The resentful growl of the slow moving traffic indicated that the city had grudgingly woken up to Monday with the same collective reluctance shared by its morning commuters. Eli could hear the revving motors and the occasional plaintive horn from his bedroom as he made the phone call that would spare him from joining the gridlock for today at least.
He sighed as he heard the answerphone click in at the other end of the line. Company policy dictated that he had to speak to another human being before seven-thirty, but this was his third attempt and that deadline had now passed.
‘Company policy’ he decided, was no longer applicable.
He put on his best ‘ill voice’ with extra ‘croak’ and superfluous pathos.
“Hi Jessica, it’s Eli here. I’m afraid I’m not going to be well enough to come into work today.” He paused, wondering if the message was sufficient. He decided on an additional failsafe.
“If you want to call me back, please do, but I’m really feeling under the weather so I might be asleep.”
Satisfied that this had provided him with sufficient cover, he ended the call.
The hard bit dealt with, he leapt out of bed with an energy that belied his alleged ‘sickness’ and quickly dressed.
Adding a baseball cap and sunglasses that were in direct contradiction to the grey skies and drizzle, but would serve as an adequate disguise should he be seen by any of his car-bound colleagues, he headed to his front door. The theme tune to a cult television show from the late nineties alerted him to an incoming call on his mobile. Assuming that it was Jessica returning his call, he answered with the same tragic intonation he had used to leave the original message.
It wasn’t Jessica or indeed any of her underlings. The unsympathetic voice of his didactic line manager would have been the definition of mellifluous in comparison with the icey inhuman tone of the words he was now exposed to.
He listened in silence, a slight shallowing of his breath and tensing of his muscles the only indications of his disquiet.
When the voice at the other end of the line had finished speaking, Eli responded briefly and with a calmness that juxtaposed his agitation.
“I’m on my way.”
He exited his flat and headed, on foot, in the opposite direction of the ever increasing flow of four-wheeled commuter cages.