Voice-man, Office-man... I call him Grind-man.
Grind-man is a fat man with diabetes, a pug-nose and a spirit like a sack of gravel. Grind-man sits for hours moving numbers across a screen, always fearful this task will be taken from him, fearful his life will fold up before his eyes, leaving him to stare into the abyss.
I feel for Grind-man. He drinks coffee and sucks on Werther’s Originals. He has a flat-screen tv and a leather couch at home, but now he sits in the back of a crowded, computer-strewn work-space amid a populace of youngsters who do not know his name.
When I got off the plane at Schiphol my phone rang –my Dutch phone! How could this be? I thought. But thus it transpired that Grind-man was my first connection, my first link to land, and life ahead.
Blah blah blah blah... Lui Labas?
Meneer Labas, u heeft achterstallige betalingen...
Payments overdue – I put Grind-man on hold while I pulled my bags off the conveyor belt. I paused, then put him back on. I could hear the Werther’s Original knocking against a molar in the back his mouth, and I could see him in my mind: Grind-man at his desk, his stomach squeezed, his pen against the screen, his headset like a pincer around his fat face. Looking closely, I could practically count the open pores on his nose. Look, Mr. Grind-man, I said, I just got back from Buenos Aires. I did not sleep, sir – do you hear – eight weeks I did not sleep. I’ve come practically from another world, do you understand, I don’t even live here Mr.Grind-man, I have no address – permanent or otherwise. Comprendo? So this can’t be. There must be some kind of mistake. Payments for WHAT anyway? I don’t even exist; I own nothing. This is Kafkaesque Mr.Grind-man. For all you know I could be on a boat in international waters, beyond the reach of any bureaucracy, yours included. You understand?
It’s about your phone Meneer Labas. You do own something. The bills are for your phone.
Life has molded Grind-man out the papier-mâché of chance: man meets woman; they beget a child who fattens over fifty years and stumbles from this into that...
It’s the phone in your hand Meneer Labas! And why are you calling me Grind-man. Who is Grind-man? Who the hell do you think you are? My name is Oldenbrecht. Ronald Oldenbrecht. Exactly as I introduced myself. Do YOU understand?!
For a second all of Schiphol froze. And there it stood, in all its solidity, staring me in the face.
Hard edges, solid glass and steel, and my feet planted on the ground.
I would have spoken, I would have said something – I’m sorry Mr. Oldenbrecht. I’m sorry, I’m just not with it. I don’t know a thing about you. I just haven’t slept very much...
But I was speechless with shame