In between all the chit-chat about start-up companies and project financing, Tom stole a glance at his cell. He couldn’t be obvious, of course, since one of the men sitting next to him was worth well over twenty billion dollars. A man like Franco Marsh demanded Tom’s attention. No, in fact, he commanded it. His money practically paid for Tom’s tailored suits, his polished teeth, and if he fancied it, a non-coke snorting, high-end blonde every other month.
Tom had made it through the entire day without a single WhatsApp message from Jessica. On second thought, there was that one-liner from her at noon. But that didn’t count. It was merely a confirmation : Daniel. 8:30 PM. Can’t wait!!! XOXO!
Success had always been a quantifiable metric in Manhattan despite what anybody had to say. Exotic locales. Fortune 500 clients. Ostentatious restaurants. Young risers had to see and be seen. And why not? Weren’tthey the real men and women behind the movers and shakers after all?
The insignificant significant people.
They deserved to enjoy a pretentious meal—over an equally pretentious bottle of wine, dressed in fine tweed jackets and bedazzled dinner gowns—discussing art and war, or whatever have you, all while seemingly unassuming eyes take gentle notice of their “assent”. But still, the unwavering promise of a lifetime of office chains is never more than an arm’s length away, always threatening, often striking. Especially at the worst of times. Birthdays. Christmas. Funerals.
It’s a give and take. More give than take, undoubtedly.
No more messages at almost 6:00 PM could only be interpreted as a positive thing. This likely meant that Jessica would not cancel on Tom as she did last week or the week before that. Even so, Tom wondered whether a senior associate might be walking up to Jessica’s cubicle at this very moment, brief in tow. He pictured the scene: Jessica would be at her desk, proofreading some affidavit for the twentieth time (Yale thorough, no less). Beautiful but visibly tired. She might be wearing a semi-long dress. Sober colored. Maybe navy blue. It would never fit too loose or too tight. That nagging in-between fit. Seductive yet refined. And the hair, perhaps a neat bun, scooped up higher than her sweet head. The senior associate—predictably oblivious to her inner life and dreams and hopes—would “ask” her to stay and help him prep for a teleconference with Singaporean businesspeople at 9:00 AM, their time, which was 9:00 PM the night before, our time.
What a nightmare it would be!
“What do you think, son?”
“Why not? Aren’t you in this meeting?”
Tom looked furtively at John, the firm’s managing partner, but his expressionless face bore no help. You see, Tom’s only job here was to listen and take notes for John. Nothing else. The solicitation of his opinion, on the other hand, was a severe bait and switch.
“I like the idea, Mr. Marsh.” Tom said, flipping randomly through a file in front of him.“The data clearly shows the untapped potential for…folding pet toilets. Take, for example, you just got invited to a party at an apartment in Brooklyn, but you have no one to look after your puppy. Crisis averted. You can bring the puppy with you and set it up for the night. Maybe in a—”
“Let me be clear.” John interjected. “What Tom is trying to say is, with over a hundred and fifty million cats and dogs in America, there is an infinite number of situations where such contraption will come in pretty handy. That’s the bottom line.”
“Damn right,” Mr. Marsh said. “I mean these things can fold up into the size of a notebook. A fricken notebook, fellas! It’s going to be big.”
“Of course, Mr. Marsh. Huge.” Tom chimed.
You had to kiss ass. The more money a man had in this business, the bigger his ass was. And Mr. Marsh had quite the ass as far as asses went. A big, hairy, green ass.
“Anyways, John. I didn’t come here for this alone. Move ahead with the paperwork, would yah? There is another project that I am eager to discuss. The one in South Korea I was telling you about. Involving ballpoint pens which can double as scissors. Do yah remember?”
“Of course, Franco. Let’s discuss.”
“How ‘bout we order some dinner while we’re at it? I’m thinking Indian. Tamarind Tribeca has a lamb shank to just eat razors for. Gosh, look at the poor kid, his face is all gaunt. Jesus John, what are you guys doing with all my money?”
“Using it to make more money for you, of course. What kind of firm do you think we are?”
Mr. March grinned.
“I’d say only the best God damn one in corporate America! But I need a fuckin’ discount on this next deal.”
Peeved, Tom boldly pulled out his cell this time—as if it were an act of resistance (a failed one no doubt)—and began typing his apology before suddenly backspacing all the characters on the screen in one mad fit.
“I’m sorry guys, I need to be excused. I have this amazing first date planned tonight. And nine years from now I don’t want to wonder…if that was the girl. You know what I mean?”
He wished he had said that.
The responses from Jessica were the usual: “oh no”, “rain check?”, “don’t feel bad”. Much too uncertain to decipher whether this tit for tat game was becoming mildly unbearable on her end.
Tom’s twill blazer and linen shirt ensemble would remain splayed across the small bed in his studio apartment tonight. His red pocket square—the one he intended to accentuate his look—would stay unused with the other six in a tiny draw just below a row of dusty law books.
He let out a heave and pulled up Tamarind Tribeca’s menu.
About the Author
Rajiv Ramkhalawan is an Attorney-at-Law and emerging writer from Trinidad. Forthcoming stories from him will soon appear in Wilderness House Literary Review, The Caribbean Writer, and New Reader Magazine.