On Fridays, rather than taking the usual route through the back fields of the village, my direction averted down the high street, past the small businesses which would stand for another two hours before emptying their tills. The high street was long and clear from shade under the heat, but a pleasant walk filled with the smells of fresh flowers and soft dust. I heard my mother’s words echo in my head, about how this was the kind of town you’d see on a billboard; “It holds a warm, sun shiny appearance, but eventually you need a storm to clear the air .”
Gradually the road turns a sharp left as though avoiding the last building, out of the town and into the city, where the buildings become taller and the electricity bills get higher. This is where I leave the road and pass through the rough gates to the publishing house. It’s not a well known building and people often stare holes into my back as they pass. I ignore them, for the reception consisting of only a desk and a bookshelf, is a warm comforting feeling welcoming my weekend.
The familiar face of the old and kind receptionist, Maggie, greets me inside. Continuing by her, I pass under the gloom of the stairs that led to the manager’s offices. They were daunting in a similar way to a dentist’s – the scariest of them seemingly banished to the second floor avoiding the life of the business, patients only permitted to pass when in real trouble. But under their tight shoes, which quiver the ceiling above as they struggle to walk, the double doors drew the sunlight to the efforts of the employees.
Slightly creaking the door warns the eyes of the workers to look up from their computers and take me inside with a smile and a synchronised “good afternoon”.
“How are you?” asks Rose. I admired how naturally wide her smile was especially when it was so full of fake concern. I think she worked as general admin, organising files and running around after the manager’s – and most definitely a favourite above the others. Perhaps if I was omniscient I would see a halo above her head and see how it blinds all those who look upon her from any mistakes and sinful remarks.
“I’m good” is about as much as I’d ever muster, whether true or false.
“And school?” falls from her mouth like lines from a script encrypted in her memory. She starts piling up various files for me.
“Same old, same old.”
I take the files from her and let her smooth “gooooood” be the end of the conversation as I return my equally fraudulent grin. The praise adds nothing to my ego because I know what has been said isn’t really what either of us is thinking. So soon after, her attention has turned into flirtation with one of the manager’s, much to the distraught of Penny who has worked their seven years longer but has no further respect to show for it.
Passing the accountant’s open door, I offer a “hi” as a way of conquering the fearful image of him hunched over his desk in stress, which he returns with a grunt he uses simply to try and maintain his importance. Some part of me agrees he believes his stressful composure is a measure of his devotion and time invested into the company. If life really was a stage, he’d be one of the best actors I know. His execution is rude but it makes me smile.
The last person I pass is a lot younger than everyone else and just a year older than myself, but similarly only working Fridays as work experience for his maths course, alongside the accountant at the second entrance to his office. As far as I can understand accounting, he checks the online banking for income and processes it onto the businesses system. Then he spends his afternoon bookkeeping a report similar to the one I was here to submit. I wondered if Cameron had ever imagined how far he could spend his life that way.
He flashes me a smile much like Rose’s, displaying all his teeth, though his exceptionally gleam with a genuine appreciation of my appearance. Returning his ovation with my innate flat and sarcastic smile, inherited from my mum, it may be plain and silent but our accessions realm into a relaxed reality, which according to my mum rarely occur in this workplace.
I fall through her heavy closed door into her office and she swings around on her chair with dazed eyes resembling her attachment to the computer screen. Seeing that familiar feeling smile spread throughout her thin lips, I know it looks unfriendly to most but for us it’s the symbol of our happiness.
I often teased mum about her decision to name me Harry, though I actually loved the name and couldn’t suit any other ultimately. It was the mistake of naming me before I was born. My dad was adamant I’d be a boy.
“It’s been busy this week, you’ll have a lot to do,” mum turned back to her computer screen.
“What’re you doing?” I take my seat on her small round coffee table and lay the folders out to the most recently inserted pages.
“The boss wants me to read through these CVs for a new writer.”
“Are they any good?”
“Awful. This guy couldn’t even spell the name of his past company, I looked like an idiot when I rang them for a reference and got their name wrong.”
“You’ll still write though, won’t you?”
“Of course I will!”
Mum had made it as the chief in writing a few years back and held onto the position with an iron fist. She never felt the threat of another journalist breathing down her neck – or any of her other colleagues for that matter, regardless of what they thought. Stubborn in her belief, she was often prone to disregard the comments of the managers and print the content she thought was right. Although it earned her no respect, they had kept her employed despite their uncompromising to admit her talent was as good as they could get. Though stubborn, the managers knew my mum would have to print their articles for the publishing to sell. If they didn’t sell, no one would read her work and that was the biggest achievement for her. People wanted to hear her.
I, on the other hand, had no choice in whether I got to listen to her. I had often been on the receiving end of a long and tiresome nag, of how all people care about is figures. ‘Only publish what sells and sell it for as much as you can, fast’ is what mum claimed to be the company’s underground motto.
It wasn’t until a few months ago that I had the opportunity for an insight into mums world. Mum had insisted she get me a part time job – if you can even call it part time for one and a half hours a week – with her company, because it would stand out from all the other kids who were also writing for their school newspapers. Although, I wasn’t actually doing any writing that the managers knew of (sometimes, by mum would bypass the entries for People’s Story of the Week and publish mine instead). My job was to tally up the sales for the week, showing what profit the company had made while my mum reminded me it shouldn’t be about the money.
With the folders spewed in front of me, I work on the report for the remaining hour of the day. It must be completely checked and correct before publishing. Then, I hand copies to each of the managers, who take a glance at the total and file it away, despite my work into the details of each order placed.
“I’m done,” I tell mum just a few minutes before five.
“You know, I might stay for an extra ten minutes” she said with her eyes still glued to the computer screen.
“Is everything ok?”
She turned and gave me a smile – large with no hint of sarcasm – “Oh yeah, the manager just wants to talk to me quickly.”
“Ok, well I’ll see you at home.”
As I walked away I heard her call “Hey I’ll get Chinese for dinner.” At least that was some normality in her absurd countenance.
Walking through the reception once again, I bumped into Cameron who was talking with Maggie. Evidently she had gone to school with his grandma and was passing on her best wishes.
“Thank you, I will” he motions his hand to say goodbye but catches my stare, “hey Harry.”
“Hey, are you walking?”
“Yeah,” he smiles and we make the same way, back down the road towards the town.
“So, did you decide what university you want to go to?” He starts.
“Not yet but I think I’ve narrowed it down to the last two.”
“Journalism. I want to be a foreign correspondent.”
“Yeah I remember.”
It went silent for a moment as we walked into the town and that made the walk feel longer, but I didn’t mind. Eventually we reached the post office and Cameron said he needed to go in.
“Ok, I should get back to my mum,” I said, although I couldn’t allow my legs to take me anywhere.
“Cameron?” I called and he stopped in the doorway, “Do you really think you could work like that forever?”
“Like an accountant? Sure I like numbers.”
“No, I mean … under someone. Every day?”
“I think it’s pretty common,” he smiled, “Hey Harry, maybe you could come to my school?”
Blushing, I told him I would think about it, then I let him continue into the post office. Looking around the town I wondered whether I, me and myself, could live like this forever. Taking a deep breath in, I marched on with a storm brewing under my heels.