Ever found yourself feekling envious on hearing that a colleague is laid up in bed with non life-threatening illness but requiring a few weeks of bed rest? Oh, the sympathy, the flowers, the chocolates … the delicious, head-swimming thought that people will call and say ‘Don’t worry mate, we’ll take care of everything, you get yourself better …’
Edward rounded the corner just as the taxi clipped the bike sending the cyclist over the handle bars and onto the bonnet of an on-coming vehicle before sliding off and coming to rest, in an awkward looking position on the opposite pavement. There were screams and, to Edward’s mind, a surprising amount of commotion. He was not sure why but his mind was telling him that there should have been at least a moment of silence; a kind of stop-frame before the scene burst into life and people began dialling ambulances, administering first-aid or perhaps CPR and forming themselves into the kind of gawping crowd that usually accompanies such incidents. But there was immediate action, almost, it seemed, as if what happened next had been rehearsed; as if the clapper-board had snapped to and some unseen director had called ‘Action’. Edward was oddly impressed.
What he remembered most was the sound. Everything else was no more than he might have expected on a busy London street in the middle of the day; the hum of the traffic, voices raised, a screech of tyres all quite work-a-day. But the thud as the cyclist hit the car bonnet was atypical, a noise of something that should not have happened – shocking, sickening, unsettling.
Unable to drag himself away Edward lingered. The emergency services arrived and went about their business with practised efficiency and it was not until a fireman emptied a bucket of detergent onto the street whilst another set about the tarmac with a yard broom, that he decided that he really should move on. He heard the metallic clack of the stretcher wheels snap into place as the paramedic slid the patient into the back of the ambulance. The crowd was dispersing and two policemen were directing the traffic down a nearby side street. By the curb was the bicycle with its front wheel buckled but otherwise untouched.
As he settled into the window seat of his usual sandwich bar an odd thought struck him. Well, not so much an odd thought but an odd feeling; was it envy or was it envy’s more insidious cousin, jealously? Either way it was an unusual response to an incident that more correctly should have triggered feelings of shock mixed with perhaps a little voyeuristic curiosity. He looked back up the road to where the accident had occurred. The ambulance was finally pulling away and as he watched the tail lights disappearing down the street in the direction of St Thomas’ he stopped eating and stared down at the table.
He imaged a future scene. It was three, possibly for days from now. The cyclist sat up in bed propped against two clean white pillows that had been positioned vertically behind his back. The only eye that was showing from his bandaged face was impressively bruised. The tube of a drip emerged from beneath a dressing on his left arm and his right arm was strapped tightly to his abdomen, clearly broken. A cage had been placed over his legs to keep the bed linen out of contact with his lower body, indicating further injuries here. A women, who judging by her age Edward took to be the mother, sat by the bed. The cyclist’s breathing was laboured.
For the cyclist the world had stopped. Or at least that world that took him on his bicycle through the City of London that afternoon four days ago. Edward began to piece this world together. The cyclist had worn a suit with the right trouser leg folded neatly into his sock. All the signs were that he worked in a nearby office. At the moment of impact his briefcase, which had been attached to a parcel rack above the back wheel had been thrown clear and slid across the road, bursting open and scattering several bundles of typed A4 sheets into the street. Edward had noticed that the bundles had been attached at the top left-hand corner by a small green chord with metal ends the type of which he had only ever seen in a solicitor’s office.
Apart from this small detail and the quality of his suit and shoes there was no other evidence as to who or what the victim might have been. Edward began to interpolate. The man was indeed a lawyer on his way from his office in Holborn to meet with a client in the City. The accident had happened because the lawyer was not fully concentrating, he was distracted by the burden of his task. In the briefcase were papers from a case that meant a great deal to his firm and, furthermore, there was a great deal riding on it personally as well. A good result here and the firm would be enriched by tens of thousands of pounds, possibly into six figures. The nature and profile of the case would enhance the firm’s reputation and make the opportunity of a partnership for the lawyer a very real possibility. The senior partner had more than hinted at this. The journey by bicycle, that had now ended so disastrously, should have been to a meeting which would be the defining moment in the case, the moment at which it would be clear which way things would go.
