The doors hissed closed as the last passenger boarded. He threw himself into the plush seat opposite Bill, and the mono glided away. Magnets or anti-grav, they said. A smooth ride, whatever it was. Bill only knew they were moving because of the changing view through the tinted windows.
The man opposite moaned, closed his eyes and let his head sink into the headrest.
“Your boy still giving you a hard time, Clive?” Bill said.
“Both of them.” Clive didn’t open his eyes.
“Junior as well? What’s he got to moan about?”
Clive brought his head down and looked across at Bill. His expression wasn’t harsh, exactly, but it wasn’t an easy face to look at for too long. Sometimes, Bill thought Denise wanted kids so she could look at someone else for a change.
“It’s the nonsense he’s studying. History—Workers’ Rebellion and the Work/Life Balance Accord.”
“Pretty important stuff. You saying you never learnt about it when you were a nipper?”
“Sure. But…well, two sides to the story and all that. Pretty sure Junior’s edu-system’s biased. This morning, he calls me a throwback. Says it’s people like me messing up the system for everyone else. Says I’m complacent. Or complicit. One of them big words, anyway.”
“Harsh. He ten now?”
Bill shook his head. Hell of a good decision, Sam and himself not having kids. If Clive was anything to go by they were nothing but trouble. At least you could power a dog down when you wanted a bit of quiet.
“Got me thinking, though.”
Bill raised an eyebrow, and looked around. Petra and Stan were both plugged in—and the way they were moving, Bill really didn’t want to see what was going on in their sick little virtual hook-up. Filo had buds in, his face turned to the window. And over the aisle, the mob from Finishing were in the middle of a card game. From past experience, Bill knew they’d only pack up once the mono stopped.
“Seriously?” he said, as quiet as he could. “You questioning it?”
“Nah. Just—you know. Thinking. Eight hours, doing the same stuff every day. And it’s not like anything we make really matters. Just more crap for those who have too much anyway. I mean, looking at it logically, what’s the point?
Bill smiled. “Five o’clock,” he said, stretching out each word, just like the ads did. “”Leave the troubles of the day behind and unwind. Learn to relax to the max.”
Clive shrugged. “And then the same the next day.”
“But we have the evenings. You can’t complain about them. Well, unless you drink like you did at the track. Was it three boosters the next morning?”
“Four,” Clive said with a wicked smile.
Bill whistled in appreciation. “And Denise—she’s happy, right? You both get home, your trolley shoves out a decent meal, and then you can do whatever you want. What more could a man ask for?”
“But…” Clive turned to the window. “Yeah, I suppose. If I had more spare time, what would I do anyway? Probably spend most of it watching the box.”
Bill shook his head. “Who wants to be a dead-head screen-junkie? Bit of work, sets you up to enjoy yourself. Pleasure delayed is pleasure enhanced, right?”
Clive’s reflection smiled.
The words from the ads still singing in his head, Bill looked beyond his friend’s visage, out to the buildings. Some people sat out on balconies, waving at the mono, relaxing in their free hours. Others would be doing their eight-hours, filling their time, keeping themselves busy. And their homes would be cleaned while they were out, and a meal waiting for them at the end of the day.
And yet—the buildings always reminded Bill of the few who were different. The ones on the box, or in the news. The ones who had stuff to do that wasn’t work. Not in the way Bill and Clive and all the others knew of it. The ones who didn’t stop after eight hours, but carried on doing whatever it was they did. He often wondered when they found the time to relax and enjoy themselves.
“Junior’ll grow up,” he said. “Give it a few years, and he’ll figure out the way the world really works.”
Clive nodded. “And one day, he’ll have a kid of his own to tell him how he’s part of the problem.”
“Same old same old.”
There was a subdued cheer from the card game, and one of the players—Sian?—sighed as she watched her winnings disappear. As if money meant anything anyway.
Eight hours—sleep, work, play. Then repeat. The schedule for a contented life.
The mono slowed. Bill only knew this because the buildings took longer to pass by now. He recognised them, and knew they’d pull into the station in a couple of minutes.
“Up to much this evening?” Clive asked.
“Think Sam’s got something planned,” Bill said, making it sound like any other evening.
“Told me not to be late. No drinks after work.”
“She wants you sober? Must be serious.”
Bill shrugged. “Must be.”
More serious than you can imagine, he thought. And he gave Clive a smile. He wondered how the man would react after his eight-hours, when he sat facing an empty seat.
Yes, Sam had something planned. Both of them did. And it wasn’t only for the evening.
There was only so much contentment a man could take, after all.
Bill didn’t think he’d been this excited since he was a child.
Invitation To Dinner
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The Gift And The Giver