“I.D. please.” The receptionist was simultaneously scanning the computer screen whilst holding out her hand; beady eyes, fingers sharp and skin tight. Intrusive.
Harrison jumped to attention and started digging through his coat (£5, from a second hand shop) looking for his wallet (pass-me-down, partially ripped). “Hmm, let me see” he murmured, drawing out his utterance as if to make time. “Ah, got it”. Now, he had to find a photo I.D. that would make him look professional. ‘Tawsdale Tennis Club Membership Card’, that wouldn’t do, baggy white polo and an oversized blue cap. ‘Heaston Dogs Home Volunteer Pass’, casual brown t-shirt littered with white fur, can’t use that. ‘Newbarry Novice Dancers Membership’, here we go. He pulled the card out and briefly admired his sharp shoulders, crisp black suit and frilly bow-tie. A round, seemingly jawless face sinking into a hefty collar. Grinning, he handed it over.
The receptionist gazed for a second. “We need a form of government I.D. sir, most people use a driving license or a passport” she said with piercing urgency, blinking rapidly all the while.
“Oh, man, err, sorry let me just” he quickly patted his pockets. “I can’t seem to find anything of that sort, I haven’t seen my passport for a while and I don’t drive.”
“I can’t let you upstairs without government I.D. sir. The only thing I could suggest is for you to file for a new passport and take the next round of interviews in six months.” Glancing up she could see hope fading from his eyes. “There is a second set of interviews tomorrow which I could squeeze you in for, but again, you would need the correct documents.”
Harrison blushed with embarrassment. “Tell you what, I’ll have to go back home and rummage through some old stuff. If I find it, I’ll be back tomorrow.” He made a swift exit, forgetting his manners as he left.
The next day he found himself back at the reception desk, this time holding a small burgundy document in his hand. He had found his passport amongst a collection of childhood gatherings. A shoebox, un-frayed and untouched, save for ‘GARAGE’ scribbled on the side. Three photographs lay inside: One of his deceased Grandparents sitting on a bench in South Africa. His Grandad bloated and bearded, arm around his Grandma, small and smiling. One blurry image, undistinguishable if not for his memory of the occasion. His old Sunday-league football team winning their first match. The last picture was of himself, stood ankle deep in sea water, tiny against the endless grey backdrop. Seemingly useless and forgotten trinkets were also found inside: A plastic crucifix necklace painted silver, two or three loose marbles, and his old art book from secondary school. There seemed no significance to these items, or if there was he had moved past the time when they meant something. The only thing worth extracting was his passport, which the receptionist now grasped with her stiffened fingers.
The lounge waiting area was crowded. A collection of suits, short-back-and-sides, leather-bound folders, nervous grunts and muffed coughs. Every so often the silence was penetrated by another name being called from the corridor. An hour passed and eventually there was two, himself and a younger looking blonde man. Out of habit he compared himself to the other man, starting, as he always did, with dress sense. A depressing pursuit. His competitor was slim and tranquil. His shirt tucked neatly into his trousers to form a straight transition. Golden hair knotted above his head, and his jawline was visible across the room. Brown jacket and trousers, which made him look more earthly than bland. His socks stood out, a penetrating yellow, not overly bright but loud enough to add a hint of personality to his attire. Harrison looked down. Muted blue two-piece, white shirt overhanging his belt, worn brown square toes, black socks. Any stranger looking at him might think him Joe Bloggs, Mr Sensible, Mr Office Cubicle, Mr Drinks-One-Glass-Of-Lager-At-Work-Parties. “Joe Bloggs” sounded from the corridor as he thought this. He remained still, though soon noticing the man announcing names was looking at him. “Harrison Noon.” Jolting himself from his daydream he stood up, gulped, and followed the announcer down the hall, shaky legged and breathing hard.
“That’s all fantastic. What we’d like to know now is a little bit about yourself, and why you want to work in insurance.” The woman in the middle’s voice turned this phrase into a question. The men to the left and right dropped their pens, nodding, smiling, and glaring. By now a fog of body odour crept around the room. His seat felt damp.