However, this was not how things play. As he turned out of Faringdon Street and began his cycle up Ludgate Hill and so into the path of an on-coming cab, the lawyer knew that all was not well. From a candid conversation that he had with an insider in the client’s offices the previous evening, a decision that he himself had made about a significant point of the case some days before had been, to put it bluntly, entirely the wrong one. Things were beginning to unravel and whereas before this fateful move, which had been made solely on his advice, the case was moving decisively in favour of the client, now it seemed more likely that it would go the other way.
The lawyer had not slept well the previous evening. Before going to bed he had drunk rather too much malt whisky and when he did eventually retire, the combination of the Scotch and his agitated mind left him wide awake and staring at the ceiling until the chatter of the dawn chorus and the first rays of daylight forced him out of bed and into the office more than two hours before he would normally be there.
How he rued the impulsiveness that had driven to act alone. In his mind this was the great coup de grace he had been seeking. The defining moment of an early career which had seen him rise rapidly through the ranks of the firm to the threshold of a partnership and a proper share in the considerable earnings of a well-established WC1 law firm with an impressive portfolio of corporate clients. But he had been blinded by hubris and an ill-judged desire to make this moment all his own. Jenkins, his immediate senior, and co-worker on the case, had a nasty habit of stealing his thunder, claiming all the glory for himself. He had been determined to see that this did not happen again and, as result, not only had he acted impulsively but he had acted without the bolstering advice of his colleagues and had, thereby, brought the blame for what was certain to be a bad – very bad – situation firmly down on his shoulder and his shoulders alone. He cycled that morning, somewhat the worse for a poor night’s sleep after a supper of the better part of a bottle of Macallan and with his mind distracted in the search for a solution; hoping, in the absence of any logical positive outcome, for divine intervention.
And so it had come. As he slithered, winded, bruised and broken off the front of the car that had arrested his flight through the air towards St Paul’s cathedral, he smiled inwardly. For him it was not so much his error of judgement that vexed him but the scorn and opprobrium of his peers and colleagues. Mistakes he could survive, humiliation he could not and now, as he lay in the gutter he had a warm albeit painful sense, that he was facing the stars.
Or so it went in Edward’s head, a head that he now shook to clear the fog of reverie. He finished his soup whilst flicking idly through the pages of a free newspaper. Witnessing a car crash is always likely to induce a sombre mood but Edward’s musings on the identity of the victim and the possibility that the accident might have freed him from an unpleasant future threw him into a black mood. Furthermore, the idea that the incident, painful but not fatal, might somehow be serendipitous further darkened his thoughts. The idea that the collision of bicycle and cab might have turned out to be a little act of lottery luck caused Edward to find himself returning to his office with a heavy heart and leaden steps.
For some time now Edward’s life had been gradually sliding down hill. In truth he had never risen particularly high. One would have thought, therefore that he had no real distance to fall, but this kind of slump is relative; at least when measured by one’s heart and mind. A rich man losing his fortune can be said to have fallen the distance between his credit balance and zero. But the blows to his esteem and the consequent gloom induced by his change in fortune will be felt no more or less keenly than a tramp who loses his only scrap of bread down a grate. Edward’s life had slipped little by little reaching a low point by a thousand cuts.
As each increment of misfortune was not great he had noticed their burden until the sum of them had become a significant weight. For instance, he was really not sure how his debts had risen to such a level that he had really not the slightest idea how they could be reduced, it was all he could do to pay off the interest each month. He did not feel that he lead an extravagant life-style, neither did he have any expensive vices, but somehow the debts had mounted. He drank a little wine each evening, liked to go the cinema two or three times a month and would eat out in restaurants with friends a similar number of times. He holidayed abroad twice a year, ran a fairly modest car (albeit on hire-purchase) and spent a reasonable amount on clothes which anyway were necessary for his work. Like most people he had a mortgage and he made over a decent amount of his monthly salary to a pension. There was, of course, his ex-wife and the costs of his three children from the marriage which were a constant drain on his resources and it was true that three and half weeks into most months he had to turn to his credit cards to survive the few days before his salary was paid into his account. If he was absolutely honest with himself his promises to himself to pay back the two or three hundred pounds that these overlap days invariably cost were seldom kept and it was largely this that contributed to the fact that he now had three credit cards dangerously close to their limits.
