Shit. He inspected his shoe. Dog shit to be exact. Great. Perfect. He looked around for a stick. He was late. Screw it. He walked over to a patch of grass and dragged his foot on it. “Why don’t people clean up after their goddamn pets,” he mumbled to no one. Good enough. He started towards the train. Another day just like the one before. Off to work we go. He felt like he should whistle. But he didn’t know how.
The train was crowded. He pushed his way onto a car. “Doors are closing,” a recorded voice said. He could feel everyone’s eyes on him. Someone sniffed the air. There were grumblings. Panic set in. He felt obvious. They know. He waited silently for their accusations. It was like being in that Poe story. The one with the beating heart under the floorboards. Only this time the beating heart was dog shit. Maybe it wasn’t like that. He closed his eyes and listened to the train screech along the tracks.
The elevator doors opened. Cubes. Lines of them. Each one filled with a disembodied voice having a one-sided conversation. He looked at his watch. Only fifteen minutes late. Not bad. He passed by a row of cubicles. “Well Mrs. Fredricks the real question is can afford not to buy this?” one cube said. “What we’re talking about here is true value,” another cube said. “Wouldn’t you like a 25 hour day? Cause that’s exactly what I’m offering you,” the cube next to his said.
He sat down at his desk. Started up his computer. The screen glowed on. Checked his phone. “You have no messages,” the phone told him. Of course you don’t. You’re an obnoxious telemarketer. Your job is to bother people. He hated this. This place. These people. This job. This fucking job. Not another day he thought. A wave of anxiety came over him. He felt like he couldn’t breathe. He tried to suck in air. Nothing. He stood flailing his arms. All he could see were tops of cubicles. He could hear the air conditioner buzzing. He thought about the beating heart. Everything went black.
He opened his eyes. He saw a light. A bright beautiful light. It was enveloping. He could feel it beckoning him. He heard a voice, “That’s right,” it said. “That’s right…it’s only six easy payments of $19.95.” He rubbed his eyes. Stupid transcendent halogen bulbs. He wasn’t dead but he did feel different. Everything was clearer now.
Standing up he felt alive. He felt in the moment. With every step he seemed surer of what he had to do. What he must do. He knocked on his manager’s door.
“Evelyn, may I speak with you?’
“What is it Stephen? Why aren’t you making your calls?”
“May I take a seat?”
“Sure. Fine. What is it stomach flu again? Another Grandmother pass? You do know you’ve used all your flex days already.”
“I came to tender my resignation.”
“Tender your what?”
“I’m resigning from my position, effective immediately.”
“You know Stephen this isn’t exactly a job you resign from,” she scoffed, “It’s a job you quit.” He relaxed into the OfficeMax faux leather chair. Looked around the stark non-descript office. It wasn’t even a real office just a cubicle with higher walls and a door. He looked at his manager in her thrown together business attire. Off the rack JcPenny’s. What a strange creature. Living on yogurt and the misery of her corporate serfs. Ruling over this harshly lit floor like some kind of medieval lord. He sat there in the OfficeMax chair realizing all of this with his newfound clarity. He smiled for the first time in weeks. Maybe months. “Well then, I quit,” he said.
“So what brought about this decision, if you don’t mind my asking?”
“I’m just over it. All of it.”
“All of what?”
“This. Everything. I’m gonna go find myself. Travel.”
“I’m gonna go to India.”
He sat with his chair and tray table in their upright position. The flight attendant came on, “Please direct your attention to the front of the cabin. An attendant will be taking you through the safety procedures.” He ignored the stewardess who began instructing the passengers of the emergency exit locations. He paged through the airline magazine and scanned the list of in-flight movies. Pixar. Pixar. Will Smith. Romantic Comedy. Great. It was going to be a long flight. He looked back up. She was at the part about putting the oxygen mask on. Hurry up. Let’s get this bird in the air. “I’ve got some finding myself to do,” he muttered.
Thirty-one hours and fourteen minutes later. He was standing in the baggage claim area half awake. Staring at the conveyer belt as it snaked around the room. He felt punch-drunk. But he was in India. Everything was so different. Even the airport had an exciting energy. The smell wasn’t the best. A kind of curry mixed with body odor. But so what. He was on a mission. Of self-discovery. Or something. He grabbed his roll away suitcase as it came around and headed towards the exit.
He was immediately surrounded by people trying to sell him something. Or at least he thought they were trying to sell him something. Trinkets were shoved in his face. Hands grabbed at him. “Buy, buy, you buy,” voices repeated. He tried rolling through them but the crowd seemed to move with him. He pushed on. “No thank you,” he said getting more agitated. All of a sudden the crowd seemed to lose interest. They scattered. He collected himself and set off in search of a hotel.
Everything was moving. He navigated through marketplaces and down streets. Cars. Horns. Vendors. Noise was constant. It was all overwhelming. Too much for his sleep deprived mind. “Must find hotel. Need sleep,” he chanted to himself. His suitcase rolled behind him through the sea of people. Everyone smelled as if they had been baking in the sun for days. He was relieved when he came across a small somewhat dingy hotel.
“Hello, I would like a room,” he said hesitantly, over enunciating each word. “Sure, sure,” the woman at the counter responded, “It's 900 rupees a night. Payment is required upon arrival.”
“Oh, sounds reasonable,” he said, not sure if it was. Just thankful she spoke English. Too exhausted to haggle. “I’ll just get that and…” he trailed off as he felt where his wallet had been. Fuck. Where is it? It was there. A cold chill ran up his spine. He checked his other pockets. Nothing. He dropped down to his suitcase and unzipped it. “What the hell is…” he couldn’t finish his thought. He just sat there on his knees, dumb-founded. Nothing was making sense. His suitcase was filled with rocks wrapped in newspaper. The woman looked over the counter at him huddled with his rocks. “No money. No room,” she said pointing to the door.
He was numb. Too tired to explain. What could he say? He didn’t understand himself. He stumbled through the door and back out to the street.
He wandered for hours in a daze. People stopped approaching him. No one tried to sell him anything. They could sense his defeat. They could smell it on him. To them he was some kind of wounded animal. Dangerous if cornered. Everything looked so alien. All he wanted to do was sleep but nowhere looked safe. He staggered on. Until. A sign. Flashing in neon red. "Jobs - English," it flashed.
He banged on the door. It swung open. “Do you speak English, my friend?” a small man in a pair of coke-bottle glasses asked him. “Yes, yes I do,” he stammered. “Would you like a job?” the man grinned. “Yes but I don’t wanna have to do any sex stuff,” he said. “That is not what we do here, my friend,” the man laughed, “Please follow me.” The small man led him through a long hall that opened to a large brightly lit room. And then he saw it. Cubes. Lines of them. Each one filled with a disembodied voice having a one-sided conversation. “Let’s find your desk,” the man said. He nodded. He was done searching. He had found himself.