Matthew Holt

You're at the café downstairs and everyone else is around you but you're not talking to them and they aren't talking to you and you are looking into your coffee like it's a bad memory. And then someone calls out, “We'd better get back,” and everyone stands in unison. You wait a little longer but then you stand too.

You come in and sit down and take your laptop and open it. They are all now gathered around the long oval table and you look at the water in your glass and you think it looks stale but you have a drink of it anyway. The first speaker rises and speaks and the others, lined up along both sides of the table, begin the necessary motions suggesting they are listening, and the sun comes in through the blinds.

“I can't speak of this any further,” the first speaker says, “There is nothing further to say on this matter. The matter before us has been looked at and looked over from all angles and speech is exhausted in the face of it when all possible angles and all possible leads and possible positions have been followed this is the end of anymore talk, nothing more can be said about it, there is nothing further to be said. I cannot say anything more on this.”

The second speaker rises and adds: “There is nothing else to add to that. I am afraid that all has been said on the matter. No further avenue is there to be explored. There is no other road to follow. No other aspect to be divined. We have reached a point of exhaustion. There is nothing further to be said.”

And remaining in her seat, the third speaker chimes in and contributes: “I agree. There is nothing more to talk about. But a number of things can be added. In the past I was of the opinion that the economic and political events were going to lead to some sort of conflagration.”

This begins a round of additions and arguments amongst various speakers: “There was always going to be a difficulty with the elite.”

“There was a skewed economic development leading to profound resentments within the population.”

“It seemed there was much to talk about and more to act upon.”

“Can I continue?” The third speaker asks.

“Please continue.” Someone answers, possibly—probably—the first speaker. The third speaker continues:

“It seems that more and more the economic situation improves, resentment grows among those who do not benefit from it and who cannot enjoy it.”


“—conspicuous consumption—”

“—and flashing this consumption in the faces of the poor—”

“It is the perception of corruption.”

The third speaker continues: “People then mobilise in terms of ethnic lines and the situation comes to a head and, even if the elections were not fraught with rigging, then there would have been difficulties anyway.”

And this is definitely the second speaker speaking now: “Corruption is systemic, all government institutions are affected by it: security, civic, legislative. Corruption is not only about money.”

“It's a consideration, a system of considerations.”

“Take my daughter as an example.” Someone sniggers. Someone shushes the sniggerer. “Imagine she is trying to get into a particular university and she hasn't got the marks and someone speaks to someone and then it happens and that, that is a system of preferment, and this too is corruption and you can rationalise your way out of everything.”

“I was rarely asked for bribes.”

“A quid pro quo situation.”

“We citizens must police the tax-man.”

The first speaker stands and says, “There is nothing to be added. We have spoken our piece. We have spoken enough. We can't go on.”

Someone agrees: “There is no more to be said. But we can add one or two things to flesh things out and then that is enough, no more.”

“It is the abuse of public power for private purpose.”

“There is no inbuilt corruption gene.”

“Culture is made.”

“Conspicuous corruption.”

“We need another Anti-Corruption Office of Transparency.”

“Clean people.”

“You want me to be in a system of preferment?”

“You discover more when you are in the inside.”

“Why do you want more? Can you drive five cars at the same time?”

“Corruption is a psychosis: money is an abstraction and an obsession.”

“Pledge to the public: You are going to be different. Announce to them you are no longer to rationalise but are going to serve.”

“The people are driving us and they are acting ahead of us.”

“People are arresting police?”

“Signal your difference!”

“Acquisition of commercial debt to raise private money for the public sector?”

“And the fictitious entities being paid to supply nothing or inflating prices—false contracts?”

The first speaker then asks for quiet and says: “It is clear that we are not going to reach an agreement here. Besides there is nothing left to say. We have spoken enough about the topic and this is where we should end the meeting. Thank you gentlemen. There is nothing left to say.”

You close your laptop and look around: the others are doing the same and they are slowly filing out, keeping to themselves. There's no talk; no one is excited anymore. You finish your stale water and follow them out into the hall and you squeeze into the lift with them and you are carried down. It is mid-afternoon and there's nothing left to do so you walk out the front of the building and hail a cab.

