2nd August, 2004
My name is George Franz. Although I am not entirely sure, I suspect that a disastrous fate has just overtaken me. I will set down the bare facts: about ten minutes ago an insect probably settled on my temple, extended its proboscis, and sucked approximately a quarter of my brains out.
To set things in proper perspective, and to remind myself, I should mention that I am an efficiency analysis manager at KwoiTech, a FTSE company that hires its management very carefully and polices their health just as solicitously. Every year we attend a two-day-medical retreat at a sumptuous health farm in Gloucestershire. Although mental health isn’t one of the advertised categories tested, I came to discover the identity of the nosey bloke who made cryptic notes on his paper napkins as we ate in the cafeteria, when I caught him in the john, dictating my psychiatric evaluation into a Dictaphone.
It might also be important to mention that my greatest craving within the walls of KwoiTech is for a no-holds-barred, hour-long nap. I suppose my predilection for sleep has a long history. It started back in Vietnam, more than fifteen years ago, when I got on the wrong side of a government minister and got hauled before the court on a charge so complicated that I still don‘t fully understand it today. However, the lawyer hired for me by KwoiTech assured me that the company and I were guilty as charged, and that I was looking at a minimum of twenty years in jail, unless I was prepared to take some radical, extra-legal steps. The first two options he suggested were too preposterous for consideration (believe me). Then he fetched a shaman who mixed me a concoction. It worked like a dream. Every time I stood up in the dock to listen to the charge, I would literally fall into the deepest sleep, a sleep so profound that even the lacerations of a whip would not rouse me. The doctors diagnosed an ominous and nameless tropical disease. After a dozen or so adjournments, the charges against me were dropped, as it was apparently unlawful to prosecute an accused person too ill even to plead guilty or not guilty.
Triumphantly, the lawyer took me back to his shaman for the antidote, a two-course medication dispensed on consecutive days. I drank the first dram uneventfully, but when I returned on the second day, it was to receive the apocalyptic news that the shaman had been killed by a hit-and-run bus driver. I have drunk several concoctions from several dubious purveyors since, but I am stuck with this residual and perpetual desire for a mid-day snooze. I crave siestas the way other men in my position crave affairs with their fellow workers.
Unfortunately, the corporate culture in KwoiTech considers the temporary abdication of brain function induced by sleep, when indulged within office hours, a more heinous crime than office liaisons. My seniority in the company has not earned me private offices, for even our Deputy Managing Director works from a glass-partitioned basketball-court-sized enclosure where the entire staff can observe the dexterous process of managing an FTSE company, twenty-four hours a day.
A nap might seem a simple thing, but I live in London and work in the square mile and it’s not a simple thing at all. I earn £145,900 a year and work Monday to Saturday plus one Sunday a month. I get into the office at 7.45am and for the last eight months haven’t left before 7pm. Even after closing, I have one-on-one fully-expensed dinners with business prospects. Every three or four nights I wake at 3 am to enter brainwaves in my notebook. Eunice is supposed to be my secretary, in reality she is my taskmistress, one of the most efficient in the entire corporate hierarchy of KwoiTech. Her diary management prowess is legendary and I have personally seen the avaricious envy on the face of my GMD, Meadows, when he passes her door.
I’d consider giving up the £45,900.00 on my salary for the opportunity to sleep an hour a day at noon, six days a week, but this is a culture where I’ve worked nineteen years, and it is considered disloyal to draw a lunch break unless there’s a fee-paying working-lunch appointment to tag onto it.
So, this is the 2nd of August and I have been scheming my siesta for eight days, ever since the Medilang representative cancelled his hour-long consultative meeting in my office. At this exploratory stage, the meeting wasn’t a fee-earner and I’m not expected to send a fee-note afterwards. I saw the potentials of that hour right away. Eunice had popped out for a courier and his call bounced straight to my desk. It was done in seconds: a meeting cancellation that Eunice didn’t know of.
A rare bird, a £67,860 per annum, 44-year-old staff whose job-description was secretary, but whose clout and savoir faire embarrassed youngsters on twice her salary. On her turf, even Mark Meadows, did not dare confront her. Inch-for-inch, she has a larger office than either myself or Carl Bean, the Out-Sourcing Director whose diary she also polices, although that territory does include her reception space.
An hour’s nap on company time.
The dimensions of the transgression were so colossal that it did not fully form in my mind immediately. This could lead to the sort of termination that would continued to reverberate at annual Christmas parties years down the line. Up till this morning, I could still have called Eunice and confessed the hour-long hole in my diary. It would be immediately filled of course. An efficiency company like KwoiTech could right a five-hour diary dislocation in five minutes. We sell a patent-pending software that does just that to clients, but in-house, we have staff like Eunice. Yet, the temptation was too strong, At 9 am today, I stepped out of my office and filled a coffee cup from the dispenser near Eunice. She was working on a spreadsheet, the half-inch nails on her little fingers tapping impatient staccatos at the microsecond delays that her TFT indulged in serving up her updated views.
