Tuesday, 29 January 2013

The sky above the clouds

It struck me today as I was driving to work under a big, grey rain cloud that one of my favourite places to be is the sky above the clouds.  Here is a picture:
View from the window of a plane
The sky above the clouds

The weather could be doing anything down there but it's always sunny up above the clouds.

Friday, 18 January 2013

The next day (part 3)

Oscar picked the correct of the two identical doors which led from the sitting room, and found himself in a bathroom like none he had seen before. A large, round bath dominated the room, on a platform in the centre, with wood panelling around the edge. It had a headrest on one side with a small screen opposite it, so one could watch television whilst in the tub, he assumed. The taps were at the side, so that they wouldn’t get in the way of the bather’s head or feet. As Oscar moved into the room, he turned to the left and found a stack of neatly-folded, fluffy, white towels on a three-tiered heated towel rail. He set his wash bag on the floor next to the towel rail, then straightened up to survey the rest of the room. At the far side was a square sink, backed by a section of tan-coloured mosaic tiles. Next to this, Oscar noticed a curtain. Again, he felt a little uncomfortable being so nosey but this was a very curious place and it intrigued him. He hesitated only a second longer before navigating his way around the bath to the clean, white curtain on the other side of the room. The curtain was cleverly hiding… he would first have described it as a shower cubicle but it was more like wet room, with space for a family of four to all stand on the wooden slatted mat in the centre. Oscar correctly guessed that behind the door in the far corner of the room, he would find the toilet. What he did not guess was that there would also be a sink in there, a fresh supply of hand towels, a wide selection of soaps and lotions, and an automatic flush.

This was all a bit too much for poor Oscar, the man who lived alone in a thirty-year-old house in need of repair. Somehow he came to the conclusion that the best thing was to have a nice, relaxing bath, where he could soak away his worries.

As the bath was filling, Oscar experimented with the knobs and buttons next to the taps. One released scented bubble bath in with the water. By the time he’d realised what it was, it was too late to stop it so he accepted the fact that he was now going to have a bubble bath. Once in the bath, put his head on the cushiony-soft headrest, which was perfectly positioned to support him as he leant back and stretched out his limbs in the spacious, circular tub, completely hidden by pretty-smelling bubbles.

Oscar tried to rationalise what had happened over the last twenty-four hours, and what was happening to him now. It was difficult. Thinking warmer water might help, he sat up a bit to find a temperature control. The button he stumbled upon did not adjust the temperature but Oscar lay back as soothing, ethereal music reached his ears. He wasn’t sure where it was coming from, but he didn’t care. He didn’t care about anything now. He tried to, but it didn’t work. He tried to think about the journey he should have had home. He tried to think about his house, surrounded by armed guards. He tried to think about his office, now a pile of rubble. But he couldn’t. He even tried to think about how he should probably have called his mother. But even that didn’t interrupt the heavenly relaxation he was now experiencing.

Friday, 11 January 2013

The next day (part 2)

Delta reappeared wearing a smart, black, knee-length dress with a white cardigan thrown over the top. She'd plonked an alice-band on top of her hair, which was down around her shoulders. In her arms she carried a multi-coloured folder bulging with pages.

“I'll be back before lunch,” she called to Oscar. “Make yourself at home.” And with that, she stuck her feet into a pair of flip-flops that were conveniently by the door, and left.

Oscar sat for a while, not moving, not thinking. Then he got up to make himself some coffee. On his way to the coffee machine, he caught sight of his reflection in one of the windows (the one that was showing a dark street in the snow) and saw that he still had the blindfold on his head. He pulled it off and tossed it onto the sofa.

Initially Oscar was disappointed to see the limited choices he was presented with on the screen on the front of the machine: tea, coffee, chocolate, fruit, other. Oh well, he thought, better a generic cup of coffee than nothing at all. He touched 'coffee'. The other words faded out and the word 'coffee' moved to the top of the screen. Then an array of further choices animated their way onto the screen. He could choose not only the type of drink he wanted – espresso, americano, latte, cappuccino, etc. – but also the country of origin of the beans, how he wanted the beans to have been roasted, whether he wanted syrup, how much milk or sugar he wanted, the temperature he wanted the water to be heated to. The only button missing was whether he wanted a biscuit for dipping. At the bottom there was a star and the word 'favourites'. He touched this to see what Delta had programmed in. 'Skinny latte with a shot of caramel' was the only option. He winced: that would be far too sweet! He pressed back and opted for a double-shot black americano made with heavy roasted beans from Guatemala. That would wake him up.

