Sunday, 27 January 2013

45. Fiddling with the slice of strawberry

Jena has a problem.

"I just don't know what to say to him," she says, fiddling with the slice of strawberry on the side of her cocktail glass.

There is a guy called Mike, about 23, who works in the post room. He has decided he wants to go out with Jena.

"He keeps emailing me and asking me out. It's getting really annoying. I've said no as nicely as I can, but he won't stop. He says he's in love with me but I think if you're in love with someone you pay attention to what they're saying, even if it's not what you want to hear. Don't you?"

Mike doesn't like working in the post room; he thinks because he has a degree he should have a better job. He is not unattractive. He has a nice, muscular body, high cheekbones, pretty eyes. But he has no idea how to present himself. He doesn't wear clothes, he puts on the ill-fitting shirts he grabbed when he went into Primark on his lunch break. He doesn't have a haircut, he just has hair. Jena likes guys who, in her phrase, have "something about them". Guys who have haircuts.

He might be able to get past his lack of style if he had the nerve to flirt with her, to be cheeky, to clown about and make her laugh - if he brought something else to the table - but he doesn't.

"He emailed me again today and I was having a shitty day and it was just the last straw so I probably was a bit harsh. I told him that we had had this conversation five times and I wasn't interested and could he please just stop asking? And then he got really funny with me, I mean really angry. He kept saying 'What's wrong with me? I'm a good person, why won't you give me a chance?' I don't fancy him. I don't understand why he thinks I have to go on a date with him just because he's decided he likes me, but I don't know, I'm worried. Do you think I'm being unreasonable?"

I know Mike too. We always used to talk whenever I saw him around. We had some stuff in common, a similar sense of humour, and I thought he was attractive. Eventually I thought fuck it and asked him out, because while you don't know what happens if you ask you do know what happens if you don't, and he looked me up and down and said: "As if I'd fancy you." We don't talk any more.

I don't tell Jena this.

Later, I'm walking home thinking about Mike. He thinks he has the right to a lot of things: to pursue Jena, to be given a great job, to be mean to me when I ask him out. This bothers me, but I'm not sure why, because surely people do have the right to good jobs and ask out people they like. This leads on to thinking about human rights and I think about what people should be entitled to. What should people be able to expect as a right? This is a very interesting train of thought, and when I get home I open up my lap top and go on the internet.

There doesn't appear to be any real world-wide consensus on what should be a basic human right, but a few ideas keep recurring.

          The right to exist.
          The right to privacy
          The right to own property
          The right to free speech
          The right to have a family
          The right to safety from violence
          The right to equality (all people should be equally entitled to the same treatment     regardless of their race, gender, sexual orientation, religious beliefs or any of the other shit people come up with to have a go about)
           The right to fair trial and to be considered innocent until proven to be guilty
           The right to work
           The right to express your sexuality
           The right to vote for who makes decisions
           The right to seek asylum in another country if the country you are living in treats you badly                    
           The right to peacefully protest
           The right to health care
           The right to education
           The right to believe in and practice your religion

Once you get into the detail, some of these are obviously deeply problematic in practical terms. Religion, for example. Sexuality, for example (I'm sure Matthew, if he was smart enough, could claim he was "expressing his sexuality" by raping me, although personally I think rape and sex have nothing in common). But - as general overall principles - I think these are pretty good.

This list brings what is bothering me about Mike's behaviour sharply into focus.

The right to work simply means you have the right to work. That's it. It is not "the right to have a well-paid, emotionally satisfying job which will impress all my friends." It means you have the same right as everyone else to apply and be considered for jobs. If you want a job you will have to work for it, and if you want a really good job you will have to work really hard.

The right to sexual expression is the right to have consensual sex in the way you want to have sex. It is not "the right to automatically have the partner I desire." Mike has the right to ask Jena out. He does not have the right to get angry when she exercises her own right to sexual choice by turning him down.

What I see in this list is this: all people have the right to have the same opportunities as each other. Not more, not less. The same. You have the right to apply and be considered for jobs. You have the right to enter education. You have the right to medical treatment. You have the right to ask the person you find attractive if they are interested in having a sexual relationship with you.

But no-one has a right to demand a particular outcome from those opportunities.

That bit - the fulfilling, well-paid job, the first-class degree, the desirable partner, the tight circle of friends, the fat pension plan - that bit is up to you. And you aren't entitled to any of it.

I'm pleased I've straightened this out in my head. I put my coat and shoes on and open the door to go to Amanda's for dinner. Something falls with a rustle and I look down. More roses. This time they are white.

I pick them up. There is another blank card. Whoever left them here left them while I was sitting inside, looking at the internet. I didn't hear anything. I look up and down the empty silent corridor and then eventually I take the roses inside and put them in a vase because there is nothing else I can do. 


  1. What, no Newer Post? Oh dear, now I have to wait for the next update.

    I love your work here! Interesting characters, great writing and good plot.

    I like Alice, a lot. She has gotten a bad start on her life, but she is not only coping, but doing well. A hero and an inspiration to us all!

    According to George Herbert "Living well is the best revenge". In this respect she has already achieved her revenge against Matthew. Though not everybody will agree with that quote.

    Your other characters are interesting too, though one has to wonder if Alice's impression of them might be off the mark.

  2. Hello! Thanks for your nice comments - I'm really pleased you are enjoying my story ^-^. Yes, we do have to wonder whether Alice is as perceptive as she likes to think she is! While I do have a general story arc in mind for her and the rest of the characters, the details are yet to be finalised. So I will enjoy finding out what happens too.

    I'm updating every Sunday, if I can't update for any reason I'll post to say so! Amy