I wasn’t ready for it. All those years of education and now, I was about to plug in to Real Life.
It seemed as if everyone considered Real Life to be normal. Something nagged at me, screaming silently that it wasn’t so.
“Education over, I guess it’s now just Real Life from now on”, and endless varieties on that phrase had covered Facebook for weeks. After a while I even started to believe it myself; that all I had ever worked for was simply to plug in.
London’s main office for Real Life was directly next to King’s cross, to help workers living in the outreach connect quicker. Quicker, I say with gritted teeth and a particularly large metaphorical pinch of salt. No one seems to have asked why, with all the developments in work technology, why did we still rely on this outdated transport system?
We have to get to Real Life somehow, after all.
All offices were near train stations. Some thought it would be better if all the offices were merged with the head office at King’s cross, but imagine the havoc if the entire country’s population descended upon one station each morning? It’s bad enough spread across three.
A cold breeze pushed unforgiving across the grey platform. The crowd shifting towards the exit barriers payed it no heed, to them it was just another insignificant part of the daily commute. To me, it carried a sense of the forgotten. This place was new, yet I already knew something was missing.
I spotted a sudden burst of colour on one of the walls. “Remember 9 3/4” sprawled decade-old graffiti, the red paint lonely in its surrounding sea of grey. No idea what it meant. Most graffiti was just surreal, nonsensical phrases. Maybe it meant something in the past, but now each message seemed hopelessly lost. I don’t remember where I learned that word, graffiti. Most people don’t know it exists. Some are vaguely aware of the images and of the words that appeared from time to time splayed across walls. Most however didn’t even see it. As I watched the other workers scrawl like ants across the platform, it was clear none of them could even see the graffiti within a stone’s throw from them all.
A distraction. Today would be my first day of Real Life, and here I was staring at irrelevant markings from another, insignificant age. As cynical as I was of plugging in for the first time, it was a rite of passage in this most modern of ages and I couldn’t be seen as being distracted on my first day of joining the system.
Eventually I followed along with the crowds and got off platform 79. The crowd headed towards the signs marked ‘REAL LIFE – LONDON MAIN OFFICE’. It made sense to follow the pack.
It suddenly dawned on me that I had no idea what kind of work I would be expected to do at Real Life. If I think back to when I was younger, my parents never talked much about work. Sometimes I might hear if they were forced to be plugged in for an hour longer, or if Reality shut down unexpectedly for part of the day, but that was about it. It suddenly struck me; I wasn’t sure what Reality even was.
The mindless flow of the crowd didn’t stop for my thoughts. I shook my head and managed to weave my way through the last few steps to the station’s exit. The doors led out to huge square dotted with lifts heading straight down into the ground. It was surprising to see such a wide open space considering how tight for space London was supposed to be, but it was clear from the lifts that the majority of the city was underground. The square was just a worker sorting pen: queues lined up solemnly at each lift as they filed out of King’s Cross. Anxiety filled me – I didn’t know where I needed to go. There was only one option. I followed.
Someone was watching. In a crowd in near-perfect unison, the slightest divergence is a scream in deafening silence. I kept walking, panicking that something terrible was about to happen. No one else seemed to have the slightest sense of fear on their stone-etched faces. Maybe I was just going mad, pressured by my new surroundings. This wasn’t the outreach anymore. The crowd marched on.
A red flash filled the square; a deafening crack followed. Terror now gripped my being; there wasn’t even as much as a blink to sense from the snaking bundle of bodies surrounding me. Was this normal? Were they all completely desensitized?
Suddenly red banners fell from the top of towering citadels enveloping the square and revealed a one word message as they draped downwards to the ground.
I could just make out miniature shadows now, seemingly running along the citadels’ silhouette, releasing more banners as they went. The message of the mysterious figures surrounded the square. The message was for all the workers of Real Life to see, and yet it remained unseen. There was just me staring in fear and awe. The crowd waited for their lifts to arrive.
It became lucidly clear how much I stood out and promptly moved into a queue. I had no idea if I was going where I needed to go, safety is in the crowd. I still however felt watched. It must have be the shadows on the citadel. I stole one more look to the skyline. The figures were gone, but dull flashes could be seen from behind where they had been. One last banner had appeared in the short time that I had looked away:
“Real Life is not real life”
In a state of deep fear and confusion, I reached the doors of a lift down to the underbelly of London. I tried my best to forget the shadows and their banners. Maybe they never were even there – anxiety does strange things to a person.
The lift arrived. I guess it’s Real Life from now on.