Updated: Mar 14, 2020
We rushed out into the cold air of that February afternoon, excited that it was finally over. Graduation days are always a cocktail of emotions as one comes to grips with the joys of overcoming the endless lectures and assignments, the tight deadlines, the drudgery that sometimes came with study and burning of the midnight oil. However, there was also that little knot of fear that we would all push down, that niggly sensation at the bottom of our tummies that told us, well some of us who did not yet have jobs waiting, that there was the unknown to contend with. But for now, we were not going to let that get to us. For now, what was priority was getting to the busiest part of town and having some well-deserved celebration.
So it was Ali and I, of course, a few others who had become friends over time, all graduates in that same year, who rushed off to the pub in our rabid desires for jugs of beer! If there was one thing about England that you could not complain about, it was about how it did not lack for sufficient pubs. There, you could knock down a “few” pints right after immersing yourself in the pleasures of bangers and mash. Soon enough, we were rushing around in Churchill square, Brighton, trying to make up our minds which pubs would satisfy the thirsty bunch that we were! There was Sandy, Rohan, Ali, Vlad and myself on that fateful, all graduates of Sussex University. And shortly after a little search, we were drinking ourselves silly, not excessively, just teeny weeny bits of beer that could knock out a horse on our ardent journey to becoming well and truly sloshed.
It was about 4pm when we found a pub, The Royal Hearts, and we had just been there for a few minutes, I thought. However, by the time I looked outside, it was already quite dark. I looked around to see that Vlad and Sandy had passed out in each other’s arms, Rohan had a look on his face that was partly melancholic and partly one of absolute stupor. Well, Ali and I, best buddies since the first year of University, though drunk as kites could still manage decent conversation without slurring every word.
We had both read English and our dream was to be world-famous authors. Somehow, we both knew we were going to be. However, to be honest, we were not exactly sure how that would work out. We just knew it required a lot of hardwork and writing to publishers - at least that’s what people who were successful in the game always talked about. You had to keep writing, getting rejection after rejection. And then, one day, someone noticed your work, you got published by a major publishing house, and the rest, as they say, is history. We had no idea what life was going to be like. In the end, it turned out that though life could be a bed of dazzling roses or a bush of wicked thorns, it could also be the Green Goblin on steroids!
It was mid-day but I was already drunk. You can’t blame me; beer can be a cheap escape from the madness that we call life. Yes, I had a name plaque on my desk that announced “Peter Ball”, and yes I had my own desk in the corner of the sweaty open office that sat sixteen editors, but that was just about it. It was the second week in the month, but I was already on a constant diet of noodles. I did not want to have to go to Vlad again on a “friendly visit” around tea time, hoping to get something decent to eat because I was already about broke again. I was sick to death of my job, sick to death of moonlighting on the side, waiting for my big break, sick to death of the endless days of joyless paperwork and editing articles for The Daily Cornet. An evil smirk escaped me as the name came to mind. The Daily Cornet. It sounded so wrong, like spoilt pasta running with crummy bits of stale cheese. The Daily Cornet. But that was where I worked now after trying to get a job for a whole year.
You see, I had written for a whole year, churning out no fewer than one new novella every two months, writing endless synopses, cover letters, summaries, introductory letters. Towards the end of that first year after graduation, the introductory letters began to feel like pleas for grants. By the eighth month, I was finishing my fourth novella, was writing and rewriting cover letters, synopses, introductory letters for the older novellas and slowly coming to the realisation that my life was not going to be a success story. Why did we all think we were going to be successful, suddenly explode, suddenly have that lucky break that would change everything?
“Every going well, Peter?”
I looked up, shaken out of my reverie.
“You look absolutely disgusted, Peter. Remember, those articles are not going to edit themselves. So take a deep breath and tell yourself the ultimate truth. That a…”
“Man’s gotta do what he has to do so he can do what he wants to do...” I finished, trying not to snap at my boss, the “wonderful Ms. Layne” as we called her.
She was always full of smiles, but only the naive fell for that. Those smiles were those of a predator; they never reached her eyes and the only time they widened was when she was “letting you go”. You messed with her, either outrightly or otherwise and you were gone. She took no prisoners.
No one argued with her, except they had a job elsewhere - and even that was risky because the “wonderful Ms. Layne” who was really a broomless witch was really connected in the city and in publishing circles. Sometimes I wonder if hiding under my pseudonym, Harry Holmes, was any good. Maybe she had found out and was the one pulling the strings behind the scenes to ensure I remained in servitude forever. I shuddered at the thought.
“So, I trust you will get right to it, Peter. Right?” Ms. Layne said, still smiling, eyes looking out through glasses that perched delicately on a beak-like nose.
“Absolutely,” I said. I am not embarrassed to say I felt a bit intimidated by her sometimes.
“Ehm, I was just thinking about going out for lunch, actually. I…”
I stopped in mid-sentence, the words freezing, my flow broken by the version of the smile she was now giving me. Well, after working in this rathole for three years, I had to be a fool not to know what that smile meant.
“Just thinking, Ms. Layne, “ I said, with a forced chuckle, “but of course, I’ll have lunch right after I am done.”
“Of course you will, Peter,” she said, her evil smile widened. “See you around then”. And she was gone.
I wanted to yell and scream obscenities, but I remember a colleague who had been “let go of” because he had done the same thing - and Ms. Layne just happened to be standing right outside the door. She had come back into the office, called him to her office, that smile never leaving her face, and that was the last we saw of him.
Well, in a short while, I was standing outside on the corner with coffee in one hand and the other hand thrust into my pocket. Actually, ‘a short while’ was over two hours. Of course, I was thinking about my miserable life, working three miserable years in The Daily Cornet.
The thought made me sick. Daily. I would have to go back in a bit, plough through my day, go home to my basement studio flat, eat noodles and begin my nightly ritual. My nightly ritual was pretty much making and eating noodles while punching away on my Royal Jet typewriter which I had bought second hand from a store. We had a love-hate relationship because I hated the damn machine, but at the same time, it was connected to the dream that one day I would be a rich bestselling author…
“Oh my God! Peter? Peter! Is that you?” the familiar voice called out.
I looked up sharply and my eyes lighted on none other than Ali, and for the first time in my whole damn life, I wanted the ground to open up, swallow me, chew me into bits underground and blot out the memory of me from existence. You see, it wasn’t just Ali.
It was Ali stepping out of a Rolls Royce Phantom VI.
We were in the pub later that evening and I was listening to Ali telling his strange tale about his rise to success in such a short time. The first shocker from the conversation was that Ali Ashram was none other than Adrian Ash, number two bestselling fiction writer in all of England right after Ed Blythe. We were sat at a table facing each other at the Fox & Hounds in a dark corner of the room, spilling out our guts about personal adventures that had clearly led us along different paths.
In my cheap clothes and shoes, I thought everyone could see that I was a sharp contrast to everything that Ali had become. My shirt hung over my emaciated frame and my shoes were well worn. If I could not afford decent meals, it was going to be hard to get fancy shoes. Ali, on the other hand, wildly gesticulated across the table from me with meaty fingers, rosy cheeks and bright eyes. He had clearly struck gold and that meant he was well-fed, did not have to worry about mundane things apart from pursuing the things that really mattered: Writing books, getting them published, doing book readings, signing books and raking in tons of money. A small part of me fought back the envy that was threatening to drown me.
To Be Continued...
By J.C. Nova. Enjoyed this post? Like and SHARE!