Should You Choose
It is September two thousand and sixteen.
After I knock on his door, he looks up and waves me in. I feel I am in trouble as Miles has never asked me into his office before. If he gives me a hard time, that will finish me off. I am feeling really down and vulnerable at this moment in time now. The idea of just taking my life right now sounds more appealing.
As I walk in and wait to be asked to be seated, my thoughts are distracted with the fixtures and fittings he has in his office. I notice his office has a minimalist look and feel.
There are a couple of wooden ornaments on a wide mahogany bookshelf behind his desk. The wooden ornaments are a slightly lighter colour to the bookshelf, so they do not merge in with the bookshelf. The wall behind his desk and bookshelf is plastered and painted in a turquoise colour. He has a mahogany desk with a Swedish-style look, with nothing on his desk except for a laptop. Out of the corner of my left eye, I can see a black leather sofa against the glass wall. His carpet is the same dark-grey colour as the open-plan office.
Miles is wearing a slim fitted grey mat-finished three- piece suit with his suit blazer hanging on the back of his chair. I notice his suit braces can be seen under his waistcoat. His suit braces are buttoned not clipped. The braces are a grey colour matching his suit. The leather straps that fasten on to the buttons of his suit trousers are leather in brilliant white. I could tell his suit was not off the rack as it tailor-fitted his body really well. His shirt is starch white with double cufflink. He is wearing shiny stainless steel cufflinks with the emblem of the Union Jack flag moulded into the metal. I think it is very patriotic and a bit over the top.
Miles looks a bit like Benedict Cumberbatch but with black hair, side parted to his left. He is clean shaven and wears nice cologne that I can smell a couple of feet away from him. He is someone I used to fancy when I first met him, but that was a long time ago now.
I am still standing in front of his desk, waiting to be asked to sit down. After what feels like a couple of minutes, he eventually looks up at me and motions me to sit down. He then stands up himself, holding a report in his hand. I cannot tell which company the report he has, holding in front of him. I am thinking this is it, here we go, another ‘Let’s have a go at Jane’ moment. I am still deeply hurt by Stephanie calling me ugly, pathetic and undatable in so many words. I don’t think I can handle another person telling me that I am useless and, in addition, not good at my job. My job is the only thing that I believe is keeping me from not taking my own life. I feel that each day, I am hanging on to my job by a thread based on the constant criticism I get from Stephanie, who reviews my reports. I just want to go home and take my own life.
He walks around his desk to my right side and then sits on the edge of his desk, next to my knee. I watch him, waiting for the inevitable feedback. He looks reserved and hesitant to talk to me which tells me he is going to criticise my work as well. I wonder what Stephanie has been telling him behind my back.
Miles looks at the front cover of the report and in a soft spoken voice says, ‘How long have you been here Jane?’
I am nervous now as I feel this is my P45. ‘Just under twelve months.’
He has no expression on his face for me to gauge where this is going, ‘What training have you had to date?’
It takes me a while to think of what training I have had, ‘I have had defence lessons, taught how to fire various weapons and I think my last training was how to gather information from several sources.’
Miles looks like he is struggling for the words, ‘Uh, I think you are ready.’
I am confused now as I thought I was either getting fired or my work being criticised, ‘How do you mean?’
Miles is more direct, ‘I think you are ready.’
I am bewildered and in a soft panicked voice, ‘Ready for what. A promotion? What?’
Miles now smiles at me, ‘To go in the field. I have had a lot of good feedback from my boss Mary Johnson. We are both aware of how well you have caught up to speed with your report writing. You are one of the best report writers here. But that should not have surprised you.’
I am shocked and still bewildered, ‘but… I have to be honest. Stephanie has been making me work long hours and she has been making me rewrite my reports every third time.’
Miles looks up with a pondering look and then back at me, ‘You are good. Your original reports were fine. I have had Barney monitor your work and he has been keeping me abreast. You are ready.’
My comment about Stephanie seems to have been ignored, ‘So what happens now? Am I in trouble? I thought that was the reason you called me in.’
Miles’ expression turns serious and his verbalisation quicker, ‘I need a favour. Time is of the essence. I have cleared you for duty. Barney has your itinerary and your welcome pack. You have flight booked for tonight. It is what you have been waiting for.’
I am taken back with thoughts and questions swimming inside my head, ‘I am not quite sure what you are telling me.’
Miles stands up and walks over to his glass wall overlooking the open-plan office, ‘You are a field agent now. You have the skills, intelligence and looks. They will not see you coming.’
I am intrigued with many questions, ‘Where am I going? What is my assignment? When did this all happen? Why me so soon, and not the others?’