‘I believe Khan from Medilang is already in Conference Room 3.’ I said casually. I poured another cup for my ‘client’.
‘That’s strange, he didn’t stop here.’
‘He’s been to CR3 before.’
‘I’ll send up a pool secretary…’
‘Not necessary this time…’
‘You’ve got your Dictaphone?’
‘I won’t be needing it – mostly exploratory talks at this stage… Please field all my calls…’
Then I escaped. CR3 was next to the library. Naturally it has glass walls as well, but there’s a nine-foot blind spot where the Library’s high shelves and CR3’s bank of cabinets meet. By locking the door and putting an executive chair in the blind spot I had a private space secure from all except telescopic lenses from the offices across the street. I put the coffee cups down, switched off my mobile phone and set my watch to wake me up in sixty minutes. I also opened the window for some fresh air: my one, grievous mistake, and within seconds after I let myself go, I was sleeping soundly.
Until I was woken up fifty minutes later, by the insect bite which cost me a quarter of my brains.
I understand how all this might distress the more squeamish of my readers. Perhaps such readers will also imagine how harrowing it must be for me. At the moment, my own sympathies are required closer to home. I woke up in CR3 expecting to feel more rested than I had ever felt in years, instead, I felt light-headed and distinctly unwell. There was a small weal on my temple, which I could discern with my right index finger; nothing dramatic, nothing that felt like the tunnelling site of a major evacuation, but inside, a major headache was brewing. It was not quite 10 am and my alarm had not beeped. I could hear a resonant buzz, and my quartz watch did not do buzzes. A movement snapped my head in the direction of the sound, towards the open window, as the buzz faded away.
Now, I’m back on my desk, no longer positive that it was an insect that woke me up. I’m not even certain it was an insect that sucked a quarter of my brains out. – When I first woke up I was terribly certain… but an hour has passed, I am back on my desk, and in the interests of my continued tenure on this job, I’m not as sure as I was…
I got off the chair and activated my phone. I pulled another coffee from the dispenser. It was when I tried to recall my next appointment that I became convinced that something was desperately wrong. For the life of me, I couldn’t recall the entry on my diary for 10.10 am.
That knocked me down flat. I usually recall my diary minutiae a week in advance. I nervously fingered the weal on the side of my head. I shook my head, hating the bounce as the remnants of my most important organ acquainted itself with the extra space in its accommodation. I had a sudden mental picture of an insect sinking a proboscis into the centre of my skull, and sucking and sucking until I woke in the nick of time to save, what? perhaps three quarters of my brain function.
I suppose I ought to just own up and quit. Normally I have to throw in a hundred and twelve percent just to stay on top of this job. To attempt to keep it as a half-wit, (or more accurately, three-quarter-wit) would be the height of presumption. The modality will present a problem of course. I cannot be honest with Mark, or anyone else, about the reasons for my sudden resignation. There will be no sense in having a posse of psychiatric nurses chasing after me on the underground. Then there’s the problem of the mortgage. If I cannot keep this job, I certainly can’t interview for another one in the city; and the wages in window cleaning won’t pay for my pad. Perhaps I can discuss the possibility of a job share with Mark: I could work full-time and only earn three-quarters of my salary, with the balance of my wages set aside for a personal assistant to follow after me with post-it notes in the capacity of a Deputising Memory…
I managed to get thorough the rest of the day without major incident, spending most of my time feeling around my memory to figure out what was lost and what was left. Thankfully enough – if there’s anything to be thankful enough in this catastrophe – none of my motor functions seem to have been taken, so I can walk and talk without any hint of the bizarre disaster that has just befallen me.
Now here I am back home, really feeling sorry for myself. This job makes nutcases of the best of men. The other day Ellis returned from his business trip to Punjab. He went for a Systems Audit of a plantation client of ours that harvests and processes sugar. He spent a stressful week among the molasses, with his nights in a crummy hotel with only a flimsy door between him and the temperamental charges of an itinerant snake charmer, who plied his art at the entrance to the hotel every afternoon. So Ellis came back from India and missed his first morning at work – a sackable offence at KwoiTech. Come afternoon, we got a mobile call from a distressed client who recognised Ellis sitting cross-legged near the escalator at the Bond Street underground station, fluting for a bucket of earthworms in the best impression of a snake-charmer that is possible without a snake.
This was the depressed trajectory of my thoughts when I heard a distinct buzzing, the sort of sound a really big bee would make. I looked around my living room, but there was nothing remotely bee-like flying around. I walked carefully through the flat, looking apprehensively into every closet for a trapped bee, or wasp, then I turned the corner into my study and saw it.
