Survive The Jungle

Entry by: stevemar

10th May 2016
The Jungles We Grow

“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.”
“What about?”
“… things.”
“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.”
“Er, yeah…”
“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.”
“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!”
No response.
“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.”