Miles is still looking out of his office, ‘The others are not interested. They just want an easy life. Nine to five. This is what you have always wanted. You said it yourself when I saw you in hospital.’
I have one more question to ask him, ‘I don’t have the skills to go out alone and gather intelligence. What if I am no good?’
Miles turns to me with a reassuring look, ’You are not going to be alone. You are going to be shown the ropes with an ex Military Intelligence Six officer. He is good.
You will be partnered up for a while.’
I am relieved, ‘Phew! So when do I meet him?’
Miles is quick to respond, ‘Saint Tropez. He has another assignment he is finishing off at the moment. He will make contact a couple of days after you have arrived and retrieved the information. Just… sit tight. Get a sun tan or something.’
I am still intrigued about what the information is, ‘What will I be collecting? And from whom?’
He walks back to his desk and sits down, ‘Your contact is banker. He did the frank boff when he suspected his employers were on to him.’
I need to know if he is expecting me, ‘Does he know what I will look like?’
He replies, ‘All he knows is that you will be alone and you will be direct with him. No cloak and dagger. Barney will give you the low-down.’
I change conversation, ‘What did you mean that I will not be seen coming?’
He pauses, ‘You are a plain Jane. You don’t exactly turn heads. So you will look discreet and not attract attention.’
He does not exactly know how to give compliments. I sigh as I look at the ground, ‘So I know now what you think of me.’
Miles closes his eyes and puts his finger to his temple, ‘I did not mean it like that. You are beautiful. A different time, then I would have asked you out.’
I do not believe him and sarcastically say, ‘Yeah right.’
The mood changes in the room and we move away from work and talk about what happened over twelve months ago.
Miles leans back into his chair, ‘I did not mean to kiss you. I had some drinks and was caught off guard. I did not in anyway give you the impression I was into you that way.’
I get emotional but I do not shed a tear, ‘But I fell in love with you. At least I think I think I did. To be honest, I have no idea. But I was falling for you.’
Miles is taken aback, ‘I thought you were backwards at coming forward. Where does this confidence come from?’
I am thinking I have only days left before my life ends and so want closure, ‘I am still the same person. We didn’t really talk about what happened back then.’
He leans forward in his chair and puts his forearms on his desk, ‘I am getting married in a few months. I do not think it appropriate that you are across the way knowing that you still have feelings for me.’
I am taken aback, ‘Wow. So this is not a promotion. You just want to get rid of me.’
Miles is quick to respond, ‘No. You are ready to go out in the field. If I did not think so, I would not have put you on this assignment. Just send Charles. But you will have him as your mentor.’
Feeling some what assured, ‘So if you did not think I was good, you would not ask me.’
He makes it clear, ‘You are work focused, not distracting. I need someone who I can rely on to get the job done. I do not want an eye candy. I want our contact to focus on the job at hand and not confuse his heightened scarcity for intimacy. Trust me, when you have been in this game as long as me, feelings and fear can be entangled.’
I feel he has cleared up my assumption and I move on to practicality.
My thoughts are on what to pack, ‘What do I take with me?’
Miles has a puzzled look, ‘How do you mean.’
I give him an example, ‘Clothes, accessories, condoms?’
I make him smile, ‘Clothes that suit the moment. You are meeting him at a bar. A tourist area. Would you wear a suit or casual tourist clothes?’
I get the picture, ‘So my itinerary will give me a clue.’ Miles is relaxed now, ’Now you are getting the idea.
You can go now.’
I go to get up and walk to open the glass door.
Miles wants to say something before I leave, ‘The life expectancy of a field agent is not what they say in the movies. You will most likely die from boredom than in the field. Ninety percent of this work is making new contacts and waiting by a phone for fresh leads.’
I turn round to face him with the door open, ‘I have a feeling that I will be gone a long time.’
As I am about to leave, ‘Jane, come back alive.’
I respond with, ‘Like you said, I am ready.’
I see Barney at his desk and head straight over to collect my things from him that Miles mentioned in his office. I feel relieved now that I will not be seeing Stephanie any more. The bullying will be over.
I get to Barney’s desk and stand behind him. I clear my throat to get his attention as he looks engrossed in his work. I make Barney startled as he did not expect anyone behind him.
I am apologetic, ‘I did not mean to make you jump.’
Barney shakes his head, ‘No worries. So you are here to collect your toys.’
I am a bit apprehensive wondering what Miles has prepared for me, ‘Yeah. It is not something like a gun is it?’
He chuckles thinking that I was joking, ‘Nah, nah. You don’t get to carry a gun. Not yet anyway.’
