by Monim Wains
It had been a crazy day. We had heard news in the morning that the data centre had shut down. Four hours of our services completely blacking out, losing I don’t know how many millions. Nothing like this had happened before, and none of us knew what to do. The boardroom was buzzing with panic. Hushed voices failing to hide the sharp notes of worry that all of us felt. We were already in a dangerous state, our profits far lower than expected last quarter. We couldn’t afford this.
I zoned out for a second, trying to remember what usually happens in a company facing disaster like this…
Oh, it was layoffs. We would lose jobs, if we didn’t fix things soon. How many? How soon? My bills were due next week, I needed the paycheque.
I don’t think I was the only one thinking that. I looked around a sea of wrinkled faces, pulled taught with tension, eyes blank but running through the same scenario as me. Unthinkingly pulling faces of anxious anticipation.
Every few seconds, a new thought would appear to them, and they would suggest it to the person they sat next to, all of us trying to come up with some miracle to avoid this disaster.
Slowly, as no one voice piped up with the solution, the volume got louder and louder, more frantic as the dig for ideas became a graver concern. Finger tapping and pen clicking accompanied the hurried speech. My own feet refused to stay still. Usually that would work some stress out of me, but today, it felt like the spring was just getting tightened. I reached into my mind for anything I could suggest. Nothing echoed back.
Suddenly, the door swung open, and the CEO walked in. Her steps came with ease, as if it was any other day. We all got up off our chairs (it was an old-fashioned office) but she hushed the clamouring, and motioned for us all to sit. She walked all the way past each of us, to the seat at the end of the table, left empty and waiting. She gave us a quick look, before pulling it out and taking her place. She put the file in her hand in front of her, placed her pen on the right, exactly straight, exactly as always. Her hands turned through the pages, taking her time, until she laid it flat, open at the right place. She smoothed the pages with her hands before leaning back into her chair and looking up. Her face wasn’t smiling, but neither was it strained. She was serious, business as usual.
Not a word was said, as she surveyed the room, exuding calm. Before she had said a word, we knew we would be fine.
Boom, burst the air. A deep dull roar of flame floated into the clouds. A rumbling of the earth that shuddered through my bones. I was thrown, flung to the ground like the hand of God had swatted me down. My hands tried to hold onto something, but found only shards of glass that slipped through my fingers. The windows had shattered. What the hell was going on?
I dragged myself up, heaving with my arms despite the daze. It took me a while to get my footing, in my very own room as well. I looked out, past the bare grating, where there had once been a window. It was now no more than a portrait of terror.
The day had been bright in the morning, sunshine peeking through the clouds. Now, it seemed as if a curtain had been drawn across the sky. A dark shadow unfolded along the city. What was left of it, anyway. I could see it spreading downhill, dousing the houses in black. The colours I was used to, blue and bright and green, left twisted and smudged in a red-yellow hue. Pillars and shards punctuated the rubble, as the streets crumbled before my eyes.
All I could hear, all there was that rang in the air, was a wail. An incomprehensible cacophony of thousands in fear, confused and forlorn, despair upon despair. What the hell was going on?
The ground gave way again, bellowing an answer, as if I, mere mortal, could dare to question its will. The almightiest sound of the heavens bawled out from the mountain, and thunder clapped down from the sky. I crashed again, flat onto my back, a rag doll at the mercy of whoever had wrenched the planet in its grip. There was a flash of the brightest orange that pierced through the dust, before a film of bright grey light into the mist.
I understood. The mountain had erupted.
We were suspicious of the warnings. We had worried a little whether we were at risk. But we had not known. How I wish we had known. But it was too late now.
The earth rang, reverberated, sang with the deep bass of my doom. My eyes stared up at the column of fire that had risen over the sun. So the roof had given way. Three quick thuds, as the walls collapsed around me. A boulder to my left, a pillar to my right. And finally, one flat lid to enclose me in. I was in, entrapped, encoffined.
The thick brick muffled the racket outside. It was black, right on top of me. My eyes took a while to adjust, once I had wiped away the dust. There was nothing to adjust to. Just darkness lying on top of me. There was nothing I could hear any more.
