I arrive at Eureka Tower. It’s in the heart of the city’s financial district. I check my watch. I still have an hour to kill before my job interview commences. Why am I always so early?
I walk around to acquaint myself with the area. I find an open air coffee shop and sit down. The restaurant is spotless. Everything in this city is crystal clean. Sometimes I think the Powercentars disinfect this place with anti-bacterial spray while we’re sleeping.
“One coffee please,” I tell the waitress. She nods and walks away. She doesn’t even bother to greet me and from what I gather, she gave up on smiling a long time ago. Sour puss.
My coffee arrives in under a minute. Efficiency is this city’s motto. Kapci Incorporated: a business that’s disguised as a city with living beings.
I do not function without coffee. I wonder how we used to stay efficient before trade with Abyssinia: they’re the primary producers of coffee in the world.
I open the newspaper and catch up on the financial news of the day. Nothing big’s happened since the Great Financial Crisis two years ago. No news is good news, when it comes to the media.
I gulp down the rest of my coffee. It’s acidic. Yeck. I check my watch. It’s time. I make my way back to Eureka Tower.
I notice that it’s just on the corner of Temple Street. My ancestors told me that a long time ago, there used to be a temple here. Back in the day, the priests had all the money. These days, it’s the businessmen. Naturally, the businessmen replaced the temple with their own places of worship.
God has always been a commodity in this town.
Tall buildings boast billboards with neon demigods that glitter. A model is strutting around half-naked on the screen. She leaves little to the imagination. I know I’m supposed to feel envy, but the only emotion I can summon is disgust.
I sigh and head inside the building. The security guard checks my purse for any suspicious items. No one can be too sure these days. He sends me through the gate after taking my drivers license and handing me a visitor pass.
I head to the 40th story and make a dash for the restroom before anyone sees me. I go inside a cubicle and remove my Hourglass from my purse.
My mother bequeathed this artefact to me. It’s an heirloom that’s endowed with the ability to reveal certain elements of the future. Barely the size of my palm, the Hourglass is filled with water from the no-longer-existent Saraswati River and contains sediments of ancient Indus soil. The water isn’t governed by the forces of gravity. When I turn it, the water flows down to up, taking the little sediments of soil from the Indus up with it.
I shake the Hourglass and watch the earth of the Indus defy gravity inside the two glass bulbs. An illusion manifests itself. Only female descendants of the Saraswati River can see the Hourglass’ illusions. If my mother was still alive, she would see it too.
The water flows up into the first compartment and out into the room. The watery illusion transforms the restroom into a murky dreamlike state of incoherence.
A man appears. He looks like a man would if you stared into his reflection in the river. Wavering and swaying. Neither here, nor there. His skin is the colour of alabaster. His long dark hair flows to his waist. His eyes are shut. There’s an eye of Horus stretched across the middle of his forehead. It blinks at me.
“Your heart’s desire is on its way to you,” he says.
“What do you mean?” I ask.
He smiles at me. His form disappears and crystallises into molecules of water before swerving back into my Hourglass. The illusion dissolves. What in the world is that supposed to mean? My heart’s desire? What is that? I don’t even know.
Admittedly, I am slightly appeased. I walk out of the cubicle with renewed confidence. Back upright, I stroll through the tall glass doors of the office. ‘Transparency’ is the name of the game. There’s a tank full of fishes at the entrance. A symbol of movement, liquidity and good luck.
They’ve banned the traditional cubicle and the floor concept is all open space. Makes it hard to see the hierarchy in the organisation.
A voice nags me.
What are you doing here?
I ignore it. I have to do the responsible thing. Get a job. Make money. Take charge of my life through financial prosperity. I head to the receptionist. She’s just another faceless face.
“Welcome to Suez Corp,” she says, all smiles and pretences. “How may I assist you?”
Her smile is so big it looks like her face is going to crack. She’s wearing way too much foundation.
“I’m here for the 9am interview,” I say.
She recognises my name on the list. I’m just one of many trying to come out first in this rat race.
“Please take a seat in the waiting room on the right,” she says. “And feel free to help yourself to some coffee and snacks from the pantry.”
I smile, thank her, and make my way to the designated area. They’re already trying to sweeten my mouth with too many overpriced goodies. I pass on the generous offer.
I glance at my watch. I’m twenty minutes early. I gaze at the waiting room. There’s someone here already. I sit down next to him. We look at each other awkwardly. He smiles at me. I smile back out of courtesy. He’s competition to me. And I to him. I won’t be the first to speak.
“My name is Adam,” he says as he holds out his hand to shake.
Adam, huh. The first man. I take his hand in mine. Firm handshake – must have learnt it in business school. He’s wearing a pale blue shirt and a grey tie with black pants and shoes that are as polished as those that you see in the army.
“What did you say your name was?” he asks.
I didn’t, I almost blurt out. But I stop myself.
“I’m Maya,” I say as I flash the brightest smile I can muster. I wonder if he can see through the pretence. Then I realise that we’re both pretending.
“Where did you go to school?” he asks.
We get to know each other’s resumes – spilling out all our achievements and accomplishments. See if they match up. He’s selling himself, of course. Talking himself up. I stay modest. Under-promise and over-deliver. That’s the way to do it. I sigh somewhere inside. The boy’s got credentials.
I peer into his eyes. He’s hiding something. Something insincere lurks in those eyes. I gaze at his wrists. He’s covered them with wrist bands. Some people do that at job interviews: out of modesty or shame.
Under the ‘Equal Opportunities Act’, Tribes in Kapci are not permitted to ask questions about an individual’s origins and are legally required to hire the best person for the job. Having said that, Tribes are not required to sponsor Kapital-City-Residency to non-city residents. In other words, if you’re from the countryside, and you do get the job based on your qualifications, the Tribe can choose to give the job you rightfully earned to a Kapital City resident.
I deduce that Adam doesn’t have any totems. He must be from the countryside. I don’t have anything against Strangers. Must be tough for him. I wonder if the opportunity cost of financial prosperity is worth the emotional pain that comes from distance. I shake myself out of my reverie. This is not the time to get sentimental.
Within the next twenty minutes, the waiting room fills up. There’s thirty of us. It’s a group interview. We’re going to get to know our competition and be friendly with them all at the same time.
The Head of Human Resources comes to get us. She can barely speak English properly. Only the Sky Father knows how she got this job without knowing the lingua franca of the modern world. She’s wearing a black dress that’s too tight for her and green stiletto shoes.
After we’re all seated, she flashes a smile that’s seen in one too many commercials. Practiced, plastic, and elastic. She goes through the slides of her presentation. As applicants for the Analyst Position, our first year will be spent in training and understanding where our strengths lie. Whether it’s in equity, bonds, or commodities. Then there’s a whole series of exams that you have to pass to continue the placement into a second year for ‘safe’ and ‘secure’ employment.
Nothing’s safe or secure. Especially in the financial world. Thought we would have learned that from the Great Financial Crisis, but I guess not.
After the formalities are through, she gets all of us to introduce ourselves. Kapital City natives get on stage and those of noble lineage proudly flash their totems. A man actually gets up and says, “I’m actually quite stupid, I don’t know why you selected me.”
Everyone raises their eyebrows. So much for selling yourself. And here he is, short selling himself. You can make or lose a lot of money doing that in the stock market. Maybe he doesn’t want the job and is deliberately trying not to get hired.
He is braver than what everyone else gives him credit for.
Finally, my turn arrives.
Author’s Note: This story is a work of fiction.