Harrison felt well prepared for this part. Lifting his chin up he spoke confidently and rhythmically, his script well-rehearsed and repeating in his mind. “I have always thought that to work in insurance is to help people and companies, big and small, feel safe and secure. It’s about doing the right thing, however hard. This company in particular has done so over the past few years, being voted Insurance Firm of the Year three years in a row.” From here he inserted ‘personal beliefs’ about helping people in times of need, and even an anecdote (the time his Grandad was crashed into whilst waiting at a red light. He claimed a hefty £6000 from his insurance, and Harrison emphasised how this helped his Grandad ‘get his life back’. By this he secretly meant it payed for a holiday to South Africa.) He talked for what felt like an hour. In reality it had been just over five minutes. “So overall, I would say insurance now more than ever is a part of day to day life, and a fulfilling career opportunity.” Leaning back in his chair, he felt a wave of relief waft over him, along with the sour smell of his coffee breath. He knew his interview was coming to a close and felt fairly confident about it. Pens scribbled as he awaited a response, maybe ‘excellent answer Mr Noon, the best yet’ or perhaps even ‘we are blown away! How would you like to start, tomorrow?’ What did come made him gulp and squirm in his seat.
“And what about yourself? Any interests? Tell us, who is Harrison Noon?”
His once smiling face dropped. Had they not heard his previous ramblings? Thoughtful, carefully structured utterances, emotional anecdotes and flattery! He was caught off guard, and it showed. Silence blanketed the room.
“It says here on your CV that you have been a member of hundreds of clubs, I quote ‘too many to mention in one paragraph.’”
His throat dried instantly and his breath was blocked by his tonsils. Nervously he coughed and sipped water, all the while thinking ‘Harrison you fucking fool!’ He remembered writing that part of his CV, encouraged by beer to mock the process of mapping down your whole identity in one paragraph. He had meant to delete the passage the next day and highlight one or two of his interests. The beer had deceived him, made him forgetful, thoughtless. Finally, he spoke. “Oh yeah, well I have always tried to take part in as many activities as I can, you know, try and belong to something.” Cheeks reddened across from him. “Sorry, not that I feel lonely or anything, I just enjoy taking part in… stuff.”
“OK, don’t worry. What do you think you have gained from taking part in this ‘stuff’?” This once again asked by the woman in the middle, her partners sniffing in amusement.
Shifting in his chair once more, he began. “Well I’ve been involved in dancing clubs, sports teams, reading groups.” Another pause, his voice wavered numerous times as he spoke. ”I guess, err, teamwork? And communication? Yeah, teamwork and communication.”
The interviewers had at this point stopped scribbling notes and instead observed the visibly uncomfortable candidate in front of them. “Ok, I think that should just about do it.” Flurries of nods, smiles and sweat soaked handshakes followed. Once again Harrison found himself fleeing the building, forgetting his manners along the way.
The walk home was a resentful one. What sort of question is ‘who is Harrison Noon?’ He could see their faces now, all three, her invisible eyebrows and grey hair. Old witch! And those two, sat beside her. Sycophants. Minions. Dick heads. Just exactly what sort of worn out question is that? His feet grew heavier with each growing frustration. Did he not show them he was completely competent and ready to work? No doubt that brown-suited human-surfboard impressed them with his stories of deep sea diving and mountain climbs and how he is such an environmentalist. Sell out!
Eventually he arrived at the apartment complex, a well-guarded but ugly building. He walked past the security desk without thought to stop, without willing even. “Excuse me, sir!” A robust voice came from behind the counter, Harrison continued. “Sir, you need to show your badge please. Do you live here?” The security guard was now out from behind his desk and approaching Harrison, who stood waiting for the elevator.
Reluctantly he turned. “Stephan, you literally saw me walk out of here about three hours ago.” A confused stare. “Harrison? Harrison Noon? I live on the fourth floor. Oh, forget it. Here.” He passed over his badge which confirmed his details. Alongside his apartment number and name was the photo to match. Ruffled hair and paint speckled overalls.
“OK, thank you Mr Noon” Stephan said apologetically, passing the I.D. back.
“Hey Stephan!” A young woman bounced through the front entrance to the building sporting dungarees and pig tails. “Hope this one isn’t causing you too much trouble” she said gesturing at Harrison.
