As soon as I took a seat, the lights faded into complete black. I could not see a thing but the day shining in from the hangar entrance. I thought I could see some papers on top of the desk, but couldn’t be certain. I heard a deathly screech at the end farthest from me as the door was closed and the light cut out. I had never felt more vulnerable.
People say, when one sense is cut out, the others suddenly become more sensitive. This is not true. I heard nothing. I saw nothing. I felt nothing. The only sense partially active was scent, as the familiar smell of sweet men’s shower soap washed over the olfactory.
“You have learned rather a lot about me, haven’t you?” I jumped out of my skin, not expecting a man to speak directly into my ear from behind. I knew it was Him, but how did He manage to walk into the hangar without making a sound? Without his permeating presence? The lights flickered on. Andrew took the seat opposite, his strong, chiselled features softened incongruously in the gentle downlight.
“And what do you think of all these things you have been—absorbing?” came His voice again, slowly enunciating each plosive, skinning them with a sinister edge.
Every part of me wanted to run—but there was nowhere to go, He had made sure of that. I was a caged lamb confronted by a rage of paper-thin moments. A chord drew thin in my mind, tightening, slickening, pulling together. It became apparent that challenging myself, keeping my head up and maintaining eye contact wasn’t going to cut it on this occasion; I would have to adapt. I would have to add some rules of my own:
- Stay planted: focusing on the insolvable is futile. I am here, there is no way out, there is nothing I can do to change that now.
- Breathe: a time-old trick. Take a deep breath, take your time.
- Take stock of the situation and answer accordingly: something my dad taught me to do when faced with difficult situations head-on. He was advising me to consider the context of my position: why has He brought me here? What could He need with me? What do I know, and what can I find out?
What did I think I knew? I have inferred that Andrew has privacy issues—who else breaks the law to work behind a solid wooden door? I have also learned Andrew suffers from what He calls a ‘medical condition’, and He is paranoid about it—to the point of threatening me. Now he has abducted me to a locked warehouse—a long step from being asking to work behind a solid wooden door—and is trying to gain the initiative through fear.
His previous question pirouetted and peered into me, commandeering my thoughts, his voice running amok in my mind—a blur of black and white type in a sea of sonorous larynx.
What did I think of all these things I had been absorbing?
The plural things rang over and over—what else should I know?
What would my answer be? What did He expect my answer to be? You terrify me, why are you doing this to me? — I think not. I became very aware of the lengthy silence yawning behind us.
Stay planted. Breathe. Take stock of the situation and answer.
“You are clearly ‘different’ in some way,” I answered.
His manner switched—was he taken off-guard by my answer, by my composure? He took a friendlier, more informal tone. Gone was the terrorisation. It was like some good cop/ bad cop routine. I wondered what His game was, but I did not trust my footing. What had I fallen into?
“How are you enjoying the job?”
Stay planted, breathe, take stock of the situation and answer accordingly.
“It has been satisfactory. Thank you.” Was that what he was expecting? I had to remain calm. His face was a deadpan in the shadows. I maintained eye contact and kept my head up.
“Honestly, it has been a relief having you here, and your presence in the office is—nice,” He said.
‘Nice’ felt like an afterthought. Too many afterthoughts here. What did he really mean?
“You have started a grand job of the filing; I know it was in a bad state, and it needed a professional eye to sort, as you might have guessed, I’ve never been one for filing myself.” He broke a smile.
‘Professional’, was he trying to appease me? His sentence-end wavered, as though he expected an answer. I stayed planted, took a deep breath, and decided a non-question did not require an answer. I had never been wearier of myself. I felt as though I was teetering over a precipice.
“Is there anything I can change to make you want to stay, or to add to your job satisfaction?”
Deep breath. “Everything is fine, thank you for enquiring.” I was impressed with my poise. I couldn’t believe the voice I heard was coming from me. I was possessed with a certainty I had only ever seen in others.
“I have enjoyed having you with us. Most of all, you seem like someone that can be—trusted.” A shadow obscured His face, and the room felt to turn a shade darker. “Am I correct; can I trust you?” He voice had steered, veering into rusty, sharp-edged dead ends.
Could He trust me? Is this something I needed to answer? I fixed my stare solidly on him, despite the feeling that I was looking into the sun, and getting a little close to it for comfort. Stay planted, breathe, take—
At that moment, a black cat jumped onto the table—got to love the felines. Thanks for the save, friend. Breathe.
