Kenward slammed his fist into the table in frustration. The error message on the computer screen blinked at him regardless.
“Compile error on line 471. Program terminated.” He stared at the screen so hard that he looked past the message on the screen and started staring at his own reflection on the computer monitor. His new, dark rimmed glasses didn’t seem so fashionable now. Perhaps he should have gotten the gold-rimmed ones, to contrast his darker than dark complexion.
He hit the cancel button, pushed his chair back and stared at the ceiling. Why was all of this happening to him? He was a nice guy. He didn’t steal. He didn’t swear like his boss did. He paid his taxes.
No - wait. He didn’t. At least not yet.
The programming job at the factory was the first job that Kenward had ever held in his life. Fresh out of high school and waiting to go into college the following year, he had never in his wildest dreams expected to have gotten a job. Kenward stood up and told himself that he really ougth to be grateful for the opportunity. Most of his classmates were simply languishing at home during the forced one-year-off-before-college vacation. Kenward, on the other hand, had spent the first half of the year sending out his CV to various job postings that he saw online. And when this one came his way, the timing had turned out to have been just perfect.
He stood up and wound his way past the tightly cramped cubicle that he called his “office.” It was little more than three or four square metres. It was at moments like these that Kenward wished he hadn’t quit smoking. He needed any excuse right now to step out the doors of the high ceilinged, noisy building and take a break. Smokers always seemed to be able to get away with such things.
“Where are you going?”
Kenward cringed when he heard the all-too-familiar high pitched, female voice with the heavy American accent. He took a deep breath to calm his nerves, forced a smile onto his lips, and turned around to face his boss. She was a tall, sallow-faced, greying woman. She had a definite artsy streak going, and today it found its expression in the tall leather boots, billowing skirt and white-laced blouse that she wore.
“Morning Fiona, how are you?”
“Fine thanks. Where are you going?"
"I’m just taking a break.”
“Is the program working?”
“We’re almost there.”
“Is it working, or isn’t it?”
“It crashed again,” Kenward answered.
“Then get your ass back in your chair. I don’t pay you to take breaks. I pay you to manage my stock levels.”
She stalked off down the passage between the ceiling high shelves that ran all along the warehouse floor. Kenward watched her walk off, her boot-heels clacking on the tiled floor, and wondered to himself whether he really needed this job or not. All of a sudden, the classmates whom he had been feeling sorry for a few minutes ago seemed to be the ones that were really lucky. Not him.
He sat down again at his computer, and pulled up the window of the program that he had been working on a few minutes earlier.
In seconds, he heard Fiona’s voice ringing out across the factory floor again. This time the insults were coming thick and fast. “Can you even read? Are you illiterate? What do I pay you for? You don’t know your ass from page eight, you dingbat!"
Kenward waited for the shouting to stop, before wandering out of the safety of his cubicle. He took a quick look around to make sure that the coast was clear, and then slipped out into the little courtyard behind the warehouse. Fiona hardly ever wandered into this place. This was one of the reasons why it was a kind of safe haven for the factory workers. It was where they smoked.
He pulled his cellphone out, and went through the messages that he had received. No one had sent him any new messages. Not even a “meme.” It was as though the world had forgotten that he existed. He spotted an app he had downloaded a week before, but had not opened yet. “Daily Poetry: Serving You Fresh Verses Each Day.” The day’s lines appeared on his screen.
"In the fell clutch of circumstance,
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbow'd.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul."
He smiled. That was him. The captain of his soul.
“What the hell are you doing here?”
He spun around to find Fiona marching towards him, her boots crunching on the pebble-strewn path as she approached.
The words jammed in his throat.
“I - I - I’m taking a smoke break.” He regretted the words as soon as they had left his lips. She paused, and looked him up and down.
“You don’t smoke.”
“I used to. Last year. Then I quit.”
She just stared at him.
“But I’m taking it up again.”
He waited for the storm of insults to break upon his ears. It never came. She started at him for one second longer. Then she pulled out a pack of cigarettes from her pocket, tapped one out the box, and held it to him.
Kenward hesitantly took the cigarette.
“Light?” she asked.
He nodded. She pulled out a lighter, flicked it on, and held the flame close to his face. He placed the cigarette on his lips and leaned towards the flickering flame.
He took two puffs, leaned back and relaxed. She took another cigarette out the box, lit it, and brought it to her lips.
They stood there, smoking in silence for a few minutes.
“I’ve got to get back,” Kenward said, staring at the half-smoked cigarette in his hands.
She nodded. He tossed the cigarette to the ground and crushed it with his foot.
“Thanks for the cigarette.”
He hurried back inside the office and sat back down at his desk.
“Compile error on line 456. Program terminated.”
The message was still there. Staring at him. He pulled his cellphone out his pocket.
“I am the captain of my soul.”
He closed the poetry app, and opened the “Quit Smoking App.”
“Congratulations. It is 364 days since your last cigarette. Have you smoked today?”
The red “Yes” button glared angrily at him. He tapped the green “No” button, leaned back, and pressed “Okay” on the error message on his computer.