Read the opening of Love and Other Human Errors by Bethany Clift
Love and Other Human Errors is out in paperback on 27th April
Jean-Paul Sartre wrote that ‘Hell is other people’. He was right. It is 1.11 p.m. on Friday 20 September 2030, and I am in hell. Not literal hell. I do not believe in a literal hell. I am a rational person, so do not give credit to stories that have been invented
to control the proletariat.
I am in the basement of a London office block. It is filthy and smells appalling. There are thousands of these spaces on the outskirts of New London City – empty rooms with basic facilities, rented by the month to technology company start-ups desperate to squeeze some new program or product from an already glutted industry.
The basement that I am in is approximately 1,200 square foot, and – in addition to me – there are twelve coders, one engineer, one salesman, and three directors sat within it. This is a one-room operation so the space contains all the company hardware. Computer servers are stacked haphazardly on racks with wires and cables threaded like spiderwebs to various electricity and data outlets. The heat the servers generate is like the strong blast of the midday sun. I can see their cheap Chinese quantum computer from where I stand. It is built incorrectly and will not function for longer than three months. I don’t tell them this. However, the substandard computer systems are not what make this place hell. It is the people.
The average person expels air from their body around 1,000 times an hour. Each breath consists, on average, of 78 per cent nitrogen, 13 per cent oxygen, 4 per cent carbon dioxide and 5 per cent water vapour. Combine this water vapour with the typical amount sweated per person, per hour and you get a gross figure of approximately 70 grams of bodily fluid expelled every sixty minutes. This is from the average person sitting in a cool environment. The people in this room are mostly over- weight and sweating profusely. During the forty-one minutes I have been in the basement, the inhabitants have expelled nearly two litres of bodily secretions. The process of precipitation means that this moisture, composed entirely of sweat and breath, has made its way to the ceiling. What goes up, must come down, and the combined liquid residue of these men is dripping back down on me like rancid rain.
The room is a cacophony of dripping bodily fluids, searing heat, endless and needless grunts of exertion, the constant scratching of pallid, excessive flesh, and extreme levels of flatulence. The putrid smell of rotting food and fetid breath surrounds me like a fog.
As previously expressed – I am in hell.
I am here to pitch my product – TRU. TRU is a technological data-harvesting solution. It is sophisticated, innovative and elegant – this company is none of those things. I knew as soon as the first sweat drop landed on me that this meeting would be a waste of my time. But the meeting is in my diary so I am compelled to attend. I should have brought a rain mac.
I have finished presenting and am answering questions. Having responded to queries about hardware and interface, I am now fielding what they believe to be sophisticated and amusing questions regarding function.
‘So, basically, it just finds you a girlfriend or boyfriend?’
Boyfriend – what a ridiculous word. A word used by imbeciles, people who buy from social media advertisements and those inclined to make a life-long commitment to someone they met when they were fifteen.
‘No. It does not find the user a girlfriend or boyfriend. TRU uses an incredibly sophisticated and precise marriage of datasets and quantum theory to match you to your universal soulmate.’
I hate using the word ‘soulmate’ – it makes me feel like a hippy – but my research has proven that people respond strongly and positively to it. There is silence for the briefest of moments.
‘But what if you just want a quick shag?’
The room breaks into sniggers and I can no longer contain my ire. My face loses its practised emotionless veneer. I am done here.
I take my prototype from the table, pack away my things, pick up my rucksack, and stride towards the emergency exit.
‘That might be alarmed!’ squeaks one of the directors.
I do not care. I reach the door and push it wide open; there is no alarm. I gulp in mouthfuls of fresh air and lift my face up to the weak sunlight that filters down from the street level above. Behind me the men shrink back from the outside world. I glance back into the room at them. They are timid and ghostly, like creatures that have forgone the sun to worship their new gods of technology. I too am pale from lack of sun, but I worship no one. I am pale because I choose to be. We might share the same collective name for what we do, but these basement-dwellers are nothing like me, they are not pioneers, not prodigies, not polymaths; they will work in this dark place their entire careers, they will never bask in the glow of a genius like mine.