I give a nervous smile, ‘Okay. So what is it that Miles has put aside for me?’
Barney comes across enthusiastically, ‘I have a box of goodies. Nothing sexy. Just to get you by. Practical things that over the years, we have found to be useful.’
I sarcastically get overjoyed, ‘Oh wow, I have always wanted spy goodies.’
He looks at me not amused, ‘Right, Ms sarcastic. Here in this box, under my desk is your survival kit.’ He places a box on his desk from underneath his desk.
I let him take out the items from the box, ‘Wow, a phone. I have never seen a phone before. Don’t tell me, I dial nine nine nine and a helicopter comes and rescues me.’
I think I am pushing his buttons. He grits his teeth and under his breath, ‘You are so funny.’
I feel guilty now, ‘Please continue. I promise I won’t interrupt anymore.’
I go to sit on his desk while he continues to take out all the items. I see that there is the mobile, a watch and a white plastic card with my picture on it. I bite my tongue and allow Barney to tell me in his own time what each item does. To me it is obvious what they do.
Barney starts off with the mobile, ‘This is a normal mobile. Stop trying not to laugh. We stripped out the original processor and put in our own one. We have put on loads of applications. One of them translates conversations as it receives it. So in theory, you won’t have to learn a language. Everything else you can read the instructions. The watch is the same. We added our version so it gives us a geographical position anywhere in the world. It also records your movements and your heartbeat.’
I cannot help myself, ‘Does that mean you will know when I am in the shower? I hope it is waterproof.’
Barney goes embarrassed, ‘Only if you go to take a selfie.’
I think about the heartbeat, ‘If I am in bed, how will you know what is happening if my heart starts to beat fast. I could be doing something.’
Barney sighs at me, ‘I don’t think there is any chance of that happening.’
It takes me a few seconds to get what he meant, ‘Wow, you really know how to make a girl feel good about herself. For your knowledge, I have numerous—’
Barney interrupts, ‘Teddy bears. I get it. You have a fetish for teddy bears.’
He defuses the chance of embarrassing me. He finishes by mentioning the plastic card.
Barney seems to be relieved that my debriefing is finishing soon, ’This allows you to over-right any system. It is simple. It has a magnet that distorts the electronic security.
Any deadlock, the usual way. Any questions?’
I am still sat on his desk feeling deflated that I will no longer be writing reports. He looks at me with his discerning look.
I ask Barney if he has any idea what it is like to work in the field, ‘Do you get a chance to speak to the field agents about what they get up to?’
Barney replies with wit, ‘Yeah. I am talking to one now.’
I want him to be serious, ‘I am being serious. Have you?’
He reminisces and says, ‘There was one time, when they needed access to a server. They contacted us to help them out. They had only a few moments before there was a chance of being caught. For a moment, I felt I was there.’ I am not confident, ‘Do you think I will be good?’ He is laid back, ‘You will find it like a duck to water. You think on your feet, you are calm under pressure and you think through what you are doing. I am always on the end of the phone from nine to five. After that, you’re on your own Joe. Or should I say Jane.’
He makes me smile and gives me reassurance. Barney puts the three items back in the box and I take it in my hand. I slide off his desk and walk back to my desk to get ready for my last day in the office. It feels strange not having a leaving party even though I am not leaving the agency. I do not feel that it is normal to tell the other analysers that I am now a field agent. Just as I leave, Barney reminds me of my itinerary. He passes me a paper wallet with a card inside which looks like a boarding ticket for a plane.
Barney also says, ‘Check your email. The name of the contact is in the email and also your flight time as well as the hotel that has been booked in your name.’
I am curious, ‘When was all this done? Also how did you know I would agree to this change?’
He casually says, ‘This is the agency, we know everything.’ He raises his forearms in the air.
I smile at him as I turn back round to face the direction of my desk.
Barney cannot help but stare at me, as if this will be the last time he sees me from afar. I guess to him, it must feel, that I have left the agency.
I sit at my desk and lean back into my chair, pondering at my desk. I have no more reports to write, and just as well Ben was not into me as it would have been hard to date him. I guess God has a purpose for me. I notice Stephanie hovering around in the office and I am so grateful that I will not have anymore digs at me. I still cannot believe how much she hurt me telling me about her and Ben.
I check my existing phone for the email before I switch my desktop off, so that I do not have to print it from my desk. I am happy reading the itinerary from my phone rather than wasting paper. I then make sure I have the box with me, the size of a lunch box, and my desk is tidy. I take one more feel of it before I get ready to leave.