“Georgie! Back so soon?” Stephan’s harsh voice faded and now took on a sweet twang.
Harrison snarled and entered the elevator, ignoring the rest of their conversation. Georgie followed him into the carriage. “So, how did it go?” she asked with exuberance.
“Why is it that everyone who sits behind a reception desk for a living is obsessed with identification? I see Stephan every day, you’d think the man could remember me.”
Georgie pretended she knew how he felt. “I know, right! Anyway, come on tell me.”
“I don’t really want to talk about it, at least not in an elevator.” As he said this the doors pinged open. “How about you cook me up some food and I’ll be over about seven?”
Georgie scoffed. “Just because you’re shit at interviews doesn’t mean I have to cook you food.”
“See you at seven!”
As the night went on the light hearted banter gave way to serious discussion. Harrison had talked Georgie through the last day or so of his life, up until the interview. “It was going really well. I spoke clearly, I was confident, I sounded smart. Then I was asked to describe myself, ‘who is Harrison Noon?’” he imitated. Georgie was listening, but not interrupting. She let silence ring out when it needed to. “Can I ask you something? And promise me you’ll be honest.”
“Of course, anything.”
“Why do you spend time with me? What is it that convinces you I should be allowed into your apartment, to drink your beer and eat your horribly over-cooked chicken?” He improvised a slight joke, feeling he was sinking into a depression. It didn’t work.
“Cook it yourself next time! But seriously, I just like being around you. You’re funny and-“
“What’s the last funny thing I said?” Harrison interrupted, challenging his friend.
“Well, it’s more just the way you behave and the things you say. You’re not like, funny funny, like HAHA stand-up funny, but from a distance you make me laugh. You’re a nerd.”
Harrison found solace in this. Maybe that’s who he was. An awkward nerd. “See, when they asked me who I was, I couldn’t answer them. ‘Who is Harrison Noon?’ I have no idea! I look at you and I instantly recognise a person, an Identity.”
“So, I’m predictable?”
“No! No no no” he stammered. She grinned. “I just mean that I don’t see that in myself. All my life I’ve tried to chisel out some sort of personality. Maybe I could be this sporty guy and make something out of that. Too lazy. Maybe I could become a bookworm or write. Not creative enough. Maybe I could be this romantic dancer. Like you said, I’m an awkward nerd.”
“I don’t mean like that I just meant-“
Again he interrupted her, this time without words. He placed his hand on hers and gulped down the last of his bottle. Georgie’s record player was scratching, unnoticed in the corner of the room. “You know I told you I found my passport in an old box in my garage?”
“Yeah” her voice was lowered almost to a whisper now. She could see Harrison was upset.
“Well there were some photos as well. One of my old football team. It was too blurry to make anyone out but I knew I was there, blending in. One was of five year old me on the beach and another of my grandparents. They’re still sitting in the box, dark and cold. I should’ve framed them.” His finger circled the rim of his empty bottle and he gazed at the far wall, regret shimmering in his eyes. “When I looked at the picture of my grandparents I felt warm. They were sat in the sun, happy, holding each other. I can remember everything about them. How my Grandad would sing the same rhyme whenever we went out in his car. My Grandmas glasses and her cute smile. Her stubbornness.” He laughed gently before continuing. “That’s what I want.” Glancing at Georgie, he could see she looked concerned when he said this. “Not like a relationship as such. I just want someone to know who I am. Maybe then they could tell me, say ‘right Harrison, you are this, this, this and this. Act accordingly’. I feel like that boy on the beach. I always have. Characterless, just stood shivering in the tide.”
“Oh, Harrison!” Georgie embraced her friend. “I had no idea.” As she held him against her breast he sobbed. After a while he sat back, her arm still placed around his shoulder. He felt her presence next to him, warm and vast, and slowly he began to feel comfortable. “There’s nothing wrong with not knowing. Truth is, not many of us do.” Wiping his tears away, he forced out a smile. Warm yellow lightbulbs lit the space where they sat, a sun-like beam massaging the couch. They stayed like this for a while until Harrison drifted off to sleep. He dreamt of his grandparents, and that bench in South Africa.