“I can’t do this anymore.” The words escaped before he could swallow them. He stabbed his pen on his notepad and let his eyes become absorbed by the finite blue lines that were expecting his words at any moment. Only the sound of the office clock accompanied him. It ticked and it tocked, and it ticked and tocked again, a relentless, repetitive rhythm that has no end and no beginning.
He tried to peer into the future but as one eye dreamt up an escape the other eye derailed those plans. The past. That’s all he could think about as of late. Some hold on to it with the intent of looking back and finding a better version of themselves. For Adam, the man he remembered bore no relation to him, as if a stranger had borrowed his body and was now unceremoniously giving it back to its real owner.
His mind drifted and with it his body. He was no longer sitting in his chair; he had broken free, hovering above this creature like a god whose sole purpose was to examine the level of absurdity in each mortal’s life. Adam’s fears were confirmed as he looked down at the pathetic excuse of a man right below him. It was all a farce and he was the protagonist, at least in this stage, in this theater. He found solace in his acceptance of it, not in the damning fact that he hid it every day from an audience oblivious to his directors’ masterfully disguised deceit. His performance was often as impeccable as the unmarked white sheets of paper before him, enthralling the thousands of seemingly loyal spectators who were not immune to illusion. The imperceptible strings pulled him here, jerked him there, from one side to the other, in as many directions as they could without breaking him because, at least for that moment, the millions of pairs of eyes adored him, even if those holding the purse strings didn’t.
And yet, he smiled. A sad clown.
Behind that smile was a man who had grown to despise himself for gradually turning into what he had publicly accused many a man of being: a fraud. The industry was full of them. Perhaps it was a requirement if you wanted to stay in it. But he could no longer pretend to be one. Maybe, he thought, maybe I need a public hanging. The strings were there–they just needed to be placed around his neck. And the crowd was there, too. It just needed to be given a reason to clamor instead of clap and that wouldn’t be difficult; the self-condemned man had become an expert in manipulating mass emotions.
From the stage to the scaffold. If only he could allow himself to laugh at the absurdity of such a thought instead of force himself to dwell in the contrived gallows of his imagination. More importantly, he needed to attend to the notepad in front of him, on which he was about to document his resignation.
Then the sound of approaching footsteps caused him to drop his pen and look around. One of the puppeteers.
“Adam. What are you still doing here? Writing? Still thinking of writing that book you’ve been talking about all these years? Instead of talking about writing it, you could have written it by now don’t you think? But that’s not what we pay you to do now, isn’t it?”
Adam bent down to pick up the pen as a timely excuse not to make eye contact with his boss, who wore a loud orange shirt and a proud smirk that only enhanced his gloating.
“You wanted to say something to me?” he asked, carefully placing the pen on top of the sheets so as to conceal his bubbling disdain. “Yes, in fact I did. We have a new girl coming in tomorrow and I’d like you to take care of her–you know, introduce her to the team, answer her questions. Just show her the ropes.” That last part he actually gesticulated so as to make you think there was a rope in his hand.
“Sure.” Flat and firm. He wondered whether the puppeteer suspected he was planning to submit his resignation tomorrow. “Thank you, Adam. Now stop writing and go home to that lovely wife of yours.”
“That lovely wife of yours.”
It echoed in his mind two or three times while the footsteps died away. It wasn’t the first time his boss had inserted ambiguous or distasteful phrases about women into their private conversations. In fact, among the seniors he had earned the reputation of being a pervert, therefore any time he’d comment on x’s “taut ass” or y’s “tempting tits,” everyone, including Adam, would laugh it off and carry on. But it feels different when it’s your wife, and Adam wondered why he had never said anything before.
On his way out of the office, he caught a glimpse of a headline flashing across the only TV that had been left on. Something about an execution. It reminded him of one of the first stories he had to cover when he was just a kid with a pen and no ego. The man had spent 31 years in jail only to find out that he had been wrongly convicted. Adam asked him whether he felt any bitterness, or even hate, towards those who had committed the crime of stealing a part of his life. The man–his name was Oscar–looked down for a while. Adam thought he was ignoring his question.
But then he glanced up, looked into Adam’s eyes and in an unnaturally serene tone responded with a question.”Why do people want me to be angry?”
He bit his lower lip. “My conscience was always free because I knew I was no criminal.”
He looked down again. Adam was about to put his pen in his pocket and thank him when the man came closer and gently grabbed his arm. “You know, I pity those who will live knowing they put an innocent man in jail for more than half of his life. Now who’s the prisoner?” He chuckled and patted Adam on the back before walking away.
At the time, Adam believed Oscar was putting on a show, and maybe he was. He never saw him again so there was no way to rectify his doubt. Though now, at least a decade later and at the peak of his career, the same man who had beamed into millions of homes to deliver whatever it was that needed to be delivered and who, to an extent, had become a part of that family the way the homeless man you pass by on your way to work becomes a part of your commute, now–even if fleetingly–that same man wished he were Oscar.
The notepad remained on his desk, pristine. Beside it, the pen lay cracked in half.