At first glance, the Asylum lived up to its reputation.
It was utterly chaotic. A complete bedlam.
TV crews were trying to get in with their equipment that would not fit through the security check-post; powerful, industry leaders trying to take their assistants through the security check-post that would not stop beeping; members of the press loudly proclaiming their outrage and demanding that they be let in immediately as they waited in queue; members of the press already through the check-post walking back outside to interview the people still waiting in queue, which now included themselves, thereby becoming a part of a never-ending ouroboros of indignant media personalities; representatives of the agencies in their most ostentatious outfits, pointing fingers at each other and loudly announcing, “There he is!” or “What are you doing here?!”; and the normies: dates that would end badly, family outings that would end in tears, and one school-trip of fifth-graders that definitely had not been approved by the authorities.
Everyone had a camera and they were all unanimously of the opinion that not using them for any period of time would have been a terrible under-utilization of resource. A vocal majority also felt the same way about their vocal cords.
“This is atrocious; my last boyfriend could have taken me inside straightaway!” “Your last boyfriend lives in the asylum!” “This is ludicrous! I am with the Daily Report, you have to let me in immediately!” “Ma’am, you have to wait in queue like everyone else.” “What could have possibly convinced you that the kids and I would enjoy being here?” “Maybe for once, we do something I want to do! Have you ever thought of that? Have you? In our ten years of marriages, maybe for once, we do something that I want to do!” “Oh shut your mouth, they are taping us; smile everyone…I said smile everyone! And wave for the cameras!” “Sir, sir, that is not a video camera, sir, you cannot go in with a grocery bag.” “But I had to run down to a market before coming here. Come one, it is just one bag.” “Sir, the bag is dripping,” “Oh no! Well, come on! What are you waiting for? Come on down here; help me. Isn’t that why you are here?” “Oh there are so many lenses pointed towards me! I feel like a celebrity!” “Where are the children? Oh my god! Somebody help! Where are all the children!”
Emil looked around and saw a plethora of people he recognized from his days at the industry – he tried to avoid every single one of them. Some of the people looked familiar but he could not quite attach a name to the face. Just to be on the safe side, he also tried to avoid all of them. Then it occurred to him that he might not remember what a lot of other people he had worked with looked like. So he also tried to avoid everyone who he could not identify. Five minutes later, he realized just how well he had been avoiding everyone – Inora was no longer by his side. He frantically looked in front of him; frantically looked to his left; frantically looked to his right; frantically turned around. He frantically tried to calm down.
Inora was gone.
‘Probably lost in the crowd,’ he concluded, decided to hang back at the same spot lest she returned.
She did not.
After not enough time had passed, Emil found himself debating whether enough time had passed for him to grow worried and panic when Zara turned up with a lackey, gave him some last-minute instructions and sent him away before heading towards Emil, “Waiting for me, are you? Let us go in.”
“I seem to have lost Inora.” Emil said.
“It happens, it happens. I am sure she will turn up somewhere. Come, it is about to begin.” He said.
“What about her? You seem to have lost her. Good riddance, I say. She was putting a damper on your style. Come, come, let us go in already.”
“But I need to find her before going in.” Emil protested.
“No you don’t, my son, no you don’t. There are things a man must do and there are things a man only chooses to do. Neither should include chasing after a girl. You find some, you lose some, and there are at least two, maybe three more fishes for you in the sea. No need to fret.”
“Did you just call me son?”
“Ah yes, force of habit. Dad does it every time he talks to me.”
“That is because you are his son.”
“I saw Inora heading towards the service entrance on my way here. About three minutes ago. She seemed shifty. I waved, and she flashed me the bird.”
“That sounds like her.”
“Yes, and by now, who knows where she might be. You can go chasing after her or you can be present during the announcement of the decade! The century! The millennium! Is there a term for ten-thousand?”
“Well, you are into advertising. You will come up with something. I have faith in you. Come, come, time to go in.”
Emil, realizing that Inora had meant to go solo all along, and agreeing with Zara that it indeed would be difficult to track her down now, followed Zara to the queue, was patted down by security guards at the check-post, and allowed to walk in.
The press conference was going to be held out in the open, in the courtyard of the Asylum. The scene here was less chaotic than outside. There were rows of chairs, parted through the middle, facing the podium, which was just a raised platform in the middle of the courtyard. The front rows were occupied. Emil and Zara sat down in one of the middle-rows. Emil screened his surrounding but did not find Inora. So he turned to Zara, “Are you excited? Because I am.” He asked, “How about you?”
“Oh. And why not, Emil? Why should we not be excited?” Zara said, but not really making any eye-contact with Emil, “You have spent years working for this, doing the best that you could do. This can be your moment. Absolutely. And even if…”
“I don’t think we…”
“…it isn’t, you have done the best you can, right? You should be so proud of everything that you have done.”
“Just hold on here.”
“Hey. Hey! Listen to me. It’s alright, ok? You did your best.” Zara added, slapping Emil on the back, “So what if it was not enough? You did your best.”
“Zara, I am not delu…”
“And I will not hold it against you, alright sport? We are all very proud of the work you have been doing out there for us. You let no one tell you otherwise.”
“Zara, do you think I’ve been actually busting my guts on Earth, believing we could win?”
“I know you have been, Emil. There’s no need to convince me. Or anyone else. We all appreciate it very much.”
“I am well aware that we have zero chance to…”
“Hey! Stop that! What sort of talk is that? Your work was not pointless. And I don’t want to hear about that anymore. Get that?”
“You keep your chin up, old boy. You are the champion. Say it.”
“I will not say it.”
“Say it Emil. You are the champion. Repeat after me.”
“Repeat after me. I…am…the…champion.”
“I am the champion.” Emil muttered under his breath.
“That is very good. Those monthly reports that you sent us? So well written! Perfect font. Perfect line-spacing. Excellent.”
“There’s no need to…”
“And you never missed a month. Always submitted on time. Always on the first of every month. Always identifying the opportunity that we could exploit. Always finding ways to keep the fight on. Brilliant work. And this is your moment. Relish it.” Zara finished, wildly gesticulating with his arms that came to a rest in the form of two thumbs-ups.
Emil, at least now, was glad that Inora was nowhere near to have heard the conversation. He felt very small and very insignificant and knew that it would have been best if he could quietly hand Zara his resignation letter, leave immediately, and never see him, or anyone else from Zara Conglomeration ever again.
That would have been nice.
He screened his surrounding again for Inora. But he knew she was not going to show up at the courtyard. He knew she had probably already found a way to sneak inside the Asylum.