I never used to get angry. Though there were, certainly, days when a certain thing, perhaps this thing or perhaps that other thing, might have piqued me like a mosquito. Of course there were. I’d be riled temporarily by a queue, say, or a moment of clumsiness. Dropping a plate would do it, or breaking a glass, or waiting too long for someone to reverse into a parking space; any of the daily calamities to which people are prone could, in the right circumstances, raise a hint of ire. But these were fleeting moments. Small flashpoints. Bacon said the best remedy for anger is ‘to win time’, and that I could reliably do, stepping away, sometimes physically, from the cause of my distress until it had passed. I was quiescent, equanimous, serene.
Then, sometime in 2008, Johnson started to bully me. I don’t mean that he generally began to intrude on my happiness, in the way that he does to everyone eventually. The general trespass I could have dealt with. I have some experience of intermeddling impostors. This was far more targeted than a blanket insinuation into the people’s daily business.
Johnson set up a control room. Even now, I’m not sure where it is. I have my suspicions about one site in particular, out in the East of my city, under a velodrome. It doesn’t matter really, if I’m honest. It’s there somewhere. He dug out this bunker, and, brushing past me one evening, his bondsman affixed something to my arm. Inside my arm.
At first I think Johnson was nervous to act. Yes, he’d track me as I left my house. He’d always follow my walk through the park, commandeering CCTV where he could, watching me commute. But to begin with, he did very little to me. I knew he was sitting there, underground, getting whatever pleasure he could from my discomfort, but the discomfort itself was broadly spiritual – a mere imbalance in my humour.
Slowly though, the monster grew more confident. I’d get on the underground in the morning, anticipating a twenty-minute journey. Johnson would push a button, and the train would stop, mid-tunnel, near a cricket ground. Ten minutes would elapse, or twenty. We’d move a little, then stop again. Sometimes we’d be evacuated at the next station.
Such things did not occur every day, of course. Had they done, I’d have learnt to bear it. I find it easy to come to terms with repetition. It’s why illness becomes enjoyable eventually. But Johnson is clever. He understands that predictability is the enemy of the tormentor. So he began to mix his torture.
Knowing that I travel through a particular part of town, he allowed property developers to work there for several years in order to slow me down, erecting flats that cost more than anyone can pay. I took an unusual line for while, but he didn’t let me get away with that for long. Now, if he so much as sees me on it, he’ll make sure my train terminates before I need to get off.
These days I regularly bus up one particular road. But he finds out when I’m coming. He’s always ahead of me. No sooner am I on board, whether here or there or somewhere else, and his men are out, digging, with their cones and their drills and their unusual working hours. I can’t escape, even in the countryside. His tentacles are train lines, and a flick of a switch in the city can harass me hundreds of miles away.
Initially, I wasn’t angry, not with Johnson. I was scared. Friends said I was paranoid. Friends said that. But it’s not paranoia if they really hate you. I’d get home and retrench, sleeping fitful into the day, evading Johnson’s attentions by denying the various habitual acts that made up my life: rising, abluting, walking, working, eating, paying, sitting.
I fell into a bed of despair, but rage remained a stranger.
Until today. Today I lurched out, head down, first thing. The bus arrived and I caught it without incident. Johnson allowed me that. The train too. Then a day in which my only concern was why I’d not been provoked. I’ve become reliant on my persecutor over time, of that I have a sibling’s certainty. He continued to shun me as I headed home. Indeed, he might have been helping me, so prompt were all my vehicles.
I alighted, following my old Tuesday custom, next to a small supermarket, as the day’s light disintegrated. In I went, aiming for meat and wine. But oh, bloody scourge, bane, bastard, foul afflicter! Plaaaaagggguuuuueeee! Oh, atrocious, base, repugnant spite-giver, loathsome, pernicious reprobate, evil embodied. How has your corruption spread so far?
I knew as I entered that this was where you’d planned for your triumph to take place. I should have heeded my instincts. That spillage next to the freezer section might have tipped me off, that bell ringing at the checkout, the inkling of a queue already forming next to the out-of-order self-service tills.
I got out of that shop forty-five minutes after I went in, my only acquisition a bottle of red wine. Because of you; this happened to me because of you and your masterpiece, you and your bluff, you and your false relief, you and your execrable corporate accomplices.
But this time, Johnson, this time it’s different. You’ve had your fun (boy, have you had your fun?). I’m angry now. I’m enraged. I can feel myself getting bigger, getting braver. I’m coming for you now, to the velodrome if I have to. You don’t scare a bit.