Le Mal Du Pays

Skwee. Skwee. Skwee. He bobbed back and forth on his ergonomic chair. What was meant for lumbar support ended up straining his shoulder muscles. Where is the ergonomic in that? Pain throbbed in his upper back. Sometimes, he couldn’t help but wince and resemble that one kid who tasted lemon for the first time. Apart from his tossing jet black hair, the white-washed office was unmoving. All Marius could think about is going for a massage. He felt his wallet mock him at the back of his slacks. Skwee. Skwee. Skwee. What kept him sane was occasionally heading over to the cerulean aquarium by the couch and talking to the fishes. Marius claimed that one of them nodded in the middle of a conversation about yogurt. It was yet to happen for the second time.

You’d think a receptionist’s desk would consist of clumps of paperwork along with a confetti of Post-Its. But Marius couldn’t care less. Everything was organised on his laptop with the occasional folder for dispatch. It could be a fascination for minimalism, or avoiding all means of attachment. Zero trace of sentiment. Zero trace of himself.

Distant elevator music broke the silence. The tune resonated from the hall to the office until its doors were shut. The clacking of heels grew closer and a tall, blushing lady emerged. Her eyes were green and wild like the untamed forests of the Amazon. As strong as her gaze was, her stature was a delicate one. Ash blonde strands fell on her face, her freckles like scattered stars upon her flushed cheeks. Wearing a white cardigan on top of a laced pastel brown dress, she resembled a porcelain doll. With a final skwee, Marius stood up to greet her.

“Welcome to ABSOLUTE INC., Miss…?”

“Cheryl. Cheryl Berg of Grey Pharmaceuticals. I’m here for Miss Perkins. We have an appointment in the next 5 minutes.” Cheryl spoke quick but ended her sentences with a kind smile. She glowed all of a sudden.

“Please,” gesturing over to the satin couch, “Have a seat. She’ll be out in a second. Anything to drink for you?”

She shook her head and took a small bow before taking a seat. Cheryl moved swiftly and Marius was able to trace a hint of vanilla shampoo. He barely moved from his desk when a plump lady entered through the revolving door behind him.

An all-black suit complemented her plump figure. In spite of the tall clogs, she was still below average height. But she doesn’t seem deterred; with only light make-up on, she let her blow-dried, bouncy hair take care of the intimidation.

Cheryl stood from the couch as Miss Perkins walked over to her. There were two sets of clacking heels now. Dismissing the pleasantries, both ladies entered and disappeared through the revolving door. There was silence again.

This was a typical situation for Marius. Even before he could begin small talk with clients, Miss Perkins would appear and reappear like a phantom. What took place behind those doors was unbeknownst to him. All he cares about is the wage at the end of it all. The company has only been active for barely two years but it was a successful business. Who knew life-coaching would be a huge hit? After university, the average adult takes the first job they could find, work until they could earn enough to pay for a life-coaching session to settle the misdirection. Who knew adults would lose their way so much? Who knew you could profit from the next person’s misfortune?

Life-coaching sessions could sometimes stretch for hours. Miss Perkins didn’t mind Marius leaving at 5pm. Her only instruction was to feed the fishes before logging out. Complying with her wishes, he did this remarkably robotic and quick and out the door he went.

As he stepped out of the marble building, he was sure that the days of humidity were over; Marius was enveloped with the calm November breeze and he wished he could hug it back. The evening commute was a treat. Watching the lamp posts come to life reminded him of Christmas. At the tender age of 7, he knew he wanted to become a musician when an orchestra played in the telly that one winter night.

With a fascination for jazz and classical music, he often visited the opera and theatre for live performances. It all started when his father took him to a local band’s live performance. Marius was tall and looked older at the time so nobody knew that a 13-year-old boy was present at an 18+ only pub. The sound of the strings, strength of the piano keys and tangible hymns of the violin stole his soul then and there. The experience was otherworldly as it was an out-of-body experience. When he wasn’t busy being a Psychology major, music and its research replenished him to the core. He owned a guitar and a violin but was most proficient with the latter. Along with the death of his father came the hiatus for music and quitting university. His mother sought solace in the province while he remained in the city. The first job vacancy he saw in the paper was from ABSOLUTE INC. two years ago. He hasn’t looked back since. The irony is as clear as day.

Marius sat on the bench and watched the several files of people enter and exit the train cabins. Evening reflections were common but tonight was a special night. Putting his headphones on, he selected Le Mal Du Pays by Liszt. (Directly translated from french, it means melancholy or homesickness. But as his father always used to say, regardless of what a song is about, it’s what you feel that matters.) The piano started to play and everything was in slow motion. A lady struggles with bags of grocery in one arm. A balding man pats his head as if whispering at the remaining strands to multiply. A group of men exchange shocked expressions before breaking into laughter. A lone woman sits in the corner of the cabin with a book in her hand, licking a finger before turning the page. She reminded him of the latest client, Cheryl.

There’s a crick in his neck that won’t go away. With a swift spin to his right, there was a loud crack. A worried passerby looked away quickly before scuttling off into a queue. He tittered under his breath before unearthing a book from his back pocket. Selected Poems by T. S. Eliot.

The first page read, “I am thrilled and blessed to have you as a marvellous son. May your music flow through others as it has touched me. Do good, but don’t forget your happiness is the wish of your ever loving, Dad.”

Brushing his fingers through the smudged handwriting, Marius whispered, Happy birthday.

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