“Seems like…..I can’t explain it.” He shook his head.
She nudged his foot with hers. “Try.”
He sipped his coffee, thinking. Remembering.
They had met a little over two months ago, in the middle of what he thought was the worst time of his life.
One morning he had arrived at work, unaware that this day would be anything but routine. No sooner had he sat down to his computer and opened up his email than he had seen one marked urgent. It was from his boss, and she wanted to meet with him as soon as he read it.
There had been talk around the office for the past year. The company was floundering on the markets, and most of his colleagues had begun to visibly age. The laughter, the jokes had been replaced with a still, thick and uncertain peace. A kind of quiet that pushes against the sides of your head, muffling the sounds of the screeching brakes and occasional shouts from the outside traffic. Occasionally one of his workmates would get The Email, which was followed by The Meeting, both of which were prerequisites for the slow sad Walk To The Door, to the chorus of ambivalent reactions. Some would shake the person’s hand, while others stood and nodded sympathetically, the pressure of unshed tears mixing with guilty fearful frowns. It could happen to anyone. And now, apparently, it was happening to him.
He sighed and stood up, butterflies dancing in his gut. Maybe, he thought, this is what a pending heart attack feels like. He knew his face was red, radiating his doom to all who watched him head to the boss’ office.
“Come in” she said, “and shut the door”. Predictable, really. This is always how it goes. He noticed that it wasn’t just him and her in the office. There was another man in there too – someone he’d around the office many times.
“This is Jeremy Crystal, from Rainbow Associates. I’ll get to why he’s here in a moment.”
As predicted, he was being let go. And Mr. Crystal was there to explain his options. He could go for retraining and certainly he would offer assistance with a job search. The name “Rainbow” seemed ridiculous. A cosmic slap in the face. There was no gold at the end of this particular spectrum of colours – unless a bucket of failure, and a prognosis for a diminished future could be seen as a valued treasure.
Back then, he didn’t know the half of it. The irony was yet to be revealed.
Dazed and disbelieving, he took his place among his predecessors: he gathered his belongings, while the two security guards waited by his desk. As he began The Walk, it occurred to him that he had no thoughts. Briefly, he thought about the sales orders that he still had to process, then shook his head, remembering that they weren’t his to worry about anymore. Mental muscle memory, he supposed. This would happen for a while. He knew he’d wake up during the night, suddenly recalling yet another piece of unfinished company business, before relaxing back in the knowledge that the concern was for nothing.
As one guard preceded him and opened the door, he thought, for the first time, that maybe this was a good thing.
A week later, he had fallen asleep on the bus trip to the re-employment services building, and had missed his stop. A sudden screech of the bus brakes had woken him, and he had looked around, not recognizing his neighbourhood. The bus had narrowly missed hitting a car, and the entire vehicle had rocked to a stop. It was a good thing, or he would have still been asleep. As it was, he knew he’d have to jump on the other bus and go back at least five, maybe six stops. Worse, it was now starting to rain.
He covered his head with his jacket and waited until the traffic was clear before making his way across the road. He nodded to an older gentleman. “I guess the bus is late, huh?”
The old guy grunted. “Your first clue was this crowd of people, son?”
He looked down the road, not seeing anything that looked remotely like a bus. “Yeah. Mom raised a whole bunch of us rocket scientists.”
The old guy snorted. “Sorry. I’ve been standing here for something like a half hour now. I guess one of the drivers was sick or something. Or needed to take a break or make a phone call, or get lunch or something. I’m just a bit pissed. They raise the rates, but don’t improve the service. This happens way too often, son, and I’m tired of it.” He shook his head. “And it’s not like I can just go out and buy a car. It’s ridiculous.”
He shook his head in sympathy, and watched as even more people made their way to the stop. There were so many people coming and going that there wasn’t room on the sidewalk, so some were walking fairly close to the curb.
One car darted out in front of another and picked up speed, inadvertently getting too close to the curb, where a mini-lake waited. As luck would have it, the front tire hit the puddle perfectly, creating a wall of water that arced up to consume one unfortunate pedestrian, who let out a high-pitched shriek.
He saw her, standing there stunned and gasping, blonde hair soaked. Her briefcase had hit the ground, opened up and the papers were making their way down the street, free of their leather prison. He quickly ran after them and herded them back into some semblance of order, presenting them back to her.
She pulled the hair out of her eyes, and took the papers, mute and looking like she was going to cry. He said “look, you’re having a bad morning. Let’s go to that coffee shop over there and get you warmed up a bit.”
She had nodded and they had made their way to the inviting little café. She had gone into the washroom, to dry off as much as she could, while he ordered them both a coffee.
Eventually, they sat and began talking.
“I…Um, thank you. For what you did.”
He nodded. “Not to worry. Sh—, uh, stuff happens, I guess.” For some reason, he didn’t want to swear.
“It’s just that…I just don’t like missing appointments.”
“Was it important?”
She sighed. “Well, it was my entrance meeting. I’ve just quit my job and am supposed to start up at this new place next week.”
He must have looked alarmed, because she smiled and placed her hand on his arm. “Oh I’m not worried. The position’s mine. I’ve been hired to head up a branch office for them – so this meeting time was my idea, as a way of getting ahead of the stream of stuff I need to know before next week.”
“Well that’s a relief.” He sat back, then sat forward again and placed his hand out. “By the way, my name’s Grey.”
She sat forward and shook his hand. “Crystal.”
“Crystal, huh? That’s different. With an ‘i’ or ‘y’?”
She laughed. “‘y’ of course.”
“Well you just can’t tell anymore. Some people have the weirdest names.”
“Yeah. The girl I was going to meet is Brandie. With an ‘ie’.”
“Really? Wow. Poor girl. Speaking of which – I guess you should probably re-schedule your meeting.”
“I already re-scheduled – called them when I was in the washroom just now.”
“Oh” he said. “Well that’s courageous.”
He grinned. “The last time someone spoke on the phone when I was in a washroom, I grunted loudly and then flushed the toilet.”
“You did?” She laughed. “Why would you do that?”
He shrugged. “Don’t know. Just seemed a little incongruous – using a cellphone in there.”
She crooked her head. “It did? You really think so?”
“Breaks up the harmony something fierce. Also – it kind of makes it hard to concentrate.”
She laughed and slapped his arm. “I wasn’t in the stall when I made the call.”
He shook his head. “Doesn’t matter. Maybe someone else was.” He looked at her, frowning. “How could you be so cruel?”
She smiled, and shook her head.
After that, they had gone out a few more times, and then he had met her friends and she his. One of her friends – Gary – was pioneering a new technology, which he had found more than interesting. The two had gotten together over beers, and their excitement over the sales possibilities had built quickly. They had decided to go into business together, with Gary handling the engineering and technical aspects, and Grey working on the marketing and sales. Both knew it would be a while before they saw any kind of profit, but had noticed that anyone they spoke to had shown more than just polite interest, so they were sure they had a winner.
He looked at her, and finally answered her question. “The best I can explain it is like this: just when I think everything’s falling apart and nothing good can happen and we’re all alone and on own with everything, I get a glimpse of a number of seemingly coincidental occurrences that just sort of defy probability, you know? It’s like people and circumstances are often a lot more connected than we realize, or can see.”
She looked up at the clouds, as if willing them to spill their secrets. Then looked at him. “You know – I’ve often thought the same.”