Three years ago he had taken out a low-cost loan for what was known as debt consolidation. He recalled the day when he left the bank after it had been arranged with a lightness in his step. In his mind the burdensome credit cards had now been tamed into a neat corral of a bank loan – something altogether more wholesome than nasty little credit cards. But unfortunately for Edward the rounding up of his card debit only left his cards dangerously exposed. Nature abhors a vacuum and sure enough, it wasn’t long before more debt rushed in to fill the void.
Edward’s worries about money were compounded by the fact that he hated his job. He would proudly tell strangers at parties that he worked in a bank in the City, always being sufficiently vague as allow the inevitable belief that he was some big hitting dealer in one of the better-known wholesale banks. The descriptions he would give of his day would be charged with ambiguity designed purposefully to leave the impression that he spent his working hours balling out buy and sell orders across the dealing room floor and allowing millions to pass through his hands in stocks, bonds and futures. The more he drank the more elaborate his job descriptions would become passing from ambivalence to downright lies. As with all good lies there was a kernel of truth in what he told, he did indeed work in the City and he also worked in a bank but that was where the truth ended and the fiction began. The job of small-business advisor in the St Paul’s branch of one of the major high street chains was a long way from the glamorous, risky, adrenaline charged life of a City dealer and how Edward knew it. How he wished it was the other way around and that he was emerging each morning from Bank station with a furled copy of the FT under his arm and a spring in his step as he raced up the marble steps of some ancient merchant bank with a heritage reaching back to the Medicis. But, as he walked back along The Old Bailey he knew that he must face another afternoon in a grey padded booth, talking to a stream of no-hopers who had bought a bucket, a tapered wooden ladder, a chamois leather and wanted to become the Sir Alan Sugar of window cleaning. Each step he took brought closer to the bank and closer to the institution who would fire him without a reference should they learn of the lies he had told to hide the fact that he was on the verge of personal bankruptcy.
Leaving the bank that evening Edward was in a deeper depression than usual but as he passed the junction where he had witnessed the accident earlier that day he found his mood lifting as an idea began to form in his head. His mind drifted back to the injured lawyer’s bedside. He still lay propped up by his pillows and his mother was still at this side but now the room had filled with cards of sympathy from well-wishers, boxes of chocolate and, most importantly, a large bunch of flowers with a tag bearing the message ‘From all you friends and colleagues at work. Get well soon and don’t think about us or the office until you’re fully recovered.’ This, of course was the desirable outcome of misfortune; the natural elixir that flowed from the world that perceived that your great misfortune in sliding under the proverbial bus trumped the petty misfortunes of life. If, as the saying went, you made you own luck, surely, thought Edward you could equally make your own bad luck. Ten minutes later he was standing recklessly in front of the yellow line at Blackfriars station at the point on the platform where there was the greatest press of people hoping that the 18.07 to Brighton would clip him as it swept by and catapult him immediately into the A&E department of Guys hospital where he too could be ministered unto by sweet smelling young nurses and prodded and probed by anxious looking doctors.
At 18.06, just as arrival of the train was announced a wholly different vision entered Edward’s mind. Instead of a light clip which might knock him unconscious but leave him safely on the platform and in the hands of the caring public, he saw himself driven forward by the crowd to meet a swift, sudden and somewhat gory death under the cast-metal wheels of 120 tons of Thameslink train. He moved gingerly backwards as the train pulled in, he needed a re-think.
That was Tuesday evening, by Friday he was in hospital. He was intubated, stitched, bandaged and, despite a dizzy cocktail of painkillers in considerable discomfort. He felt nauseous and was glad of the ‘bowl’ formed of grey egg-carton material that had been shoved under his damaged chin as, although he had already voided most of insides, he suffered from a feeling that he could be sick at any moment. He had a broken arm, a fractured clavicle, two broken ribs, and his right leg was fractured in two places – he heard a doctor say through his drugged haze that he had been lucky to keep it. Indeed, he was not yet out of the woods in this regard and only a good outcome over the next 48 hours would put off the need to amputate. As it was he would almost certainly walk with a pronounced limp for the rest of his life.