I double check the flight ticket to see what time I have to be at the airport with a two-hour window before take-off. The details say that my flight is at six o’clock and so I have to be at the airport for four o’clock. I will have to get a taxi there as public transport will be cutting it fine. I have a feeling that the earliest time I will make it to the hotel will be half past twelve in the morning. I decide to get a taxi back to my apartment to allow more time for packing. But I decide to go for a walk first. There is something I want to do. It is gone half past twelve and so I have time to make a stop.
As I leave the office via the lift, the door opens and there, I see a memorable face from the past, when I was in training. It is Charles May. He is over six feet tall and reminds me of Idris Elba. He is black but his skin is light like Jamaicans. He is clean-shaven and his hair is a crew cut, grade one. He walks with a swagger of ‘I don’t give a damn’. He is wearing a three-piece suit in dark blue with brown polished shoes. His voice is not rough but soft like a sophisticated white man. You would not want to meet him at night in a dark alley. His face is slim and almost chiselled. He has a flat stomach and I can only guess that he has a definition of six pack but not intrusive.
He taught me self-defence and how to shoot a handgun and rifle. He was matter-of-fact and very professional when I was struggling on the training course. I was so bad, in the end he taught me where the pressure points are on a body and to focus on that.
He gave me confidence and would not fail anyone on the course. There was an equal proportion of men and women on the same training course. As per usual, I was bullied by a couple of the women when he was giving me extra time in training. But I was genuinely struggling and I was not wearing any fashionable attire or skimpy outfit. I didn’t even look presentable when going on the courses. We were never romantically involved. Even if I did fancy him, there were far more prettier women than me on the course that had a better chance than me. All the girls fancied him and tried to make advances, even if they had long-term partners or were married. I was pushed to the side and looked down on by the other women that fancied him. I would say a third of the women on the course found him irresistible. He kept professional and did not allow himself to be caught in a compromised position.
There was one time when one of the girls wanted to impress him and so they used me as a guinea pig. She threw me over her shoulder and then kicked me in the stomach to show Charles what she had learnt. Another girl was keen to get me in one of the friendly boxing fights that we all had to do as a part of our learning. We had to wear protective headguards and protective groin pads as a part of the boxing fight training. She ended up knocking me out and giving me a nosebleed and black eye. I looked like a panda bear for a week. It was then that Charles felt sorry for me and taught me the pressure points and helped me to learn them.
I have not seen Charles for nine months since the course. It did not seem strange but more like a friend that you have known since school. It felt like yesterday we last saw one another. Charles acknowledges me straight away when the doors to the lift open. He gives me a huge smile when he sees me as if I was his best mate. I smile back with the same expression, and we laugh at each other as we greet one another. It is only us two in the lift as the doors close. I am myself around him, as I had a crash course in getting to know my other trainees in such a short space of time. I am not that timid and shy person around him on a supervisual level. He does not know anything about my past and so I am not in my shell.
I make conversation first, ‘How come you are here? I thought you were based in Portsmouth.’
Charles is chilled out as per usual and casually says, ‘I used to work for Military Intelligence Six before becoming a trainer. I took some time off. I am now being assigned to a new department. I just had a general chit-chat with the head honcho upstairs. She gave me a briefing and now I have to go on my first assignment, in years. And you?’
I feel all proud and tell him about my new role, ‘I am a field agent now. I have my first assignment in Saint Tropez.’
Charles looks all impressed with me, ‘Woo-hoo, look at you. So you are going to top up your spray tan.’
I show an open-mouthed expression, ‘Ouch. That was harsh. I am actually going to extract information from a contact. Funny enough I am going to be paired up with a Charles.’
Charles is beginning to become playful, ‘Oh yeah. I take it your contact is a she. I hope you know she is a lesbian. She is into blondes and four-foot nothing.’
I laugh it off, ‘Very funny. I believe he is a real man, unlike you. Better looking. So is my new mentor Charles.’
Charles goes along with it, ‘Of course. I wouldn’t have it any other way.’
The lift reaches his stop and he presses the button to keep the door open. Charles casually turns round and before leaving the lift puts his nose so close to mine, that it is almost touching.
He smiles at me then says, ‘He may be a real man, but once you’ve had black… you won’t go back.’
I feel taken aback and chewed more than I can handle, ‘That is only a rumour. The proof is in the pudding.’ Charles keeps his nose millimetres from mine, ‘Yes. Black pudding. Jane, maybe you would like to try some out, that is black pudding. By the way, have you recovered from that boxing fight? Maybe that mentor of yours can nurse you some more.’
I keep my stance and nervously say, ‘Are you offering instead? I think I have a nosebleed coming on now.’
