I have always thought of myself as a mini-master of reinvention. I use this phrase with restraint as whilst I believe in constant change, I am not an innovator in this area. As someone who is frequently seen reading the movie tie-in version of the great novel, I am forever late to the party. I adopted the side-parting some two years after Mad Men first aired, and a full year after the suits of London deployed it en-mass. What next, I wondered, as I scoured the Style section of the Sunday Times, please, anything but the middle-parting.
I walked into the office on a sunny Monday morning. As usual, Jess was in before me. Unintentionally slamming my faux-leather satchel down, I greeted her with a salute.
"Why do you always have to be so dramatic?" She said.
"Because I expect a cheer, like when the Fonz appears in Happy Days."
"What's happy days? Sounds like some religious thing."
"Yes, that's exactly what it is."
Looking up, she gasped, "what happened to your face?"
"This?" I said, stroking my three day beard, "just thought I'd give the old middle-class beard a go. What do you think? I was going to crop my hair too, but thought it a bit too hipsterish."
"Are you having a breakdown?"
"Don't be ridiculous. It's just a little reinvention."
"Is this because Charlotte knocked you back?"
"No, of course not. I'm just trying something new. I wish to reboot myself, as it were. I want to be reborn as a grittier, edgier version of me. Dark and brooding, I am going to be the Christian Bale of HR - You've heard of him, I take it."
"You've lost it."
Jess was completely right, on both counts. I had been on a date with a colleague, and now it seemed she hated me.
She said, "do you want me to go the meeting today?"
"What, so I don't have to see Charlotte? Don't be ridiculous."
It was tempting, but to show any kind of weakness would have been, well, of little consequence, frankly. I simply wanted to get back out there and show Charlotte that I was impervious to rejection. I intended to do this by asking out her 'number two' - a dowdy, yet good natured Northern girl called Fran. I felt she was a safe bet, Carlos, the odious IT manager, affirmed that she had slept with at least two men from the office. An assertion emphatically corroborated by his creepy assistant Sandeep, who was working tirelessly at becoming number three.
The managers' meeting was always held in the same room, a corner office with a clear view of the Thames. I often watched the lethargic tourists below, wishing to join their number.
The meeting started in its usual fashion with various emissaries updating the group on their banal activities. Each person spoke in acronyms, while the rest of us nodded, occasionally making thoughtful notes. The terminology was baffling, but I had been with the company too long to ask what anything meant. I was certain that I was not alone. A lady opposite nodded at every utterance. The 'over-nod', I thought, an amateur mistake - I preferred sphinx-like inscrutability. When I did have to speak, I did so with conviction and of course, 'passion'. As we all know, it is not enough to simply like our jobs anymore, we have to be 'passionate' about them. In any case, this facile deception had always carried me through. After we had concluded 'any other business' - a few of us remained. Fran was standing by the window, texting. I walked over and, craning over her shoulder, said:
"I have some 'other business'."
"Jesus," she said, with a hand on her chest, "don't do that."
She turned around.
"What happened to your face, by the way?"
"This?" I said scratching my stubble, "oh, just thought I'd try something different."
"It's different alright, it looks like you spent a night in the cells."
"Really? I thought it was gritty. A kind of reinvention."
"Yes, I am rebooting myself. I tweaked my origin to be more angst-ridden," I pushed my chest out, "I am the Christian Bale of HR."
Fran shifted her phone from one hand to the other. Before she could speak, I said:
"Listen, about that 'business' - I was going to say, it would be really nice if we could, you know, go for a drink, maybe. Sometime next week, perhaps, or at the weekend, not sure when you're free."
I was about to suggest more timings when Fran stopped me.
"Look," she said, "are sure this is appropriate?"
"Well, yes, clearly."
"Really? Getting back at Charlotte by asking me out?"
I felt my neck burn.
"No, you're rubbish, she told me all about you."
Some movement caught my eye, next to me Carlos was on his knees unplugging the projector. Charlotte walked out.
Carlos let out a long whistle.
"Oh, piss off," I said.
"Calm down," he said without looking up, "keep your bat-suit on."
Outside the sun shimmered on the Thames. The air condition gently whirred - I grabbed another coffee, and headed back to my office.