The cat luxuriated in piercing the moment. She slinked around the table, innocently rubbing her body length against Andrew’s hands and purring in rapid-fire. Andrew glanced at me. Glanced at the cat. Glanced at me. Then His face took a time out; the hardened exterior sheered away revealing his softer undercoat. He gave her a rub. The light was poor, but I could have sworn he broke a smile. So he was a cat person all along. Why would he lie to me about that? He suddenly didn’t seem so sinister. He tried to put the cat onto the floor, but she had other ideas, jumping back up and leaping precariously onto his broad shoulders. Much to Andrew’s displeasure, she settled down, comically lying like a scarf about his shoulders. He attempted to harden his exterior again, to sharpen those edges, but now it struck me as soap opera acting: surface level and unconvincing. In an attempt to save face, he continued as though she was not there. Having a cat lull and preen across his shoulder blades didn’t do anything to reinforce this fear he seemed to wish me to feel, but it did armour me with yet more confidence.
He pushed some papers in front of me. “It is important that you to sign these. It is a NDA—non-disclosure agreement. It requires that you, the party, agree not to disclose confidential information shared or learned about me. Of most importance, its content includes that you will not repeat anything you learn about my activities, and my physical or mental differences to anyone. As you said, I am—different.”
Clearly, there was more I did not know. I didn’t want to sign anything binding me in any way. Nobody is less or more important than me. Head up, make eye contact. Challenge yourself. What did I need to know?
“What do I know, and what would happen if I did tell someone?”
His surprise was evident. Perhaps I had changed since taking the job.
“There would be mass panic if the general public knew there was a person who is different like I am. Nothing good can come from this.”
Did he actually just say that— what did he mean by ‘different’? This might have something to do with the unusual reverberation I felt in the office. If I had ever played poker, then I might have a poker face. I hope I gave nothing away.
“Different?” it was the only thing I could think to say.
“Yes. As you’ve probably guessed, there’s more to me than meets the eye, and I only tell you this because I have a good intuition on people, and I know I can trust you. Plus—bear in mind it would be my word against yours, and would they believe me, a well-respected businessman, or you, a first-time job secretary?”
Did I fathom a threat between those lines?
He continued, “It’s what humans prefer to do—pretend the scary stuff isn’t happening, so this is no more than a safety precaution, really.” He gestured at the papers, and casually moved them closer, placing a pen atop them and clicking for the nib. He tried once more to remove the cat, but she wriggled out of reach, purring loudly and beginning an acrobatic cleaning routine.
Stay planted, deep breath, take stock of the situation.
“And what would happen if I signed and, say, had too much to drink one night, and let it slip?”
“Don’t worry, you’re too clever to do that, and as I say, it is only a precaution, really.” He smiled a half smile that his eyes refused to follow, and the black cat licked his well-combed fringe into an afro. He did not correct this new hair arrangement despite a teller tick on his upper lip betraying his need. I had to feign a cough to hide my smile. All frightening pretences on his part had made an involuntary feline-inflicted u-turn, sprouted soft pink fluff, and gained an inexplicable tendency for making knitwear or hugging.
It occurred to me, I was better off not signing it. If I sign, he will hold this over me for—well forever, and he would have rights to sue me for more than everything when I have nothing: if I had the confidence not to, he would have to be decent to me for fear that word would get out. What could he possibly, legally do, to make me sign—nothing?
“I choose not to sign. We will have an agreement of trust, beneficial to both parties—as you yourself have just mentioned how very trusting I am.” Was it really me saying this?
Andrew sat farther back in his chair observing me in silence for a moment; His permeating presence showed its face, feeling to echo and play in sinister fashions with the shadows. Eventually He nodded. Sensing her part had been played, the cat leapt off his shoulders, and down onto the floor, leaving Andrew’s hair well-licked, and melded away into the shadows in the stealthy way that cats do. Thanks puss!
The entire room felt to turn towards him as he mustered great reverence once more. The sides of his words were slick and sharp as scythes, and the shadows felt to lean in to catch his every utterance.
“Okay Icarus, you’re not as malleable as I assumed, but I like the fact that you speak your mind, and I like to be wrong occasionally, especially about people.” He took the paper away from me. “I will trust you. We have a verbal agreement. Don’t let me down. Remember, I like to be wrong occasionally, I do not like to be wrong repeatedly.” His last words rang in the air as though a final bell had sounded to mark some ominous ending.
At that point, he smiled, but it wasn’t a real smile. A real smile takes the eyes for a walk and the crinkles remain long after it appeared. This was a smile for my benefit. This was an appeasing smile, a counterfeit because-I-have-to smile, a smile because He had realised I was not malleable, a smile because I freely possessed information—whether for better or worse in the events yet to come. At least one good thing had come from this: I am not malleable I repeated to myself. I never thought that would be a sentence I could both say and mean.
Then, He departed as soundlessly as he had arrived. The hangar door split and screeched as daylight cut in, leaving me blind.