My backward glance is a mistake. It entails the smallest of pauses in momentum, and one of the directors uses that opportunity to pounce. He clears his throat. I sigh. I had hoped to exit the building without needless explanations and wasted words. I stare at him as coldly and evenly as I can in the hope that he will hold his tongue. He does not.
‘You … you’re leaving?’
A rhetorical question – the go-to of the socially awkward and intellectually inferior.
‘I am finished.’
‘So … should we send you our offer?’
I sigh inwardly. I had hoped the physical removal of my presence would make my decision obvious. It has not.
‘I have no desire to work with your company.’ He is confused.
‘But … you came to us …’
‘That was a mistake. I was ill-informed, and this has been a waste of my time.’
Behind him the room bristles with ill-concealed anger – how dare I intimate that they are not worthy? Men are so emotional.
The director tries one last time.
‘But … we have infrastructure … and money …’
I cannot contain the short bark of laughter that escapes me.
‘That will not help. Your infrastructure is laughably inad- equate to scale to what is needed. No competent enterprise will want to partner with you, so I’m sure you will invest in the first seemingly viable product you are offered. That prod- uct will consume your finances within a year, and I predict your company will not exist eighteen months from now.’
The man’s mouth falls open in an almost comedic gape, but I do not wait to hear his response. I leave, slamming the door to hell shut behind me.
I have somewhere far more important to be.
I know today is going to be a shitty day when I see Emily standing outside my office, tapping one of her stiletto- encased feet impatiently. Emily never comes to my office this early in the morning unless she has some particularly bad
news she wants to share.
It is just before 8 a.m. and I should have been in work by 7, but I am late. Emily isn’t late, Emily is never late, she has probably been waiting for me since 5 a.m. Precisely. Everything Emily does is precise. I suspect she doesn’t sleep, and I have never seen her eat or drink. Emily and I do the same job but couldn’t be more different. Emily is younger than me, thinner than me, whiter than me, and works harder and longer hours than I do. She is so perfect that, the first time I met her, I had the over- whelming urge to press my finger into her cheek to check she was real and not one of the next-gen robots that JaneDoe are currently developing.
I slowly start to retreat down the corridor. Maybe I can make it to the stairs before she sees me, go back down to reception, get a coffee, pull up my bra strap, put some lipstick on, and return when I feel ready to face the day, ready to face Emily. It’s really not fair – Emily would look like me too if she’d had to catch the AutoBus into work. I bet she rode in on a fucking golden unicorn.
Shit. She has seen me. There is no escape. ‘Emily, hi.’
I walk reluctantly towards her, juggling my handbag, laptop bag, NotePad, water bottle and building pass.
Emily tuts. She wants me to move faster. Our boss, Fran, will be in the office by 8 a.m., and Emily needs to be at her desk, working hard, when Fran arrives. In the three years that Emily has worked in our team she has only been absent one day. Emily was hit by a car on the way to work and broke her leg. She was back in the office at 6.30 the morning after the accident and worked from a wheelchair for the next six weeks. Total robot move.
Emily looks towards my closed office door, expecting an invitation inside. I don’t want Emily inside my office, so put my various items on the floor and extend my hand for the papers she is holding.
‘You just need to give me these then?’ I say, hopefully.
Emily ignores my proffered hand and nods at my office door. ‘There’s something we need to discuss.’
That is not a statement I want to hear from Emily, especially not so early in the morning.
‘You can tell me here.’ I smile genially.
‘I want to tell you inside,’ she replies coolly.
My smile falters. Emily reaches out a perfectly manicured hand and places it on my door handle proprietorially. Cheeky bitch. She turns the handle and pushes the door open. Her eyes leave mine and she glances inside. Then she gasps. Or retches. It’s a tiny and involuntary noise and hard to tell which one. Emily hates the state of my office. Emily is clean and polished and pristine, and my office is, well, a little bit messy. Maybe more than a little bit. I’m really busy so I don’t get much time
to clear away empty cups or used takeaway containers or old paperwork or shoes and clothes I have left here over the last couple of years. I don’t mind the clutter and mess: I hardly even notice it any more and simply wade through it on a daily basis.