Home is not far but it is too hot to walk and you are bored with walking everywhere: walking only leads to contact and you are beginning to dislike contact. You are home and the sun's coming in and the air is stale and you open the window and close the blinds. It's hard to find a balance. You put down the laptop in the living room and pretend for a moment you have more money than you have. And you stare at the computer and then you open it and turn it on. It is not right not to have it on, is it? It is on. You make a tea and come back to the living room and it's such a small room that living is the wrong word to describe it, but you have been in a meeting and that makes you feel alive or at least more important than you felt yesterday. There is another meeting tomorrow and you feel sick at the thought of it but it excites you too. There's something about meetings. Is it the promise they contain? It is the sheer fact of the gathering itself? Or is it the deep need to feel busy? You think it's the last one and after your first beer you think it's the first one and after your second beer you think it's the second reason. You eat noodles from last night that have soiled the box in which they were delivered. You are soggy: you need to sleep. You do.

This morning you have no money for a cab, such an indulgence you admonish yourself but you are in the same suit as yesterday but with a different shirt and you are rushing out the door carrying your laptop stumbling to the subway entrance and it's already hot and it's not even 7.30am.

“The meeting is in ten minutes,” someone says, and they are all drinking coffee in the cafeteria and it occurs to you they could have the meeting here seeing they are all here anyway.

“Ten minutes, folks.” The same person repeats himself and you recognise him as the second speaker from yesterday. Someone else says, “Right, ten minutes.”

“Doesn't give us much time,” someone else says.

“I've gotta rush to get this down,” the person next to him says. He has a blue suit. No one else has. It is the third speaker from yesterday. You are impressed with your memory. You follow them out of the café to the lifts.

They are all seated now and you have your laptop open in front of you—many others have too. The first speaker clears his throat and says:

“There is not too much to say today. We covered most of it yesterday. Most of what we have to say we said yesterday afternoon. I think I even pointed that out yesterday.”

Someone else clears their throat and says, “We can add a bit more before we move on to other matters.”

“Or we can just conclude this meeting,” someone else offers hopefully.

The third speaker from yesterday says, “There's a bit more to deal with.”

“For instance?” someone asks.

“The work of publicity,” the third speaker answers, “is resonating everywhere among the general public and there is increasing awareness and there are hotlines that can be called nationally and there is always, always, someone at the end of the phone.”

Someone else, it could be the second speaker from yesterday but you are not absolutely certain, adds, “There has been a thirty-five percent increase in the number of calls and our legacy continues to grow and yet there is still a long wait for specialist treatment.”

“There always is, always, and there is a limit to what can be offered at any given time—”

“—and the services are there for all but there are always waiting lists.”

“That is a reality,” interjects the first speaker.

And the third speaker continues his thought: “And the results have to be monitored closely.”

“Distinguish, judge, separate the needy from those who can wait, that is always, always a difficult decision.”

And then at that precise moment as if the word decision triggers something in him, the first speaker finally notices you sipping water behind your open laptop and asks you: “What are you doing here?”

And someone else says—it is definitely the third speaker because you turn to him and look at him blankly—“Yes, who are you?”

You genuinely do not know.

They are all looking at you. You put down the glass of water. You close your laptop and get up. At the door you look back at the meeting, which has started again, and no one looks back at you so you leave.

You return home uncomfortable that you have missed a day's work and that it is still only morning and this is unusual. The light is different in the apartment from what you are used to and you have just seen different faces around your building than the ones you normally do. This also makes you uncomfortable. You put the laptop down on the living room table, wishing immediately that you had more space, which is not unusual, and go into the kitchen and you make yourself a cup of tea. You return to the living room and eye the laptop with suspicion. It demands to be on. You turn it on. You look at your watch. When will the meeting end? You wonder to yourself. Where will they have their lunch break? In the cafeteria again, or will it be somewhere else? Maybe downtown. It's an exciting thought, the thought of change.