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A Storm In A Coffee Cup

by Donald Quixote about a year ago in workflow
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By Donald Quixote

A Tuesday morning in February - ordinary, charmless, banal.

My watch reads ten to nine. Only ten minutes until I’m due at my desk to begin another day of beleaguering grind. The wind whistles past the tramlines whirring overhead. Frigid and sharp this morning. Wind blows through channels in between the old warehouses and glass-clad office blocks. It tears into my face like butchers’ knives. My breath turns into a fine mist. My skin’s so cold it burns. Warm tears cascade from my dreary eyes and crystallise on my cheeks. Why must I endure the bleakness of these mornings? Wages. The shamelessness of it. The tyranny. We’re all governed by forces greatly vaster than the ones we anticipate.

I go inside where it is warm to fetch a cup of coffee. An exorbitant price. At the till I place my order: Americano, black. I hand across the money, regarding the placid smile of this young woman with deadpan seriousness as she hands me my change. She almost smiles. Is that fake sincerity or is her complicity in her employer’s racket amusing her? My suspicion must show on my face because she eyes me furtively as she hands me my change, tells me my coffee will be ready soon. My order is passed along the production line. Girl One tenders my order. Girl Two prepares my hot beverage. Girl Three then places it on the counter-top and, before I can mutter a polite, perfunctory thank you, she offers me a listless gesture with her arm toward the sugar sachets and returns to her work-station. An artless pirouette rooted in thankless repetition.

I step outside, coffee in hand, into the frigid greyness of the early morning. There’s a foul stench of fast-food, stagnant canal water, and diesel in the air. I stop, light a cigarette, and watch stoically as a suited throng files past me in huddled silence. Heads bowed funereally. Wide eyes transfixed on smartphones or the pavement. They don’t smile. Each wears a grim mask, blank stares of acceptance chewing up the empty distance. I’m a witness to these same scenes each morning, yet the collective hopelessness has never struck me as it does now. I feel estranged. Present – that’s undeniable, but apart from the vaudeville repetitions around me.

I notice that I’m the only person who doesn’t move somewhere. I’m a disjunct, a spectre in the crowd. My rhythm is a split-second out from the synchronicity of this ticking clock. I’m Paley’s unfortunate watchmaker, but I see no god, no case for omnipotence, benevolence, or even familiarity in the design of this world. This morning, I’m deprogrammed. I’ve stopped and I can’t seem to get my feet moving again. I’m rooted to the concrete, an immobile antithesis to the tide of people which ignores me, moves around me, and continues to wherever it’s heading. The striking of heels on concrete is reminiscent of the click-click-click of a train on the tracks.

An entire platform was crammed into two carriages on the 8.24 to Oxford Road this morning. People uncomfortable, shoulder-to-shoulder, proximity issues forgotten, inhaling the warm miasma of suited strangers and the stench of dejection. A colourless post-industrial panorama ran across the windows. Watching, inside, a strange stasis of human emotion. Eyes downcast, attention fixated on inane second-rate journalism of the gratis morning newspaper. No conversation, only a contractual silence. When the train rounded a bend it caused the carriage to lurch sideways which, in turn, caused a chain reaction of those branded seatless this morning to brush shoulders or step on a strangers’ toes. A brutishly awful thing to happen to such polite people. Terrifically awkward. Those implicated mumbled their apologies before promptly withdrawing back into themselves. The steady mechanical click-click-click of the train’s locomotion is the only thing to be heard above the brooding silence and passivity.

Only silence can capture the horrific cocktail of failed cynics, upbraided idealists, and hopeless obedient fools which sedates the 8.24 to Oxford Road. Travelling down a line they recognise but don’t understand. They surge to the city’s nucleus like platelets coursing towards an open wound, like salmon migrations drawn to hatching grounds by the deathly magnetism of black holes and ubuntu. Trains reach their terminus and immediately set off again, delivering smartly-dressed workers to their compartments, propelling an influx of proper people to their proper places. Millions of people - each a composite of energy, thought, instinct and emotion - performing their mitochondrial task dutifully. Each morning, incremental waves of workers surge inwards and, at the end of the day, the entire process repeats itself in reverse. Waves of workers recede and return to their homes, falling into dreamless sleep, fading back into nothingness like the last wisps of smoke from the dying embers of a cigarette.

A bus passes in front of my vision. The advert reads ‘This Is The End: Coming Soon’. I flick the roach into the gutter. Opposite where I’m standing on the pavement, the golden arches glow dimly in the thin fog. I watch the compulsive inhalers of fast-food breakfasts behind the polished windows and sigh. I check my watch. It’s eight fifty seven. I take a sip of coffee and start toward the office. I enter through the main entrance and walk through the atrium – ersatz marble, brass polished to shine, the man on reception never looking up - in the direction of the elevator. My mind’s elsewhere.

I put on my headphones and press play, a proven way to avoid unwanted conversation on the ascent to the ninth floor. Kasabian - Cutt Off. What just happened down there? A flashback, a noumenal glimpse, a sleep-deprived satori, or that long sought after epiphany? Why the numbness? The sense of detachment? Why this sudden awareness of my servility this morning, as if Sisyphus one day woke up and realised the banality at the heart of his futile task? As the numbers on the screen flash by, I can’t escape the sense of disjuncture, the uncomfortable illumination.

The elevator reaches the ninth floor. The doors lurch open. I wait for the other people to exit and go their separate ways before I step out into the corridor. The carpet seems new, cheap and abrasive. I walk through the double doors and head across the sales floor. My watch reads nine o’ clock. I sit down at my desk, log in to my computer, and stare vacantly at a bold list of unread emails. A message pops up reminding me that there’s going to be scheduled down-time this afternoon.


I look up and see my manager standing above me, hands on hips, smiling. She’s always smiling. I still don’t trust her smile.

Oh, morning.

“I must have said it to you about five times! Did you have a big one last night? Wake up, Don! Grab a coffee.”

I gesture at the cup in my hand, still almost full. How long was she talking before I clocked her?

“Are you sure you’re alright?”




“Sweet! I’m feeling good about today, Donnie boy, because today’s another one of those days. We’re going to make some bills, Don! Commis-ion! Yeah?”



About the author

Donald Quixote

Hopeless romantic,

adventurer in paradox;

so it goes

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