, in the greatest city in the world. You have a fabulous serviced apartment. You go to all the top performances. You eat at the best restaurants every night. The company monitors your health and every skin cell is insured. What’s not to like?’
He holds his hands up. ‘Tell me, Sue, where am I in all this? I spend so much time at work the apartment might as well be a hotel room. I thought I’d cook something the other night and there was nothing in the cupboards. Literally nothing. I’ve lived there five years and I’ve never made a proper meal in that kitchen.’
I snort. ‘No one cooks in New York. There’s no point.’
‘Exactly! There's no point to what I do. When I retire from here in twelve years time, what will I have accomplished?’
I stare at him, trying to gauge if he’s serious. ‘You’ll be quite rich.’
‘Rich in what? I’ve broken up with Sian, by the way. I even managed to embarrass myself with that relationship.’
I grin at him, delighted that he’s come to his senses. Will’s love life has long been a source of office gossip. He seems incapable of forming a relationship with anyone who doesn’t work for the company but his own PA brought it a bit too close to home. I could see Sian sizing Will up, trying to work out how to play him, long before he fell for her. For a bright man he’s an idiot when it comes to women.
‘Good. She was ghastly. Have you given Sian her marching orders?’
He sighed. ‘Only personally. I can’t sack her, can I? She hasn’t done anything wrong.’
That was a matter of opinion. Perhaps this is what’s driving Will’s strange mood. I wouldn’t fancy being trapped in an office with Pterodactyl Sian for twelve years either. ‘Oh. I see.’
‘To be honest I doubt you do. You’ve always been so discreet about your relationships, you’ve certainly never messed on your own doorstep. Or have you? Why are you blushing, Sue?’
It wasn’t a blush more a flush of realization. Will believed I had been in relationships but kept them quiet. Why didn’t he realise the truth? Was he really that incurious about my life?’ ‘No, Will, I’ve never messed my own doorstep. I don't even have a doorstep.’ I raise my chin, challenging him to ask me what I mean.
His shoulders slump. ‘I’m the only idiot around here who does that. I really must get a grip on myself.’
I try to disguise my disappointment that his attention has turned inwards. He isn't usually so self-obsessed. ‘So what do you want – a family?’
He looks up. ‘I don’t honestly know. I just want to fill this gap in me, this sense that I’ve never chosen anything or made it happen. I’ve been pointed in a certain direction and off I trot like I’m on a chain-gang. I don’t question what’s asked of me. What will I have to show for all my work?’
He was annoying me now. There were an awful lot of people who would kill for Will's life. ‘You’ll have a lot of money. You can use it to do anything you want at weekends now and all the time once you retire.’ I had my dreams about that too. Both of us could afford to retire relatively early. There would still be time to build our lives.
‘I’ve lost the ability to work out what I want to do. I’m not convinced I ever had it. I strongly suspect I’ll be one of those people who retire and die almost immediately. I don’t have a single interest outside work.’
‘Of course you do. I mean there’s…’ I can’t finish my sentence because I actually can’t think of a thing. When Will and I go to let off steam in a nearby bar all we do is talk about work, old friends and family back in England.
‘Quite. I wanted to tell you in person because it might surprise you but you’re my closest friend here. I’ve put in for a transfer. I’m going home. I fly back next week.’
My mouth has dropped open. Home! He hasn’t lived there in twenty years. How is it home? Then I think of my own apartment here, of the long weekends when I can’t wait to be back in work again. How you can almost convince yourself you are still at work by answering emails. How some people, like Will, respond, even at the weekends. Who will answer my emails if Will's gone?
He looks confused by my expression but there’s little point in camouflaging my feelings now. When I sold myself into slavery all those years ago it wasn’t for the wages, for the company or any sense of duty. It was for love.