Aside from the fractures he had lost two teeth, had inexplicably perforated an ear-drum and his right hand was so swollen that it was difficult to discern where the palm ended and the fingers began. He could just make out through the transparency of the ice ‘glove’ that had been fitted, a marvellous palette of blue, purple, yellow and mauve bruises. The final indignity was it had been necessary to fit him with a catheter which, despite his determination to re-align the perception of such devices in his head, would always remind him of his incontinent great-aunt who always shamelessly wore her bag strapped to her lower leg in a deliberate (and successful) attempt to gross out him and his sister whenever they visited.
So how had he come to this pass? Since the Blackfriars train misadventure Edward had decided to be a little more circumspect. Accordingly he walked home that evening along the edge of the pavement of the dual carriageway by-pass (but not up the middle of it) hoping to ‘winged’ by a car passing too close and travelling too fast. The next morning he decided to cycle to the station in the dark on his bike which he had not used for some years. He wore no helmet, made no attempt at trying to make himself visible. He had been pleased to find the batteries in both his front and rear light were flat and made no attempt to find fresh ones. Surviving this recklessness, he flirted once again with the trains, standing dangerously close to the express as it flew through the station but not, as it happened quite close enough. Later, on his walk to work, he ignored the WALK signs at crossings, deliberate passed under scaffolding, climbed a set of metal railings to take a short cut through a busy construction site, where he picked up a good deal of abuse but not a single scratch and, emerging the other side, attempted what he believed to be a foolhardy leap across a hole in the road dug by the gas company, but clearing it with surprising ease. The only result of all this activity was to be at his desk some twenty minutes earlier than normal on account of his rather more direct journey and the need to go out at lunchtime for a complete change of clothes as the others had been somewhat grimed by his having landed, via an ignominious belly-flop, squarely in the spoil from the gas company’s hole.
He came closer to his goal on Thursday having re-run the attempts of the previous day but this time with a little more recklessness. He was almost hit by a car but it had managed to come to halt after a considerable slide and squealing of tyres at the lights at the junction of Queen Victoria Street, after which he had entertained high hopes of being beaten senseless by the driver who got out, swore at him a good deal but returned to his vehicle without so much as a swing at him. He was considerably verbally abused in the building site once again and did succeed in ripping his trousers on the palings of the fence. When attempting to vault the exposed gas main, he did end up in the hole but only as a result of once again landing face-first in the neat pile of London clay and sliding slowly backwards into it. The engineer sitting on the pipe at the bottom was remarkably civil and gave him a hand up the ladder as if this sort of thing happened all the time.
Finally on Friday morning he succeeded. Cycling once again in the dark, without lights and wearing as much black as possible he spotted the dustcart stationary at the lights at the bottom of his hill. He pressed hard down on the pedals and rapidly gained speed hoping that he would meet his target before the lights changed. He did. To the astonishment of the only witness, a small boy on his paper round, when three feet from the open back of the cart, he rammed on his brakes and flung himself manfully over the handle bars, coming to brief rest against the closed metal internal doors before sliding down into the sump of rubbish. As you might imagine the rear end of a garbage lorry is not a safe place and before the small boy had managed to alert the driver by banging on the side of the truck, Edward had suffered further injury as the metal doors yawned open and, with his trouser caught in one of the teeth of the mechanism he was flung upwards colliding with the metal roof then, as his trousers gave way, falling back down again, catching the back of the vehicle and fortunately for him, as the jaws closed again, falling back out onto the street. Fortunately, that is, after comparing the injuries outlined above with the certain death he would have suffered by being drawn into the hydraulic crusher.
And so he lay on his hospital bed. Through a half-opened right eye he surveyed the curtained off area. No sign of his mother (which was a relief as she had been dead thirty years), nary a flower in sight and the only card he could see was one that appeared to be from the local paper who no doubt wanted an exclusive in his extraordinary freak accident. Notably absent was any message of condolence from work colleagues nor any heart-felt notes of sympathy from his creditors telling him to worry about repaying them and wishing all the best in his future life.
It was, however, only Sunday morning. It would be difficult to send cards and flowers over the weekend and surely Monday morning would bring them by the sack and barrow load.
But it didn’t. Nor did any of the following 18 days that Edward spent in hospital. He was once visited by his sister who seemed quite cross that she had had to travel so far and joined almost every member of staff, both medical and ancillary, in adding to the string of very unfunny jokes about ending up in the bin. It was thought that his father, now in the advanced stages of Alzheimer’s, would just be too confused to visit.
