The sun shone brightly over city, the sky cloudless and spectacular, the parks resplendent in their beauty. It was one of those days where just existing was a pleasure. Not that it made any difference to Alex. Alex was in his little windowless room, seemingly staring at the desk in front of him but actually staring into space.
Alex worked for a company called Amazon; a specialist supplier of travelling equipment named after various excursions of it’s founder to South America. The shop had been trading for in excess of forty years by the time he joined the company – Alex being a promising prospect indeed with countless foreign adventures under his belt and a wealth of experience behind him. Now, several years later, a weight of history and politics had pushed him out of favour, potentially to the point where there was no way back. It had long since been time for him to pack his bags and leave but with bills to pay and rent every month, he had found himself stuck, being forced to sit it out and wait for the next opportunity to present itself.
A sufficient knowledge of computers and internet had been enough for the management to give him the dubious title of Head of Customer-Not-Present Sales; a mouthful when trying to explain his job title to someone on the phone when the car insurance ran out each year, or at dinner parties for example. His former title of “guy who works in a shop” wasn’t as relevant any more and some sort of job title was now necessary in this modern age of incessant labeling of people and things.
Alex’s “office”, if you could call such a room an office, had an array of items, most notably a desk. But this was no ordinary desk, not the type of thing you could buy in IKEA, this was a piece of old furniture in it’s most unique guise; in such that it was made almost entirely of old scraps. While the mish-match of colours could easily be ignored, the difference in height between the individual planks of the counter made packing web orders quite tricksome, and made the keyboard wobble incessantly when typing almost any word.
While Alex would’ve preferred, even reveled in, any posters, maps or postcards to adorn the walls, this was simply impossible, as the walls of this so called office was covered from floor to ceiling with stock. This was, of course to the management at least, absolute genius as it allowed our faithful and hard working employee access to the stock he would need to post out around the country.
The issue, of course, was that there were no web orders. Ever. While Amazon as a travel-shop in the city streets of Bristol had been prospering (on a small level, granted) for four decades, on the internet it simply had the wrong name. Yes, the shop had a website, and a very good one at that, but as you can imagine, it’s quality and contents mattered not. Amazon.net just never, peculiarly, experienced much traffic. The higher ups, not quite as switched on with the new evolving ways of the world and still sending fax as their main means of communication, never really gave this much thought.
As a consequence, Alex sat at his desk, if indeed you could call it a desk, surrounded by stock in a windowless room, waiting for web orders that never came, from nine in the morning until half past five at night, with a brief respite of half an hour at lunchtime to allow him to regain enough sanity to last the afternoon. It wasn’t all boring for him: the chair he had been given happened to be the one that every other seated employee in the company had neglected, meaning he could not sit still for any great length of time without becoming more than a little uncomfortable. While it did involve a day of constant wriggling, Alex saw this as a way to break the monotony slightly. Alex, of course, was ever the optimist.
There were often other interruptions too. While the website struggled, for what was referred to in the weekly staff meeting as “unexplained and obscure computer-related reasons”, the shop continued to serve travellers heading to every corner of the globe, meaning there was indeed a reasonable turnover of stock and a regular need to collect new stock from the stock room. Or rather from “The Web Control Centre”, as it was known, where it was well established among the staff sat the lazy, good-for-nothing Alex, who wasted his day. So periodically, throughout the day, Alex would be stirred into life once again by the creaking sound of the door opening and the appearance of another staff member.
This would normally consist of a desperate attempt at conversation, thus getting confused and disjointed. What would follow would be a cobbling-together of two independent trains of thought, completely separate originally but now rolled into one inexplicable sentence. This meant not only was Alex unpopular for his apparent lack of worth ethic, he was also seen as a bit strange and someone to avoid. Alex’s unpopularity finally came to his attention when he realised that despite the only shop kettle being in his office, no-one had appeared for a cup of tea for some time. Something approaching a year, by his calculations. Which seemed a shame really, to Alex at least, as he had read so much on the internet about coffee bars being ideal social hangouts.
At least Alex did have the internet: an endless resource of information, inspiration and influence at his fingertips. Well, perhaps, for Alex found that there was not enough internet for him – he had read it all. Or at least, that’s how it seemed to him, as he spent his time repeatedly refreshing his pages of choice in a desperate attempt for something new to appear on the screen. It rarely did.
