“Miss, can you please step onto the travelator? Miss, move across to the travelator!” The train station attendant manipulated his way through the crowd effortlessly in comparison to Julie’s awkward tripping and fumbling, as he approached and urged her towards one of the many snaking walkways. “Oh, sorry. I’m not using a device so…” “Move across, please, madam. You’re blocking the exit.” “I only stopped because you started talking to me. I’m going to walk. I’ll walk, please. I’m not using a phone.” The attendant gave her a dismissive nudge towards the middle of the concourse, as Julie tried to wade through the streams of commuters stepping directly from the trains onto the moving walkways, all the while staring out into virtual glasses or down into “smart” devices. Every day she would insist on walking out on her own two feet, and every day she’d get pushed, knocked, shouted at and even kicked, from time to time. It wasn’t like she’d have no opportunity to walk around once she left the grounds of the station, but there was something about the “congestion easing pathways” that irked her beyond submission. “It’s just one scam after another, is this, you know!” she’d complain to nobody in particular. “Just look up for five ruddy minutes,” she’d bellow at anyone with with an unplugged ear, which was mostly no-one. She’d officially become a ranter, harping back to the shit old days when it was the numpty on their phone that would get knocked about for not looking where they were going, not the conscientious walker who actually possesses an attention span longer than that of a fly and is therefore perfectly capable of walking out of a train station on their own two feet. All of this being carried out on a conveyor belt bollocks because you can’t tear your smug face away from your latest i-gimmick or “smart” pacifier was too much for Julie to take. So on she’d stomp, making her two-foot protest, that, frankly, nobody gave two shits about, but Julie. Though, it was important to stand your ground and stick to your principles, she’d always say.
It was customary for Julie to head straight out of the station and into her cousin’s pub, where she’d park at the end of the bar, eat a free dinner and read trashy romance novels that she’d found in a bin a couple of years ago, before eventually heading home to bed. Only now, her treasured week night sanctuary had been tainted by the overly chatty bar manager that had taken over while cousin Michael was away on training. “I believe Michael told you about the arrangement that I have with him?” she asked new guy Nige, the tallest man she’d ever met in real life. “That’s right, yeah, Michael told me all about the arrangement that you have with him so, while I’m here, I can take charge of sorting that out for you.” “OK, great, I’ll have my usual,” she said.“Yeah, exactly, that’s just it, Michael explained everything, so I’ll go and get your usual for you.” “OK, super. Thanks.” Nigel, unmoving, stared at her as though awaiting further instruction. “My usual meal…” “Exactly that, yeah, I’ll get your usual meal for you now,” he echoed. “From the kitchen upstairs…” she prompted. “Well, that’s just it, isn’t it. I’ll go upstairs to the kitchen and put your order in with one of the lads that I used to work with in my old job at the pub over the road. Dead sound lads, they are.” “Right… And I won’t be giving you any money for my meal because…?” “That’s just it, yeah, it’s all on the house, like. Michael explained it all to me before he left, so it’s all sorted.” Julie took off her glasses for a moment and peered up at Nigel’s vacant face, envisaging the vast wasteland between the ears of the giant where a brain might once have formed. “Michael then leaves me alone for the rest of the night. No conversation.” Peering back down, Nigel readied his next round of information-recycle-and-regurgitate, only pausing momentarily for an actual thought of his own to manifest and flutter around the barren cranial landscape, before nestling upon his lips. “That’s just it, like, it seems a bit sad that no one talks to you, really, so I think I’d like to take that on myself, if that’s alright with you? Oh, hang on a second, love, will you…” A flash of light from a mobile device, sat upon its mount behind the bar, attracted Nigel in a way that a flame might attract a moth on a dark night. He glared into the light for a long while, before erupting into a roar of laughter seemingly unfit for the quiet and subdued atmosphere around them. “Have you seen this?” He thrust the light into Julie’s face as she cowered away like a vampire at dawn. “It’s dead funny, have you seen it?” Without even looking at the screen, Julie replied, “No.” “Here y’are then, have a look. It’s the new Cat Fails video.” Julie got up from her seat at the bar, picked up her belongings, and left.