It was buzzing over my notebook. I’m not going to say what I thought it was doing. I know how the Mental Health Act works; and I know people who have been too honest about their thoughts and observations who have had their entire lives hijacked by the psychiatric process. So I won’t say what I suspect. I will simply state what I saw: this really big bee-like organism buzzing slowly over my notebook; buzzing, that is to say, from left to right, parallel to the lines, as though it were reading them (which of course it was not doing, as even mad men know that bees don’t read).
I suppose some of my readers are well acquainted with the academic bees of Southern Antigua, which have been observed in the wild performing similar acts on discarded newspapers caught in thorn bushes, but the really neat thing about this bee-like organism (which I decided to christen Quarterback) was that as it buzzed along the lines of my notebook, I gained an incredibly graphic image of the writings on the page. It was… how shall I say this safely (in the light of the Mental Health Act)… almost as though Quarterback were an extension of my mental faculties. To translate this phenomena into computer-speak, it was as though Q were a scanning device relaying data to my central processor by radio waves.
I developed a strange affinity with Quarterback over the next few days. My initial desire to imprison it in an empty jam jar proved unnecessary. It went everywhere with me. What was even more uncanny was the fact that Q was audible but invisible. It was also something of a stalker. The other day it chose to dog Eunice. She complained of a buzzing in her head, although she could not see Q hovering, literally right above her cleavage.
7th March, 2005
My fears concerning my mortgage proved unfounded. Indeed I have since moved twice, and the premises I currently occupy come with kidney-shaped swimming pool and floodlit lawn tennis court, much to the envy of my colleagues at work. Unfortunately, such is my schedule at KwoiTech that I am yet to audition any of these facilities, six weeks after moving in. My career has literally taken off. Indeed, back in December, Eunice warned the KwoiTech board of the headhunting proposals jamming my email inboxes and three desperate board directors took me off on a riotous Florida weekend in the course of which they plied me with flattery and stock options until I signed the first three-year-contract in KwoiTech history. I am now considered KwoiTech’s most important human resource. Eunice has been withdrawn from dual utility, and charged with the fierce responsibility of protecting me from poachers. I am not bothered with the pedestrian assignments that bedevil the lives of the company’s middle level talent stream. I am brought in only at crucial tendering conferences where corporate fortunes are made and lost. My ability to predict the competition’s figures to the broken penny has entered industry legend. And the mechanical buzzing that accompanies me has led to the sore-losers’ pub gossip peddled by our poo-faced competition that I am a patent-pending robotic android invented by a KwoiTech client.
Which is all well and good, but the biggest benefit for me is the fact that I am now able to indulge daily hour-long siestas. Between noon and 4 pm Eunice arranges domestic stuff for me to do in the office. Quarterback takes that opportunity to settle by my mobile phone (it just loves my ringtone) for a sumptuous snooze. While I’m puttering around the office, Quarterback steals a four-hour siesta. Do the math! By the time it is time for my next critical conference, Q is ready to go.
3rd June, 2005
This is the end.
I’ve got to be fast.
Guess who visited me last week all the way from Vietnam?
Yes, the lawyer who got my charges dropped. I took him for a drink in a cocktails bar.
‘Still remember our hit-and-run shaman?’ he asked.
‘Sure.’ I said.
‘Well, here’s his authentic antidote.’
‘Go on!’ I joked, ‘Did he mail it in from the dead?’
‘Well it did come by mail, but it was from the executor of the estate of the dead shaman.’
At this moment, Quarterback was stalking a man wreathed in mists of cannabis. So, in my favour, it must be argued that I was not in possession of all my faculties. I knocked back the concoction. I was thinking how much more productive I could be without that four hour hiatus in the middle of my working day. As it transpired, I thought wrong. I set down the bottle. Quarterback fell to the carpet, with a terminal-sounding type of thud. I followed soon afterwards.
Turns out the potion had a ‘best-before’ date.
I’m out of hospital now. I’m afraid Quarterback wasn’t so lucky. I now have to sleep twenty-two hours daily. So I cannot be too far away from bed. KwoiTech took me through every specialist on Harley Street. Then they retired me. (Very reluctantly: news of my disengagement shaved a nasty seventeen percent off the company’s share price.) Still, a three-year contract was a three-year contract. (And it was their lawyer who drugged me). So they paid dearly.
I don’t have enough time to work anymore.
Or to write long paragraphs.
But I do swim the kidney-shaped pool. In ten-minute sessions.
My story Quarterback & Co was featured in the 2010 anthology, African Roar, edited by Ivor Hartmann and Emmanuel Sigauke