The Life of Henry Fuckit
18 Henry starts work at the CU
"It is hereby declared and agreed that this policy is renewed for a further period of twelve months, commencing the first of December, 1968. In consideration of the aforegoing there is a renewal premium of one hundred and twenty rand plus one rand stamp duty payable to the Company, subject otherwise to the terms, exceptions and conditions of this policy. Signed for and on behalf of The Company at Cape Town on this twentieth day of October 1968. Henry Fuckit pp Branch Manager."
He soon knew by heart the wording for the Renewal Endorsement. The Renewal Notice was a standard, roneoed form despatched to each Policy Holder two months before Renewal Date enquiring whether or not it was in order to renew the Policy, and whether the Sum Insured should remain the same or be increased. When the written replies to the Renewal Notices arrived in the post it was the Chief Clerk who perused them and scribbled a brief instruction in an available blank space. "Renew," "Increase SI," "Reduce SI," or, God forbid, "Cancel." Each morning Abe, the Coloured clerk, transferred the contents of the Chief Clerk's RE tray to Henry's IN tray. As Junior Clerk it was his humble duty to process these endorsements in accordance with the standardised procedure.
If he wanted to avail himself of the opportunity to meet fellow travellers he could ascend to the filing room on the fifth floor by means of the Otis lift. If he felt in need of some physical exercise he could run up the flights of stairs and arrive sweating and out of breath.
The olive-green steel shelving was arranged row upon row with constricted aisles in between. Two narrow windows looked down into Greenmarket Square and Henry enjoyed watching the scene below. He tried to be up there just before twelve every day. Signal Hill was visible between buildings and the mild excitement of waiting for the puff of smoke and then the boom of the noon gun became a ritual diversion. Every pigeon in Cape Town clapped its wings and rose into the sky and made an obligatory flypast before descending to the exact same spot on which it had been standing waiting for the detonation of the old artillery piece. He liked to conjecture about their Pavlovian response to this midday bang. As the seconds ticked by it seemed to him that they were listening and waiting. Having read the work of Konrad Lorenz on the intelligence of birds he was hopeful that he might discover the rare ruminative bird capable of questioning the firing of this gun and making a conscious decision one day to stand its ground and let the rest of them fly up in stylised panic and do their duty as expected of them by the bird-brained inhabitants of the city.
Having taken out five or six brown cardboard folders he would return to his desk in the General Office on the ground floor and write out the Renewal Endorsements. The file, with endorsement loose inside, he would place in his OUT tray to be collected by Abe and taken to the typists on the second floor. A day or two later the file, with typed endorsement plus four carbon copies, would reappear in his IN tray. He would check the typist's work for errors, sign the document and again consign it, with file, to the OUT tray. This time Abe removed it unto the IN tray of the Chief Clerk, a miserable specimen of humanity, if ever there was one, who eagerly scrutinised the work before despatching it to the Mailing Clerk.
Along with all other Junior Clerks before him he had been sentenced to one year's Renewal Endorsement duty. There was no leave to appeal and there was no possibility of parole. At the end of the year he would progress to more interesting work, depending on his ability, aptitude and diligence.
"I have been in this job for nine months and I can only hope that this is the worst phase of my entire life." They were in the bar of the Tulbagh Hotel and Ivor Hopper was in the process of outlining his plans for the immediate future. "I would be filled with inconsolable despair if I were to think that this was what lay before me. Imagine being a clerk in an insurance company or a bank for thirty, forty, forty-five years. Unless you were brain dead, like that cunt the Chief Clerk, you would have to be a very special sort of person. A very strong person." His good eye stared, appalled, his wayward eye wandered as if trying to escape the atrocious prospect. "Thank God my nine months is up and I'm going."
"I admire your willpower. I can see that three months is going to be my limit." They were drinking vodka and passion fruit so as not to smell too strongly of liquor. "Have you decided what you will be taking at university?"
"Yes. For the first two years I shall do BA subjects that interest me, like Psychology, Anthropology, English, History and Philosophy. Then I shall change to an LlB and end up with a law degree. This is a filthy, rotten world and nothing in it is more rotten than the legal system. This way I'll get an excellent background for the understanding of politics and business and the way the filthy rotten world works."
He looked at his watch, drained his glass and stood up. "Better get moving, or that nasty little man will be sending out a search party for us." As they walked across Thibault Square he asked Henry whether he had contemplated further study as a means to acquiring a better way of earning a living. "Otherwise you don't have much option other than to grind away in some lousy clerical position. A fate worse than death."
"No. I have no formal education as it is. As a dilettante I don't need to specialise and acquire a piece of paper. The world at large is my university." He liked the sound of this last sentence and paused to repeat it to himself. As they hurried along St George's Street he continued: "I shall work for a while and then take a break and look about me for a while. That will probably become the pattern. By the way, I have read of certain hoity-toity, chinless shitheads at Oxford and Cambridge who used to have their own manservants. Not a bad idea. How about me accompanying you to lectures, if they're interesting. I could carry your books for you and assist you with academic research. I could manage your rooms and wash your socks and pour drinks for you and Lady Gwendoline when she comes round for a fuck. Do you like cucumber sandwiches?"
They walked in silence for a block and Ivor gave this new proposition some thought. "You know," he said at length, " it might even work. We'd have to come up with a proper, well considered agreement, though." And they left it there for the time being.
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