Despite the confines we are encouraged to want and to have things. Although we can only achieve so much, it is instilled into us, at an early age, just how important it is that we are successful.
Anyone who works hard can have a house, a home, and is able to fill it with all that they need plus a little more; with trophies, big, bright and shining things. A flat screen TV, surround sound and a car in the garage, something sleek and stylish or bulky and reliable. Whatever one may want, despite everything, despite the constraints and the cut off point, at least here in the mid-levels there is still a whole lot of choice.
We are middle-management material. We can work only for particular companies and corporations and in particular government departments and we can rise only so far in the ranks. We are allowed to achieve and succeed but at a certain point, we are stopped, cut off. I think it is harder for us here in the mid-levels because we are so close and many of us could easily make that little leap and continue onwards and upwards.
I often stay on at the office after my colleagues have left for the day. I don’t use the computer, not even my own devices. I don’t want my presence to be monitored. I am not breaking any rules but I am aware that my behaviour would be considered more than a little odd.
The lighting drops to an energy saving low level and in the half light I sit with a newspaper and try to read. But mostly I listen to the noise coming from the floor above. Long after we have completed our day’s work they are still hard at it up there. At regular intervals I fetch myself a drink from the vending machine. Carrying the little plastic cup, I wander as I sip from it. The coffee is always too hot and bitter. I listen to the laughter coming from above and I try to pick out individual voices, one sided telephone conversations. I can’t make out the words but it all sounds so focused and urgent.
I hear those that leave out in the lobby and I always flinch but they don’t look in through the glass doors. They don’t see me. They are far too pre-occupied, eager to get home or perhaps they are heading for a restaurant or a bar. Maybe their day’s work isn’t over, not yet, and they still have much to debate and discuss, to decide.
Eventually I have to think about leaving myself in order to catch the last train. It is still a veritable hive of activity up there and I am annoyed by this. I want to outlast them, to be here when they aren’t. I consider booking a hotel and staying overnight in the city or even sleeping here in the office. A clean shirt and a different tie and who, come the morning, would know, who would be any the wiser.
But I don’t make the necessary arrangement, I don’t bring that shirt and tie. Perhaps I don’t really want to know whether or not it does stop up there. After all, it’s only one floor and even if there were a lull, in the early hours of the morning, what would it prove? This block is tall, fifty two floors in all. The wheels don’t ever stop turning and from down here I just wouldn’t be able to hear them.
Many in the mid-levels decide not to enter these tall building. They don’t apply for jobs with the most prestigious corporations or with the government. Despite the fact that they have garnered the necessary experience and have ticked all of the right boxes they choose to coast, to keep working for the smaller companies, those that operate out of the storefront offices both here in the city and out there in the suburbs. They don’t have the security or get the retirement plans and the extra holidays and the end of year bonuses but if they are good at what they do and work hard they can earn almost as much out there. They call it the ’Real World’ and those above us don’t like it; it is frowned upon and they groan and gripe but ultimately they haven’t any choice but to accept it.
I made that step from there to here as soon as I could, as soon as I was able. And that is all I have managed to do in almost five years of working here. I step into the lobby, push through the doors and make my way across the ground floor office space and I sit at my shared desk in the far corner. I haven’t ever been moved up, haven’t been required elsewhere, I haven’t even as much as stood on the stairs.
Image by Christine Renney