A man awoke on his 48th birthday.
It was cloudy, rain forecast. What had he expected?
A glorious May morning, coloured envelopes on the kitchen table
illuminated by a shaft of sunlight?
Just a normal day. A day like any other. Everything happening
slightly later than it should. Bathroom clamour, the brushing
of teeth and hair.
A hurried bowl of cereal and there were cards. Some expected
but one a surprise. It changed the day a little. And the children's
felt pen greetings. Their misspelt words stayed with him as he
gathered speed, joining the traffic, forehead damp with city drizzle.
He could see his office block ahead. He imagined the purposeful
atmosphere. people already at their work. Phones ringing.
The hum of the computer sytem.
He would buy chocolates. Make an effort. Today would be
be different. He cycled to a railing, locked his bike to it
and entered a newagent. He chose quickly, struggling outside the shop
to pull the rucksack clips together, careful not to crush the boxes.
They would turn from their screens to thank him. They would stop
writing and talking just to taste his chocolate. There would be a moment
when everyone would be thinking of him and his birthday.
He padded across the unpleasantly squashy office carpet, smelling the
scented, aftershaved morning. Slurped the froth from a cup of machine
coffee. It lay on his upper lip as he tore open the usual, large format
brown envelopes that lay in wait for him each morning.
He replied to a couple of urgent looking emails. Then fetched a pale yellow
serving platter from the office kitchen. This was really just a cupboard,
a sink and a fridge. If you wanted to make a snack you used the top of the
cupboard. This was not a place for serious food preparation.
He arranged the chocolates, with some thought, on the cold china.
They were proper Belgian ones, not just Quality Street.
Then he turned to his computer to compose his birthday announcement.
As he hovered the mouse over 'send' he noticed
a new message alert. He opened it:
' could all staff assemble in the conference room as soon as possible
He slid the sweets, still on the plate, into a drawer on to a pack of
printer paper. And there they stayed for a week.
Everybody had been a little anxious. Joking over
their nerves. Gatherings could mean sackings or serious financial problems.
There were faces, staff from other departments that he'd barely
spoken to. No one had put out chairs. Soon the entire practice
shuffled expectantly in one room, waiting for Roy.
Roy wasn't smiling. He pushed his hair back from his forehead.
His words faltered:
' Thankyou everyone for your attention. I erm..I have just received
news from, er, on behalf of, our colleague, Paul Kinley.'
Roy paused and seemed to swallow hard.
' I regret that I have to pass on the extremely distressing news
that Paul suffered a fatal heart attack at 6.30 this morning '.
There was a collective gasp, a murmer, then complete silence.
In this silence he thought of Paul's crumpled shirts.
The train journey they had once shared on the way to a meeting
and the photo Paul had shown him of his nine year old son on a
But mainly he thought of the china plate in his drawer. And
the sweating chocolates now slowly gaining a whitish bloom.