He backs away and smiles at me, then winks. Then he leaves the lift. I go all flustered and cannot quite believe what has just happened. I eventually reached the ground floor to head out of the building on my way home via a stop-off.
When I leave the secret intelligence service building, I decide to go for a walk through London knowing that there is nothing at home for me, not even a cat. I did not want to look at four walls waiting for my time to get to the airport. During my walk through London starting from Vauxhall Bridge, I carry on along Vauxhall Bridge Road wandering around aimlessly, allowing my thoughts to seep through my veins. Just letting each thought flow out of my body. I still continue along the same road until I see a tourist road sign for Saint James church. I suddenly decide to walk by the church and the look of the church stops me in my tracks. I feel like it is beckoning me to come in, so I do. The church is a typical old Church of England. The pews are mahogany and old looking. The church has mason stone floors. I can see at the front of the church, a sculpture of Jesus and so I walk up to it. I just stand there in front of the old sculpture, made out of wood and painted. It is very old with paint that has gone yellowy brown. There is no one else around, not even a vicar. I feel I am all alone, it being gone three on a Wednesday.
I feel compelled to look at the statute of Jesus as if it is talking to me. The sculpture has his eyes looking sad at the ground reminding me how sad I am not having my parents around anymore and not having a boyfriend or husband to go home to. To have a partner to unload my feelings and have a good cry. I could do with one to tell them about what Stephanie said to me. I feel that I want to talk to that statute as a way of talking to God. I believe in God and the bible. I keep staring at Jesus and feel my eyes are welling up with tears.
I look at the statue and blurt out, ’What is my destiny, God? Is it really working for the agency? I cannot kill anyone. If I am forced to kill someone, please let me die first. I do not think I can continue living. Is this my way out of this world? Go on one mission and bang, I die? I do not want to fight for Queen and Country. I would rather fight for the world. I choose the world, not England. I will defend the world. Use my skills and resources to protect your world. Abuse my ability at your will. If it is not
meant for me to die, then I’m yours.’
I kind of expect a reply from God through Jesus’ statue, ‘Please tell me what my bidding is. If it is to take out the world’s terrorists to make this planet a safer place, then give me a sign.’
I start to feel a tear roll down on my left cheek as I ask God for guidance, ‘Please give me a sign. I will not move an inch until I hear a sign.’ Still silence.
I fall down to my knees and start to uncontrollably cry, hunched over with my shoulders shuddering. I cry for what seems like forever. Once I cannot cry any more, I compose myself and get ready to leave. As I go to walk out of the church, I turn back round and say, ‘If this is my way of finishing my life sooner than scheduled, so be it. I am lonely. I am ready to go home. Please let this mission take my life. I am not afraid.’ I turn round to walk out of the church to head back to my home to get ready to pack for my journey.
After I get back to my building that holds my apartment, I go to open the door to my flat when my neighbour across the way sees me and tries to make conversation.
He hesitantly and nervously says, ‘Oh, hi Jane. You’re home early.’
I turn round before unlocking my door and unwillingly make conversation, ‘Oh hi…’
He notices straight away that I cannot remember his name, ‘It is Steve.’
I feel embarrassed as he has been my neighbour for five years, ‘Sorry, my mind is elsewhere. How come you are home so early?’
Steve is wearing a casual pair of jeans, brown suede shoes with navy blue polo shirt and a light-brown coat jacket. He looks like he is about to go out.
He pipes up, ‘I took a day off to sort out errands and I have to use them up before the end of the year. How come you are back so early?’
I get flustered with what to say, ‘I have to see a client tomorrow and I have to prep for it, so thought I would do this at home.’
I feel Steve wants to keep the conversation going as he hesitates again, ‘You must come over for coffee one day.’
As Steve smiles, I feel awkward as I prefer my own company in my apartment, ‘That would be nice. I have quite a busy schedule and so I don’t know when that will be.’
Steve has a sad look on his face, ‘No hurry. Have a nice meeting with your client tomorrow.’
I feel guilty now, ‘When I get back, I will leave a note under your door to let you know when I am free.’
Steve has a smile on his face, ‘That would be cool. See you later.’
I nod my head and smile, ‘See you later.’
As I walk into my flat, I get a rush of humidity and stuffiness in my apartment with the sun shining through my small living room to my corridor leading to the living room and my bedroom, kitchen. And bathroom.
My flat overlooks Homerton Overground in Hackney. I sit at my small square dinner table in my small living room space. I stare into space and think how I got here from working in a practice firm to getting a job in M-I-Six, to now being a temporary field agent. I see my picture of my parents at their anniversary and hold it in my hands. I ponder, thinking about where it all began.