Emily minds the mess – she thinks it would be much better if she had my office and then it would be clean. Emily is jealous that I have an office and she doesn’t, and she reacts in the same faux-dramatic way every time she sees the inside of my workspace.
‘My God! Why on earth don’t you let the cleaners in here?’
To which I reply, ‘You know why. All of this is proprietary knowledge, and Cameron would have a shit-fit if she thought anyone could access it.’
Of course, I am lying. Most of the programs and products in my office were launched months or even years ago – I just don’t want anyone invading my private sanctuary. Emily looks at me with disdain.
‘I don’t think Dr Cameron Gardner has ever had a “shit-fit” over anything’ – Emily wrinkles her perfectly straight nose – ‘and what is that awful smell?’
She’s right, it does smell terrible in here. I walk around my desk and open the window. My office is on the tenth floor and the wind roars into the room, making papers and rubbish fly up into the air, creating a weirdly pleasing vortex of filth. Emily does not find my filth vortex pleasing. Her face turns puce, and I fear she might blow her circuitry if forced to exist within my chaos much longer. I hold my hand out for the papers once more.
‘What is it we need to talk about?’ I yell over the wind. Emily hands me the papers.
‘Chris is off today, and …’
Emily cannot be heard over the wind and Emily does not yell. She stalks over to the window and forcefully pulls it shut. She turns to face me with a small smile on her face. Whatever she is going to say is going to be bad. For me.
‘Chris is off today. Fran asked if anyone else might want to cover the Pitch meeting, and I suggested you,’ she says, smiling genially.
Shit. I don’t say this out loud. Emily once reported me to HR for swearing at her. Instead I say, ‘What?’
Emily’s genial smile grows. ‘I thought it might be fun.’
The Pitch meeting is not fun. The meeting is led by Dr Cameron Gardner – the CEO of our company – and is the most reviled meeting of the month; people will do anything to avoid it. That is why I always double-book myself and send Chris in my place.
‘I’m sorry Emily, I have the monthly Future Gen meeting to attend at three, so—’
‘I’ve already asked Sarah to move that for you.’
Emily cannot tell me what to do and I am just about to remind her of this when I look down at the papers she has given me. My name has already replaced Chris’s as the Software Lead. Once your name is on the attendee list for a meeting with Cameron Gardner you do not back out. Emily knows this. I look up and scowl. Emily’s smile widens again. I hate her.
She stands, checks her watch, and moves towards the door. She has six minutes to get back to her desk ready for Fran’s arrival.
‘Eres una vaca y espero que te duelan los zapatos,’ I say quietly. Her head spins back sharply.
‘What did you say?’ I shrug.
‘I said – sometimes we all have our crosses to bear.’ She nods curtly.
I didn’t say that. I said, You are a cow and I hope your shoes hurt your feet.
Emily makes a considerable show of picking her way care- fully across my office and out of the door, avoiding the, now multitudinous, amounts of paper and rubbish that litter the floor. As she leaves, I notice that she has somehow managed to get a bright yellow Post-it note stuck to her pert bottom.
I don’t tell her.
An unforgettable story about love in all its chaotic glory from the author of Last One At The Party
A book synopsis is fundamentally ridiculous. How can I possibly convey, in only 100 words, the events of the past year and their impact on my perfectly ordered existence?
It is insufficient space to accurately detail how I was blackmailed into demonstrating my flawless algorithm to find a soulmate, despite having no desire for one.
In my former life I avoided trivial human connections. I was alone, accomplished and brilliant.
Unfortunately, that solitary and driven woman no longer exists.
My name is Indiana Dylan and this is the extraordinary account of how I fell in love.
There: 100 words exactly.