Friday. It had been a long week, but good. The work had been tough, but progress was good. I slipped off my headphones, and the soft kerfuffle of the office re-entered. It was about six o’ clock, so everyone did the same. All logging off and packing away their gear. Quick smiles here and there and some small talk; all really just looking forward to going home. I stood up and stretched for the ceiling, as a wave of cricks and cracks broke out over my back. The GP had told me to get out of my seat every hour. It had been at least two. I was improving.
There were polite nods all around, and a few semi-genuine ‘have a good weekend!’s. I followed along the social cues.
My flat was about twenty minutes away, by bike. Good exercise, and the weather was pleasant. The office rush was in full slow swing, as the traffic crawled away. At least I could weave through that quite nicely.
I was home before too long, a little breathless from the hill. I opened the door and stepped inside. Chilled. No more stress for a couple of days at least, though I had filled my time where I could. I was thinking of the walk I was going to go on, and the film I wanted to watch in the cinema tomorrow. My stomach rudely interrupted though, with a cry for dinner.
No, first order of business was always getting changed. I always jumped into a t-shirt as soon as I got the chance, just to switch my headspace. It was almost like a uniform to wear something with a collar. That was not welcome by the time I got home! My bedroom was a bit of a mess – as usual. But really, if I scowl at myself for leaving my bed undone, it’s on me to learn to do it in the morning. Ah well, scowling’s easier.
My stomach called out again. Fair enough. I walked back down the stairs to the kitchen and broke out a bit of frozen pasta sauce. The hob clicked on with a pan on top, and a pot of spaghetti on the boil just next to it. There was a little stirring to do, but I took the time when cooking to just switch off. The bubbling of the water was meditative, almost.
Ten minutes later and my dinner was done. The best thing about pasta is how quick it is! – Well, if you’ve made the sauce beforehand at least. I’m not old enough for a TV, so it was just my laptop on the table. YouTube fired up in about 30 seconds with all the muscle memory I had built up. New uploads from people I had been watching for years at this point. Episodes of series that kept on growing with new ideas. And I had grown up with some of them, pretty much.
So I settled in, watching what new shenanigans would unfold. Anyway, no need to work things out. I settled in, dinner ready, playing along, letting the week’s tension unwind, losing track of time a bit as the story on the screen played out. Loud upbeat music played to pace the video and keep me engaged. I bobbed along at the intro, as always.
The shenanigans ensued, with a bunch of people being stupid on screen. Except one moment, when the screen froze for a bit. ‘Connection interrupted,’ it said. The bright colours gave way to black. with a little wheel spinning in the middle, and my reflection staring back. Staring at myself, pasta halfway up to my next bite. There was just the quiet whirring of the laptop fans, no music.
I could see the whole room behind me – that was most of the flat, to be honest. Sitting, just me, eating dinner between empty walls. Two more days to go.
I wish my distractions didn’t do that.
Breathe in… and out… breathe in… and out…
It had been a long day. A school day, for me, and for her. Lucky at least that we were at the same school. I don’t know how she felt about being a student when I was a teacher, though I had asked her about it before. I was trying to remember something she’d said in the car this morning. Was that another trip I’d have to pay for?
Focus… on my voice… let the thoughts drift away…
I concentrated. Frowned a bit. The boys had been drifting in the yard again, with their bikes. They’re not allowed to do that, but we can’t really stop them in the morning. At least I’m not going to turn up early to parent them! Still, I shouted at them when I saw, so at least they knew it was wrong. Not that they cared.
Let the thoughts arrive, and let them go. Watch them flow away…
They went away, and the memory of their din went with it…
I don’t know how she manages this, the woman on the app. She sounds so serene, like I could poke her with a stick again and again and she would still just ‘let the feelings drift away… and breathe… and breathe…’ – immune to being annoyed. I wish I could manage that, like water off a duck’s back, except it was the fucking Year 9s flicking bits of paper at me.
Breathe in… and out… Scan down, top to bottom. Ease your body…
Okay, relax. Slowly, working down, I let go. My cheeks settled, after a while. The frown dissolved away. The muscles in my neck untensed, like a weight had been lifted from them. I rolled my shoulders a bit, untying the knot they had wound up. Mentally, I could feel my arms all the way down to my fingertips, resting gently on my knees. There was no weight now, except my own. My body fully aware, feeling gravity, down to my criss-crossed legs, and the carpet beneath that.
And stay, as you are, all calm… just breathing…
I was empty.
No noise anymore.