And so he dreamed. Much like this very day, in fact, for as the sun shone brightly outside, so too did it shine on the beach in Alex’s mind, only here it had lapping waves from the sea beneath and was surrounded by cliffs and lush green trees. In his vivid imagination, Alex could picture the colours without even closing his eyes, could see the grains of sand in front of him and could feel the soft breeze coming off the water and over his face. In reality, that was the draft coming from under the door frame but he made it work, made it fit into his little picture. He could even hear the sounds of his little world, each noise created by the breaking of a wave coming with amazing regularity, perhaps even breaking twice.
Suddenly he snapped out of it and realised, to his annoyance, that they were not the sounds of waves crashing but of his telephone ringing instead. Suddenly faced, once again, with the view of five hundred travel towels and a flashing handset, he picked up the phone and pulled it sharply to his ear. The words he spoke were well rehearsed: “Good afternoon, welcome to Amazon Travel Supplies, you’re speaking to the head of Customer-Not-Present Sales in the Web Control Centre, where can we take you today?”
This speech, recited at the start of every phone conversation and devised by one of the management directors, often accounted for half the length of the entire conversation in question. In fact, it was not uncommon for Alex not to get to the end of his little soliloquy before hearing the familiar monotone sound indicating the caller had simply given up.
On those rare occasions where someone would sit through the whole thing, it normally transpired that it was a disgruntled customer, furious and shouting that his DVD box set of Breaking Bad was actually a textbook to Breaking Bad Habits, or some similar complaint. It would often take Alex his entire array of diplomatic skills to talk the customer down. On the bright side, the similarity did allow him a large supply of branded packaging to use for all those web orders that never came.
As such, these telephone conversations didn’t excite Alex the way visitors did – no one enjoys being shouted at and even less for something you had absolutely no involvement with from the very beginning. And they always seemed to happen just as he was drifting into a particularly appealing daydream, often distracting him from his favourite destination of Thailand.
While there weren’t many parcels to actually post, there was one address that came up with remarkable regularity and that was indeed on the beach front of Koh Tao. Every week for several months now, he had arrived on Monday morning, reached onto the shelves, packaged up more items and dropped them into the postage bag, labelled “Koh Tao Beach Resort and Bar”. It had now got to the point where he was beginning to wonder if there was anything else that could be possibly be sent to this place.
Still, it gave Alex somewhere to dream of. While he had seen the wonders of mountains in North America and jungles in Africa, there was a gap in his experiences. Alex had visited an impressive 37 countries in his 33 years but all those destinations lay inland. He had been the Riva del Garda, in the Italian Alps, and climbed the high limestone cliffs above the town of Arco. He had paddled the Mississippi in the United States, and been to a baseball game at Fenway Park in Boston when he was 27. He had sampled sushi in Tokyo, gobbled croissants in Paris and on one unusual occasion, sipped vodka on the steps of the Oranienbaum Palace in St Petersburg – although the latter was predominantly due to a rather forceful and slightly dangerous looking local drunk, keen to include Alex in his evenings revelry.
But it was on the beaches of Thailand that Alex’s imagination was often drawn, prompted weekly by the mysterious recipient of the parcels. For all his adventures, he had never felt saltwater lap at his feet while he watched the sun slowly fall below the skyline and it was something he longed to do. A good proportion of his daydreams were based on memories of times gone by, others were fantasy, of meeting a pretty girl while trekking across Australia or heroically chasing a pickpocket through the streets of Algiers but more than any other were of the peace and quiet of the South China Sea ebbing and flowing before him.
Alex looked at the clock and suddenly realised it had reached quarter past five; time to collect his belongings and lock up for the day. He took the two steps from his chair to the postbag to check the contents. Sure enough, there was only the solitary parcel, addressed as usual to Mr Johnson, Koh Tao Beach Resort and Bar, 23/7 Moo 3, Koh Tao, Thailand. This was one of the larger parcels he had packaged, and the most expensive too, worth several hundred pounds, with a hand written address label on the front, exactly as every other week. No records were ever kept of the parcels or their destinations, although with the frequency of orders, it was not really necessary.
Alex felt a sudden surge of excitement come over him and he glanced across at the large wall planner to see the following three days blanked out with the words “holiday” written over them. He hadn’t been allowed to take holiday over weekends, “peak times for interweb sales, don’t you know” his supervisor had told him. It needn’t matter, three days would be enough.
He gathered his phone and essentials, and dropped them into his bag. As a smile grew over his face, he reached in and pulled out a single piece of paper. A plane ticket. To Thailand. For one Mr Alex Johnson. One way.