The next evening, she tentatively approached cousin Michael’s pub, in the hopes that a great bright light from the sky may have beamed Nigel up, overnight, and taken him back to his dimwitted homeland, but to her dismay, she could see the glow of his face from across the street as the light of his phone illuminated the giant nut atop his neck like a crossing beacon. She really wasn’t in any mood to go home and attempt to cook around the nightly horror scene that her flatmates left in the kitchen, so she decided to give Nigel another opportunity to follow instruction, and chalked the previous night up to teething problems. She walked in to the familiar peaceful scene that drew her in, night after night. A low buzz of conversation from the few regular patrons entwined amongst a gentle suggestion of mellow jazz creeping from the ceiling speakers. It was dimly lit, with just enough of a soft glow of candle light to read under. The illuminated faced giant was resting in his nook behind the bar, silent and pacified by whatever it was on the screen he contently glared into. For the first time, Julie found herself grateful for the ruddy little devices she had come to despise, as she sat down at her usual spot, unnoticed by big Nigel. She settled comfortably into her book, but as the time passed, she began to feel hungry. Not wanting to stir the giant, she contemplated heading upstairs to the kitchen herself, but the door to the stairway was located right behind the giants nook. She thought about telephoning the kitchen directly, but alas, she didn’t have the phone number, nor did she have a device with internet access to look it up. She was left with only one choice. “Nigel, if you could call up my dinner order, that would be great. Thanks.” He didn’t move. “Nigel…” Still, he stood glaring into the light. “NIGEL!” she shouted in frustration. He quickly whipped the headphones from his ears and approached where she sat. “Sorry, love. So, it’s the same meal as every day, I’ll call up the lads. Do you want it now, like?” “No, Nigel, I’ll have it in the morning for breakfast instead, just to mix things up a bit.” Looking at her, confused and anxious not to cause offence after receiving a call from cousin Michael that afternoon reiterating and reinforcing the stringency of his instruction, he replied, “Really, like? You want to come in for breakfast instead? Erm, yeah, OK, I can sort that out for you, just give me two minutes.” “Nigel, the pub doesn’t open til 4pm. Of course I want it now.” “Oh.” He pottered off to the phone and called the order in. Roughly 20 minutes later, a bell rang, and out from the elevator hatch, he collected Julie’s meal and carried it over to her. “Sorry about that,” he said in a muted tone. “It’s fine,” she replied, as she unfolded the napkin that was tightly wrapped around her cutlery. “Your Michael gave me a call, so I know all about the arrangement and stuff.” “Good.” “It’s just you left so quickly yesterday, I didn’t have the chance to get to know you properly…” And just like that, another perfectly good evening was ruined. She endured Nigel’s incessant waffling about everything and nothing throughout the duration of her meal, too hungry to get up and leave as she had done the night before. Despite her efforts to block out his talk, far too much had seeped in, leaving her to wonder if this man had ever had an independent thought in his entire life. He regurgitated one nonsense after the other that he’d picked up from that tiresome device that he peered into for most of his waking life, and she knew as much because he proudly told her so. He bragged about tweets and vines, virals and trends, products and consumerism, followers following, capitalists conditioning. She left the pub that night feeling a bleak sense of despair after witnessing, first hand, the widely accepted state of zombification that had swept across an ever increasing, willing and obliging, thoughtless society. She had no intention of ever repeating such an experience…
..Until the next night, when her stomach rumbled and her mind reeled at the thought of what awaited her at home. It was more than just the state of the kitchen, it was the resentment of not being able to afford a place of her own in which to live. It was the fact that she was priced into living with complete strangers that she had no care for, yet there they were in her home, the place in which her heart should live, rubbing their privileged upbringing in her face by having absolutely no inclination that one should tidy up after oneself after making a mess. She simply did not want to spend anymore time in the place she reluctantly called home than was absolutely necessary. As she looked across the street, through the window of cousin Michael’s pub, at the human crossing beacon behind the bar, her eye wandered to the shop next door and an unexpected thought swept across her. Feeling ashamed of what she was about to do, she ran across the road and into the shop, made a swift purchase and ran back out before her principles could kick in and put a stop to the whole thing.
She crept into the bar and found her seat before Nigel found her presence. Faffing around with her shopping, she fidgeted away until eventually Nigel noticed her arrival and marched on over. “Jules!! Today has been mad! Have you seen what the Prime Minister did on twitter? They’re calling it Roast Beef Day.” Julie lifted a tablet computer from her lap and held the screen up to Nigel’s face. I wish to communicate my lack of desire to communicate, using this, the medium with which you are most receptive. Now, kindly bugger off, I’m reading an e-book, which, FYI, is just as respectable as reading a traditional book. Julie unwrapped a pair of headphones and plunged them into her ears, as Nigel beamed with joy as he watched the scene unfold. “You’ve got the same one as me! Mine started off as an e-book reader as well, then I thought, well I might as well try out some audio books cuz then I can, like, jog, or something, at the same time, only I don’t really jog so now I watch loads of TV and that on mine. But then I don’t always have time to watch a whole programme so I watch short viral vids instead now, while I’m on twitter and Facebook. I looked for you on Facebook last night, but I couldn’t find you. Go on there now and add me, like, we can be friends and that, and I’ll show you what I was on about last night….” Julie pressed her finger hard against the volume increase button and flooded her world with that mellow sound of jazz music she’d so been pining for, slowly craning her neck down toward her very own not-so-brightly-lit-screen-because-she-turned-the-contrast-down and found her escape, once again, in the world of trashy romantic literature. Blocking out the hypocrisy and saving her justifications for another day, she had been conquered by the silly big giant.