As he sipped his drink, he wandered about the room. He was intrigued but cautious. He didn't know when Delta would be back, only that it would be before lunch, and he didn't want to be caught nosing around her belongings.

He scanned the bookshelves. There were titles he recognised, like The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, and some he didn't, like Wooing the White School, Ready for Red School and Yearning for Yellow School. Delta had mentioned something about colours and schools; these books must be related to that.

In the corner was a very old-looking mahogany desk, with shiny handles on the drawers and a leather top. A computer keyboard was on the desk; behind it sat a computer screen. Oscar peered at it: the screen, with its mahogany frame, looked as though it were part of the desk. He reached out and touched the top of it. The screen started to move: it sank down into the desk and a lid fit itself onto the slot it had disappeared through, completely hiding it from view. Now there was just a keyboard looking out of place on an antique desk.

This desk was the only clear surface. The coffee table, windowsills, bookshelves and the other desk all had an assortment of items scattered over them haphazardly: the tablet PC and the mp3 player Oscar had spotted earlier, a few books, coasters, magazines, printouts of webpages, a few ornaments. The place certainly looked 'lived in'.

On the opposite wall from the door out of the apartment were two windows. One showed the dark, snowy street Oscar had seen his reflection in; the other a bright, cool day in a large, green park. Oscar moved closer to the latter. He judged it to be mid-morning by the height of the sun in the sky. The grassy lawn was about three storeys below the window, with a path close to the building. There were a few people walking along paths which led from one side to the other, round a pond and over to the play area with no children in it. A man sat on a bench under a tree reading a book. He was wearing a scarf and hat and gloves so it must have been cold out there.

Through the other window, the Victorian Christmas-card-like scene looked to be only one floor below, which made Oscar feel a little disorientated. He knew to trust the other window because he knew it was mid-morning and not the middle of the night, but this view did look very real. He considered opening the window to see what would happen, but he didn't want to risk getting snow inside.

His coffee and tour of the room complete, Oscar sat down once again on his sofa-cum-bed. He set his mug on the coffee table in front of him, on a spare coaster between a DVD case and a puzzle book. He checked his phone: no messages, emails or missed calls. He wondered what to do with his freedom. Having a shower and changing into clean clothes might be a good start, he said to himself. Having just returned from a trip abroad, he fortunately had a suitcase full of clothes and toiletries to hand. Being a very organised person, he was fortunate enough to have a spare change of clean clothes as he always packed extra just in case. Just in case of what? he'd sometimes asked himself. Just in case of kidnapping by young woman and imprisonment in luxury apartment. He smiled to himself: this certainly was a situation he hadn't banked on getting into.

Sunday, 6 January 2013

The next day (part 1)

Oscar coughed, then heard a shriek. He opened his eyes. All he could see was a white cushion. He was sleeping on Delta Foxtrot's sofa. He must have turned over in the night so that he was now facing the cushions.

Urgent whispering was coming from a short distance away. Oscar closed his eyes and pretended to still be a asleep while he strained to hear what was being said.

“But how did you get him up here?” someone asked.

“In the lift,” a sleepy voice replied. It was Delta's.

“But how did you get past security?”

“We came in through the shop.”

“You know about—”

“Everyone knows the way in through the shop.”

That must have been the room they'd wound a weaving path through the previous night, the one that smelt of books and soap. A secret entrance into... wherever it was they were. Oscar wondered if he should get up quietly and sneak out. He could leave without anyone else knowing he'd been here.

“There's no way he can stay here without anyone finding him,” the unfamiliar voice said. So that idea was out the window.

“Look, it'll be fine,” Delta said. There was a rustling sound. Perhaps she was getting out of bed. “I'll speak to Amelia.”

“That's Lady Amelia,” the other voice said sternly. She'd forgotten to whisper: Oscar had heard her loud and clear.

