When the Selector came for him, Joe was taken aback. He supposed that all of the Selected were, that no-one really expected it would be them.
There was much speculation about the Selection. It was the talk of the City and Joe, along with everyone else, had been intrigued, no – obsessed, as to why some people were singled out and Selected whilst others were left to languish, seemingly unnoticed.
Joe was convinced that the process was random. And that someone, somewhere, was shuffling papers and simply stabbing at a list with a pin or pulling names from a hat, but this was an unpopular theory. People didn’t want to accept that it didn’t matter, they needed to believe that if they lived right and worked hard it made a difference and of course they hoped it would improve their own chances.
But there had been the man from just across the hall. The old man. He must have been seventy at least when he was Selected. Everyone agreed that he had been lazy and selfish.
But there was the girl from down the street. She was just twenty-two, had excelled at school and gone on to University. She had been bright and brilliant and only just beginning to make her way in the world. A perfect example. How could anyone have been more deserving and yet there were a few who wondered if she wasn’t a little too young. If someone a bit older might benefit more, someone who didn’t have such good prospects, who was struggling and not quite managing to make ends meet.
Joe was something of a firebrand; strident in his views, loud and forceful with his opinions. He had upset people but actually he had been just as baffled as they were. He was trying to make sense of it all, had been searching for clues, looking for a pattern.
The Selectors weren’t required to wear a uniform, apart from a little badge, a tiny insignia on their lapels so that at close quarters they could be easily identified.
Whenever one of them was around, people were guarded and acted is if they had something to prove or something to hide. This angered Joe and he didn’t hold back, often speaking out whilst a Selector was still present, within earshot. And this shocked people. It was audible and palpable, not just the gasp but its echoes in the aftermath. But the Selectors were unfazed by this, in fact they appeared decidedly disinterested.
Joe began to wonder if they were the key that could unlock some of those clues. He wondered if there were a pattern of some sort there.
It wasn’t a job that was advertised in the newspapers, one couldn’t apply to an agency or a corporation, there wasn’t a Ministry or even a department. No, the Selectors, like the Selected, had of course been chosen.
The only traits that they appeared to share was their aloofness and an air of indifference. But the Selectors weren’t there in order to interact and mingle and Joe suspected that they had been chosen for these very reasons, for their ability to stand apart.
If Selected one of these men or women would come for you and assist in the move and, for an hour or so, they would act as your guide. But just how involved were they in the actual process? They were the eyes, the ears, on the street. But where did the Selectors go, to whom did they report?
Joe started to watch the Selectors more closely. He could easily spot them from a distance. He didn’t need to get in close and check for their little badges. On the busy streets everyone did their best to avoid them. Even in the crowded restaurants and cafes and bars they were given space. It was as if they moved around in pockets of contaminated air and no-one wanted to breath it in or go near. Which was strange because, what everyone really wanted, was for one of these women or one of these men to approach them, for a Selector to knock on their door and say ‘come with me please – you have been Selected’.
Joe started following the Selectors but stalking them through the City streets proved to be a relentless and ultimately unrewarding task. Their movements appeared to be without structure. They didn’t cover a particular area, have a ‘patch’, like one of those old bobbies on the beat. But they swept through neighbourhood after neighbourhood and, if they returned, Joe suspected that it would be months from now, possibly even longer, perhaps years.
They loitered and lingered a little wherever people were gathered which was almost everywhere. On a busy corner for instance or within one of those shopping centres. In front of a cinema or the theatre and of course there were the countless pubs and clubs, restaurants, cafes and bars. Often they would venture inside but just as often they stood on the outside looking in.
They didn’t talk at all, not even to each other. Whenever they passed on the pavement there was no recognition, not even a flicker. It was as if they weren’t part of a team and didn’t share an occupation and a purpose.
Joe became anxious. The City was so over-populated and so dense. And he was constantly concerned that he would get lost and not be able to find his way back. Time and again he turned from one Selector, and switching allegiance he started to follow another, one that was going in the other direction and leading toward home.
When the Selector came for him, there was so much he wanted to ask. But with the man standing in his doorway, steely and impatient, Joe was flustered. He was told that he didn’t need to take anything but if he wanted to select a few things then he could. But he needed to choose and pack quickly, just one small bag.
And suddenly Joe was rushing behind the Selector, following him through the busy City streets with a rucksack on his back, not quite sure exactly what he had managed to shove inside of it.
They were pushing against the tide and everyone was watching them. People were stopping on the corners and turning, pointing, gesticulating. And Joe had wanted to join them, to stand and watch, to witness what was happening.
A Selector and one of the Selected moving together.
Image by Christine Renney