Erika Coetzee

The disappointment

Stanley knew it was now or never. He committed himself to the whoosh of the revolving door and passed the Point of No Return. He had told his family when he left home that morning, “I am going to meet with Destiny”. But they thought he was speaking figuratively, so largely ignored him, although one had mumbled “See you later”.

The lobby surprised him. Stanley was expecting it to be grand, what with all the Important Things that happened in the building. But nothing could have prepared him for the shining ochre floors, the glorious chandelier, the domed high ceiling, the majestic pillars. “Oh boy”, he thought to himself, “After today, nothing will ever be the same …”

Stanley approached the polished curve of the reception desk. Behind it, a man with small pince-nez glasses regarded him with apparent disdain. From the set of his jaw, and the way he tapped his fingers on the counter top, Stanley immediately knew he was a man who didn’t Suffer Fools Gladly. 

Stanley cleared his throat. “I’m here to meet with Destiny”, he said quite boldly.
The man behind the counter gave a deprecating smile, “Do you have an appointment?” he asked snidely.

Stanley was taken aback. “Doesn’t everybody?” he stammered. “I never realised I would have to  … make an arrangement in advance …”

Stanley had rehearsed this visit a thousand times in his mind. Over the last three decades, ever since his 27th birthday or so, Stanley had periodically succumbed to feelings of profound dissatisfaction with his Life. Time and again he had considered coming here, but then he would be swallowed back into the great waves of everyday, and would put away any thoughts of Drastic Action. But never in all his imaginings did the story unfold quite like this.

“It might just be your lucky day”, sneered the nasty receptionist. “Alas, our new Customer Service Policy does not allow us to turn anyone away. So no matter how negligent or lazy you’ve been … you still stand a chance …”

“A chance of what?” Stanley couldn’t help asking, feeling a shiver of excitement. The receptionist looked him up and down with such haughty indignation that Stanley almost fled without further ado. “A chance to Make your Mark of course,” he finally whispered.

Stanley thought it best not to ask any more questions. With a brief nod of thanks to the man behind the counter, he followed the other visitors towards the elevators, where a big sign with an UP arrow promised “All Significant Matters”.

While he waited, Stanley noticed that the  six elevators were labelled with neatly engraved brass plaques. One said “Pregnant women and children only”, so it was clearly unsuitable for him. Another said “Impressive Individuals” and Stanley was quite sure this would exclude him too, as he had never been toasted with French Champagne or had a bridge named after him. Neither the third or fourth elevators seemed quite right either; their labels read “Strictly for Black Sheep” and “Foreigners”. The plaque above the fifth elevator was “Losers”, and even though Stanley was prone to losing bets and umbrellas and hope, he had never quite scraped the Bottom of the Barrel, and he felt that this must count for something.  The sixth elevator, for “Promising Cases”, was (quite unbelievably) out of order. “Oh dear”, panicked Stanley quietly to himself, “What shall I do?” 

After some deliberation, Stanley decided to take the stairs. As he climbed his way up the building, he passed departments dealing with Masterpieces, Great Debates and Scientific Breakthroughs. There were directorates dedicated to Critical Contributions, Spiritual Awakenings and Epiphanies. None of them seemed to offer quite what Stanley had in mind. Eventually he settled on an office simply labelled “Room 808: Miscellaneous Enquiries”.

“Excuse me,” said Stanley, catching his breath. “Is this where I can …. meet face to face with …. uhm … Destiny?” 

“Certainly,” said an efficient-looking woman behind a computer. “Here, fill in this form in triplicate … giving your personal details HERE and the specific nature of your enquiry HERE. ” She made big red crosses in the relevant sections.

“I …. don’t really have a specific enquiry … as such …” mumbled Stanley apologetically.

“So … why are you here then?” asked the woman, with an exasperated sigh.

“Well, I was hoping for more of a… general chat… you see,” replied Stanley, feeling severely foolish.

“General Interviews, Room 1102,” she said stonily, turning back to her screen.

Stanley made his way to Room 1102, where he found a lengthy, slow queue meandering all the way down an extremely long corridor. From there he was referred to the 14th floor for a Basic Assessment, then to the basement to file his Track Record. And so it was that Stanley was sent from pillar to post all day long on his 57th birthday in the Building where Important Things happen.

When he finally left at closing time, a passing bus sprayed muddy water all over his duffel coat. Dismayed, Stanley shuffled into the nearest eatery and accidentally bumped a toddler playing on the floor, dislodging the olive that would otherwise have choked her. It popped onto the ugly flowered carpet and because she didn’t choke, her mother didn’t dwell in depths of misery for evermore but rather painted beautiful portraits and the toddler grew up and had children of her own and they lead Interesting and Meaningful Lives.

But Stanley didn’t know any of this as he peeled off his dripping, muddy coat. He ordered a drink and set about reconciling himself to being a man who would Never Amount to Much.