Dignity of Labour



The sun is bloated and unhealthy when I wake, bleeding obscenely across the cityscape drenching the dawn with gore, screaming at me affirmation that I’ve overslept. The second digits on the wall-clock flicker insane eyes across the apt.

‘Why the hell didn’t you wake me?’ the words escape irritably, aimed at the first face to come to my attention.

‘Sorry’ snaps breakfast-man, taking pains to make it obvious he’s far from sorry. He begins trickling a spiral of soya-flakes expertly into a shallow ceramic bowl. ‘If you require waking you should outsource the appropriate arrangements.’

‘Got no bloody initiative?’ I mimic as the second man moves in to remake the bed I’ve just vacated. The underfloor heating pleasantly warm on my bare sweat-damp feet.

‘Outside the remit of my contractual obligation. I pour soya-flakes, top it off with fruit and yoghurt. Place breakfast correctly on the work-surface. No more. OK?’

I scowl sullenly as the valet hauls my shirt and trousers into place, fastening the clips up the front deliberately, one by one. She works methodically with practiced ease.

‘For fuck’s sake hurry’ I grunt as she takes pains adjusting my floral tie.

Breakfast-man smiles at my irritation. We’ve been over this scene – or variations of this scene, numerous times before. Bed-man stands back, presses the switch retracting it into the wall. He’s a small, passive, bald-headed caricature of a creature. He’ll patiently watch the skittering wall-digits until they prompt him to sign out and move down to the next apartment. Sometimes I can almost find it in me to like him, but not today. The valet stands back with a half-smile of job satisfaction.

I cross to the worktop where the flakes congeal dull yellow in the watery yoghurt. ‘Think I’ll give them a miss’ I mumble. ‘Late as it is.’

Breakfast-man, tall and mocking, continues smiling. Takes the flakes, shoots them precisely down the waste-disposal, hands the bowl to the dishwasher who stands a little way behind him. ‘Waste of labour. Typical of your type’ smirks breakfast-man.

‘Labour? Bloody labour! You call that labour?’ I snort. Unforgivable. We all accept the situation, but seldom actually put it into words. But I’m irritated, late… and suddenly hungry. Wished I’d munched those disgusting flakes.

The patronizing smile is gone. In a way I’m glad the façade has cracked a little. Bed-man, valet, and dishwasher watch breakfast-man expectantly. For a long moment, nothing happens.

The words, when they come, are dredged from the depths of his large frame, spoken with precision, calculated vehemence and derision. Something akin to dignity in there too. ‘At least’ he says ‘we provide a service sector, create a self-employment niche in the market, outsourcing and generating cash-flow opportunities. Not like you reading art and bloody philosophy, in academies that could be taking advantage of foreign student wealth, instead of your deferred debt. We stand on our own feet.’

‘Yeah, our free-enterprise initiative in seeking service roles perpetuates the free-flow of financial interactions’ adds the valet truculently. ‘It all primes entrepreneurial lift-off.’

Breakfast-man seems encouraged by this unexpected support. He continues a little more arrogantly. ‘If you’d care to repeat your slanderous allegation to me outside, at say seventeen-hundred, after work hours?’

My irritation gives way to stubbornness. I nod dumbly.

We glower at each other.

The clock-digits flicker on the wall. I become aware of the pressing sense of renewed urgency, pull on my own jacket and head for the elevator to piazza-level, leaving a departing scowl with breakfast-man. As we hum earthwards, the lift-attendant discretely watches me as the red light ticks off levels. I relax. Smile. Almost laugh out loud. There’s strange satisfaction in knowing I’ll face the bombastic breakfast-man later to resolve our impasse in physical combat. Of course, it’ll mean I’ll miss lunch, but that’s unavoidable. I’ll have to use recreation downtime to log legal clarification and health-coverage, then select the correct professional stand-in agency for the fight surrogate. Breakfast-man will be doing the same.

I laugh softly. I might even hire from the romeo-avatar listings for someone to go seduce his wife. That would be amusing.

The sliding doors click open ushering me into the foyer. There’s Iced Chai Latte-to-go, sponsored news-downloads, bouquet-vendors and licensed ambience-buskers as the porter opens the doors ahead of me. Hover-blips and luring holo-ads call my name. The taxi awaits beyond, with the pilot, refurbisher and mechanic in the front passenger bay, hybrid engine purring.

I step forward, grinning inanely.

Perhaps it isn’t going to be such a bad day after all…


Illustration Nick Victor

By Andrew Darlington

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