I woke up next to Danni in a dazzlingly bright room. I glanced at my watch: it was 9.57am. Bouncing out of bed, I pulled the covers with me. Danni groaned and pulled them back. I then asked a ludicrous question:
"Why didn't you wake me up?"
She peered out from under the duvet.
"You are joking, aren't you?"
The reality of our situation folded over me: we were not some long-married couple - we were two Tinder veterans on (what could still be considered) our third date. What had started as a benign after-work drink in Holborn turned into a rabble-rousing jaunt through Soho. After a bucket full of sambuca we went back to Danni's, where I immediately passed out. I did not even have the decency to attempt a seduction. And yet, despite this petty hell-raising, I had seemingly taken the time to neatly arrange my suit on a chair, align my shoes and fold my tie. It was a depressing sight.
"Why don't you call in sick?" Danni said.
There was no hint of sexuality in this suggestion - she was merely being practical. Presumably, I could phone in then go home to my own bed. In any case, it was not feasible, I was due to deliver a presentation on our new 'absence management' strategy - my own absence would render me a fool.
I started dressing, rolling to the side as I forced my foot into a tightly laced shoe. There was a certain pathos to my clownish panic. Dannie watched me with dead eyes, my flimsy charm from the night before had evaporated. I could only hope I was one of her better mistakes.
"I'll give you a call later," I said.
I whipped my tie around my neck and buttoned my suit jacket. I wished to portray myself as some kind of ruffled libertine, exuding the thrill of late night hedonism. Instead, I looked like a busted salesman in the throws of a nervous breakdown.
"Sure," Danni said, "text me."
It was only in retrospect that I picked up this subtle retreat. I dashed out onto the streets of Balham and half-trotted towards the station, my patent leather shoes unsuitable for actual running. By the time I reached the corner I was in considerable pain.
At the Tube station, my Oystercard flashed red at the barrier, the reader urging me to seek assistance. There was a long queue at the ticket-machine, so I decided to 'bunk' the train. While growing up in London, my friends and I dodged fares wherever we could. As a lithe teenager, it was easy to slip through the barriers behind paying customers. It had been a while but I figured my skills were still fit for purpose.
I stood to the side and waited for someone with that magical combination of quick feet and low spacial awareness. London is of course full of these types: young professionals elbowing through, smartphone in hand, willfully disengaged.
A young bearded man with large headphones strode through the concourse. As he neared the barrier I slotted in behind him, following in his wake. He tapped his Oystercard and advanced, I tried to shuffle through but slammed into the closing gate. A sharp beep sounded as I recoiled. My skills had clearly diminished.
"Excuse me, mate." An orange jacketed official waved me back.
"Yes?" I instinctively patted my trouser pocket. "Ah, here's my wallet."
A small queue had gathered behind me. A woman in a mac rolled her eyes - silent contempt, I thought, that's the English way. The official motioned towards the end barrier.
"My wallet," I said, "I thought I forgot my wallet."
He looked at me, noting my stubble and unkempt hair.
"You need to buy a ticket," he said.
"I know, I'm so sorry."
I glanced at my watch, I was already late. Somewhere in the City a room full of harried managers were growing impatient. For a moment, I considered running but of course there was nowhere to run to. Commuters streamed into the station, rushing towards jobs they enjoyed. I wondered how I was going to finesse this latest disaster. Perhaps I could say I had been in an accident, I was suitably disheveled. I could even say I had spent a night in the cells - even that would be preferable to the truth. I laughed to myself. Maybe my boss would see the funny side as well. Unlikely, but certainly possible.