There was movement nearby. Oscar kept his eyes shut tight and didn't dare move. He wished he weren't here.

“Oscar?” Delta said sweetly, suddenly right next to him. Oscar jumped and sat up, almost falling off the sofa but saving himself just in time. Fortunately, that gave the impression that he'd just woken up. “Good morning,” she added.

“Uh, good morning.” He nodded and remained seated.

“Delta,” the other person said from behind Oscar. He turned his head to see her, which gave him the opportunity to see the room he was in. It reminded him of a hotel suite from a brochure he'd seen on one of his business trips. He was in a fairly large and sumptuously decorated sitting room. The carpet, as he had experienced through only his feet the night before, looked very fluffy. There were two sofas, both white, both very squishy. In his sweep across the room as he turned his head, he caught sight of a widescreen TV, an antique bookcase which covered one wall (full of books, with a ladder for reaching the higher shelves) and a state-of-the-art coffee maker in one corner. The person his eyes met when he finally made it all the way round, twisting in his seat so he could see, was a nervous-looking maid. She wore a black dress with white collar and white pinny, and comfortable black shoes. Her hair was pulled severely back from her face and she was wringing her hands in front of her. Oscar missed most of her conversation with Delta whilst reacting to the rest of the room. Was this really where Delta lived? He glanced up at the ceiling: it was white with patterns around the walls and a beautiful, golden centre-piece where the light (almost a chandelier) was fitted. When he thought about it, the widescreen TV seemed out of place in the stately-home style d├ęcor of the rest of the room. Then he realised that this wasn't the only technology: screens and devices littered the many surfaces. The coffee machine in the corner sported a colour touch-screen; two windows showed different weather, so one must be screen; a tablet PC and an mp3 player resided on the desk by one of the windows. Oscar wasn't sure what to make of it all. Delta seemed to be extremely rich. Why, then, were Delta and the maid talking about whether he was allowed to be here? And who was Lady Amelia? The way he saw it, Delta owned this place, the maid worked for her and Delta could do whatever she wanted.

When Oscar tuned in to the conversation again, the maid said, “What I really came up here for was because you're late for your debrief.”

Delta snorted. “But that's not until half past—”

“Half past nine,” the maid finished her sentence. She still looked very tense. “I make it...” she checked her watch. “Nine twenty-nine.”

“What!” Delta and Oscar both said at the same time. Oscar dived for his phone as Delta rushed from the room. The maid threw up her hands then left by another door.

Oscar grabbed his phone from his coat pocket and speed-dialled the office, tapping his leg nervously with his free hand. The line went dead. That was strange. There were three lines in to the office and an answer phone. It should connect to something. He tried his direct line in case there was someone near his desk who could pick it up. It wasn't the first time the phone line into the office had been interrupted. One time there had been roadworks outside their building and a workman had cut through the wrong cable. But there weren't any roadworks going on at the moment. He opened his contacts and thought about who to call. Marcus would be best: he did almost the same job as Oscar so he would understand what the meeting was about but not have the authority to discipline him for being late today.

Oscar thanked his lucky stars as the phone started to ring.

“Oscar, what's going on?” Oscar could sense the panic in Marcus's voice.

“I was hoping you could tell me,” Oscar said. “I haven't been able to get to work yet and when I rang in the line just went dead. Could you get a message to—”

“Oscar, stop talking! The office burnt down.”

“What?” Oscar leant back on the sofa, sinking into the impossibly-soft cushions. “So the meeting...” he trailed off.

“Is off,” Marcus said shortly. “There will be no presentation or meeting today for sure. We're not sure what happened. All I know is the building is just a pile of rubble. We're in Costa up the road waiting for more information. It's crazy, people with laptops and phones everywhere. Where are you?”

Oscar didn't answer straight away. How could he say he didn't know where he was? That would sound stupid. “My flight was delayed,” he said truthfully.

“Well, let us know when you're back and we can fill you in.”

“Thanks, Marcus. Bye.” Oscar put the phone down next to him and didn't move. Partly because he couldn't – the sofa was so soft it was going to take some effort to get up. That wasn't his top priority right now, though. First his home and now his office. What was he going to lose next?