Chapter 2

It struck him that the truly characteristic thing about modern life was not its cruelty and insecurity, but simply its bareness, its stinginess, its listlessness.

-George Orwell, 1984

How weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable, Seem to me all the uses of this world!

-William Shakespeare, Hamlet

Cindy's morning caffeine hit was starting to wane as she waited for her colleagues to arrive in the meeting room. Her head ached, she felt nauseous, and her false mask of enthusiasm was beginning to crack at the edges.

Bob arrived first with nothing but his iPhone, with which he played 3-D Tetris while waiting on his eBay auctions. One might mistake Bob's punctuality for dedication to the job, but upon closer examination it was fairly clear that he was there to avoid having to check his work e-mail.

Cindy was uncomfortable about finding herself alone in a room with Bob. 'You know, I wouldn't tell anyone if you propositioned me Cindy,' he offered, taking no time at all to justify her discomfort.

Cindy was relieved to hear the door open as Ashwin entered the room. He was followed shortly by Beverly, who was trying her best to stay sufficiently far behind him that she was not required to engage in conversation, or equally disgusting human habits.

Jesus swaggered through the doorway with a cup of coffee, and an expression on his face that read 'bite me'.

'Doughnuts! Cindy Te quiero!' Jesus declared while inhaling several free doughnuts. 'Oh, I suppose these were to suck up to the boss. Sorry to spoil your elegant display. Would you like me to regurgitate one?'

'No thank you Jesus,' Cindy replied without breaking her lobotomised grin.

'Don't worry, I've already eaten five,' Bob interjected while pointing to the pile of crumbs in his lap. Cindy's inane false grin fell flat.

Gerald opened the door for the boss, noticed the doughnuts, and declared: 'I have organised catering for today's meeting. I thought we could use a little something to keep the blood sugars going. I have to apologise that the team have already started eating them without us.'

'Well thank you Gerald. That is highly proactive of you. You are a real team player, and I see great things in your future,' the boss declared. Cindy kicked Jesus under the table as he opened his mouth, presumably to explain who really brought the doughnuts. Tattling did not stand in anybody's favour. Gerald will get his comeuppance in the end... she hoped.

'Okay team, it's time to begin...' the boss announced commandingly, 'Cindy, have you printed out the agendas for everyone?' he asked.

She was gutted. 'I am... I'm sorry... um...' she mumbled through her lobster-red face, 'I didn't realise you wanted me to.'

'But Gerald told you to do this last week,' the boss commanded.

Did he now? thought Cindy. Gerald must have been scheming to try to make her look bad.

Jesus opened his mouth with a wry smile to speak: 'Actually, I think he asked me, sorry, it was my mistake.' Cindy knew that this wasn't true, and bestowed Jesus with a thank you face.

'Here, look on mine,' Cindy offered to the boss, while Jesus went off to print more copies.

'Okay, let's begin, Agenda Item 1, the strategic plan for our interface with key players and stakeholders...' Cindy fought hard to keep her eyes open as the onslaught of tedium cascaded from the boss' mouth.

Every square inch of her conscious control was dedicated to fighting the muscles that wanted to close her eyelids. About every five sentences, she would take in a word and write it down to try to appear engaged in the discussion: 'Idea showers... learnings... incentivise... high altitude view... Synergy... deliverables... buy-in... value-adding... action plan... key learning outcomes... evidence-based... exit strategy...'

Cindy began to wonder whether she could devise her own 'exit strategy' to get out of this meeting.

At the top of the inside cover of her notebook, she had a tally of the number of times she heard the 'word' learnings. She did not consider this to be an actual word, and believed that nobody else did either. All it took was for the boss to believe it, and then nobody was prepared to challenge the false reality presented on them. Nobody was prepared to say that the emperor had no clothes.

She decided that once the tally reached 100, she either needed a very long holiday, or to somehow escape the place. At this stage, the tally was up to 99, and Cindy was pregnant with anticipation.

'... core business... change agents... critical success factors... learnings...' 100.