Eventually he returned home, wheeled up the garden path and manhandled into his sitting room by a brute of a social worker who made him a cup of tea and arranged the 18 inch high pile of credit card statements in a neat pile on the nest of tables beside him before arranging to call back later that day so help him into bed.
After eight weeks Edward had healed sufficiently to return to work. He received almost no sympathy from his work colleagues who barely disguised how annoyed they had been at having had to take on his work. Edward thought sarcastically just how burdensome it must have been seeing six people a day who seemed mostly related to the lower primates, but with slightly less entrepreneurial flare, and who only need a loan of £500 to unlock their talent and involve the bank in a business that would shame the profits of George Soros, Donald Trump and Christy Walton combined.
The next three months were some of the worst of Edward’s life. His great scheme, rather than solving all his problems had only magnified them. Despite working at the bank his funds had been mis-handled during the month in which he had been unable to get online and check them resulting in charges for an unauthorised over-draft and further charges and some awkward phone calls from credit card companies on whose accounts he had defaulted. The unauthorised overdraft lead to a very awkward conversation with his line-manager who was obliged to give him a ‘final verbal warning’ reminding him that it was strictly against bank rules for employees to be overdrawn. Edward’s protestations that it was entirely the bank’s mis-handling of his salary payment that had led to the over-draft seemed to go unheeded.
It was one lunchtime when seated in the window of the café where it all started that his fortunes changed. He received an email to his mobile saying that they had heard that he had been involved in an accident and that they (hard-hitting, no-win-no-fee law firm of WC1) would be certain to see that he received the compensation he surely deserved.
Edward did not hesitate and immediately rang the number supplied. As the call was being put through he idly mused about what a golden virtuous circle it would be if the solicitor who handled his case was non other than the very solicitor whom he had seen knocked of his bike on the street from where he was now calling. Indeed, when the call was answered, the smooth tones of the lawyer seemed to fit perfectly with Edward’s vision of the poor man struck down so cruelly by the cabby some months before. He wondered whether he himself had managed to secure a decent amount of compensation.
As it transpired, when they met the lawyer assigned to his case was much older and no, they did not have a partner who had been knocked off his bike in Ludgate Hill, although he did purport to have heard of the incident saying with some pride, that it was his business to know of everyone knocked off their bike, or fallen under the wheels of a motor vehicle, or caught their hand in a lathe, or snagged their tights on the tea trolley for several miles around.
After their first meeting Edward was quite dizzy with excitement. It was stated that his case was quite an unusual one and where incidents involved multiple injuries and permanent damage and was against a local authority very significant sums could be involved.
‘How significant’ Edward had asked.
‘As much as a hundred thousand’ the lawyer had replied ‘Possibly much more’.
He was right. It took nine months but in the end Edward received the fabulous sum of £247,000 pounds which, after he had rendered up 25% to the law firm and paid off his debts left him with a little over £140,000.
He immediately took a sabbatical from the bank and booked a long holiday after which he intended to use the remaining month to find himself a better job. It was during this month that things got even better for him. Sitting in front of his laptop one morning over breakfast he received an extraordinary email. It explained that owing to surpluses arising from loans paid to Nigerian Government departments by the World Bank the sender of the email – the impressive sounding Major General Adewale Aghedo Nwanagu Chinnawuike – was looking for responsible citizens to help him repatriate the money to the British people from whom it was originally leant. The sum involved was even more impressive $59,000,000. The email went on to say that Edward had been specifically chosen because he was known to be a citizen of high morale (sic) character and totally trustworthy owing to his job. It didn’t actually mention that they knew he worked for a bank but it was clear to Edward that this why he had been selected.
The most exciting part of the email however, was that if he wished to take on this very special task, he would be rewarded with 10% ($5,900,000) for his very little trouble. All that was required was the brief (one day) use of his bank account for funds to be moved from Nigeria to the UK and then back to the UK Government. It went on to say that this transaction bore absolutely no risk and had been personally endorsed by Ban Ki-Moon, Secretary General of the United Nations.
Well, thought Edward, what a great year this has turned out to be and immediately emailed back saying that he would be delighted to help. An hour later an authoritative but kindly sounding Nigerian gentleman rang him back and explained how matters would be put in motion that very day.