I am walking along one of the long carpeted corridors on the fifth floor of my building at work, thinking about Chris. Today he was waiting behind me in the canteen queue while I bought my coffee. When I turned round he gave me a huge smile and said hello. He is clearly aware of me and wants us to have some form of friendship, or similar interaction. This panics me. He is far, far too attractive to behave normally around, and why is he interested in knowing me anyway? I spend most of my work life trying not to look interesting. I don't want people just coming in and deciding to be friends with me...or whatever...could he be attracted to me?
Oh, come on, Alice. He is at least five years younger than you, and he has the kind of looks which would get him attention from much more exciting women. This is some kind of a, I don't know what it is. But, whatever it is, it is making me nervous.
I push open the door to the Vague Department.
Jena is in the far corner, pretending to file random pieces of paper while in fact enjoying the far more interesting pursuit of ogling Josh from the Overworked Department as he discusses a complaint with her boss. I wander over to her.
“Check it out, Alice,” she says. “It's enough to make a grown woman cry.”
I can see Josh is attractive, but he doesn't do a lot for me. I like my men darker and more intense. But Jena made up her mind about three weeks ago that he was going to be her next conquest, and she's very good at this kind of thing so I watch with amusement as she starts work on melting his mind.
She moves on to the next filing cabinet as it is marginally nearer to his biceps. I watch her flip her hair and lower her top slightly with one finger. I see Josh's eyes slide towards her. He drops his eyes, then raises them again.
Jena grins and then shamelessly blows him a kiss behind her manager's back. His mouth drops open, he flushes, and he forgets what he's talking about. I get the giggles and have to look away. For a moment I love Jena unreservedly; her uncomplicated sexuality, her wicked sense of fun.
Then I realise Jena's colleague Rob is watching them flirt. Or rather, he is watching Jena.
Rob is colourless, fortyish, balding, overweight, quiet. The kind of man who is wallpaper to pretty girls in their middle 20s in every office in the country.
His eyes are fixed on Jena, the pupils the size of peas, and I realise he is in hell; this fat nobody in his cheap work suit, whose conscious intellectual resources stretch no further than Chelsea's line-up, knows as much of love and pain as any of opera's tragic leads. Cavaradossi kissing Tosca an hour before his execution, Don Jose losing his job, his freedom, his self respect and eventually his mind for Carmen.
I feel awed. I feel the same way I did standing in the Uffizi in front of Botticelli's Venus, overwhelmed, the painting like a giant chord of colour and music pulsing through me.
In this century we don't do passion, we're afraid of it. We analyse, we rationalise, we talk it out of existence. We'll take sex but not sensuality. We'll take aggression but not rage, contentment but not joy, lust but not love.
We do not like extremes, here in the 21st century, we no longer understand how to give ourselves up to something bigger than us; we don't have God, we don't have true love, we don't believe our politicians can change the world for the better. There is nothing worth dying for and nothing to believe in. There's just us, and our sterile little internal politics. That's all we believe. That the dull dramas in the backs of our brains are the most important things in the world.
And here is someone who knows nothing and believes everything. He understands love, intuitively, and gives himself up to it. Gives himself up to what he sees as beauty. He spreads his arms and closes his eyes and falls into his passion. Falls. Gives himself away.
To Jena. What a gift. What passion, given to such indifference. There is no way in the world that Jena would ever regard Rob as anything other than reality's version of an extra in the crowd scenes. I doubt she is even aware of him as a human being with his own life. His opera will be a tragedy.
I feel for him. I hope it's not unbearable.
Jena is so attractive, and so fundamentally...not stupid, exactly, but unthinking. Happy to accept the surface version of the world. It's incredibly frustrating. Like seeing someone being given a Lamborghini when they have no idea how to drive.
I drop off the press release I came to deliver and walk out of the room. As I leave, Derek is outside in the corridor. He sees me and smiles widely. The air is cold around him.
"Alice!" he says, with delight. His eyes are round like an owl's and they study me the same way. "You're looking very well today. This is a lovely dress you have on."
"Thank you," I say, stiffly. I want to run away.
"We need to have a meeting about the issues around internal communications. Are you free on Monday about 1pm?" he asks.
"I'll have to check."
He smiles. "Do," he says. "We could go out and have a lunch meeting."