Agree to Disagree
Every morning was a repeat of the last, and this one was no different. I woke up promptly at 5:00 and went through my usual routine. A waste of time, I thought. If we could cut out the trivial things, we would be so much more productive. I had that thought often.
At 5:42, I left for my job. This was two minutes later than usual, but I would make up for it during the commute. I wondered where I had lost the two minutes. Maybe I had taken longer than usual drinking my coffee. That was probably it. The quality of my favorite brand had been declining, I decided, and I couldn't stomach it as well. I should probably change that in the future. I couldn't risk the deviation.
One divergence led to another, and suddenly I was taking another route to my job. I turned left into the Marketplace instead of my usual right turn into Neopia Central. I dimly noticed this development, and I watched bemusedly as my feet led me to the Soup Kitchen. It seemed out of my control anyway.
On the way, my attention turned to a small establishment on the main road. A blue Kyrii sat despondently on the doorstep. I recalled faintly that a family-run diner used to take up this spot on the map. But no longer could I smell the warm aromas of cooking. The building sat dark and empty.
I approached the Kyrii, a question written on my face. He simply gestured with his eyes to a slightly crooked sign hanging from the window. "OUT OF BUSINESS," it read. Below it, in cheap pen ink, was scribbled, "Next time, try getting your meals from a ruthless corporation," almost sarcastically.
I suddenly thought of my small business, to which I was headed right now. What would happen if a ruthless corporation descended upon it? I shook the thought from my head.
"What happened?" I said.
His eyes narrowed, as if to say "Isn't it clear?" A tremor of shame, and partially acceptance, extended through his body. "We had been in business for ten years." I could barely make out his voice. "They came through in one day and took everything."
I didn't ask why a corporation had taken all of his money. If he borrowed money from them, if they had bought him out... it wasn't important. All that mattered was a family restaurant with a rich history had been replaced by an empty building.
He buried his face in his hands. I took the hint, and I rejoined the main path. Again, I found myself inexplicably drawn to the Soup Kitchen. But routine was more important than any mysterious urge. I sent a brief message to my feet to go faster please, and they obeyed quickly and without complaint. Unfortunately, this principle didn't apply anywhere else in life. Feet were the exception. I'd probably write a scientific paper on that after I retired. I'm sure it will be a hit in the academic community.
For some reason, I wasn't surprised when I saw the severe-looking Skeith sitting inside my office. Some amount of foreshadowing must have clued me in that something significant was about to happen. Fate works in mysterious way, almost as if it is controlled by an unseen force with the sole intent of furthering the plot.
The Skeith shook my hand. His hand enveloped mine. He had great control over his strength, I concluded, as I was still able to use my hand once he released his grip. I noticed how his expression softened pityingly as he glanced at the message he held. Shoulders drooping, he stared slightly to the left of my shoulder and handed me the note. I nodded my thanks to him, and he stood up awkwardly, not sure whether to leave. He decided that it was in his best interests to get away from the premises, specifically my presence, and hurry back to whichever "ruthless corporation" had spawned him.
If the Skeith would have said anything to me, it would've been, "I'm not a pawn of this company. I have friends. I have a life. I regret every time I encroach upon the lives of others and ruin them beyond repair. I regret that I bring bad news and have no say in what it delivers. I am myself."
But he didn't say anything.
I entered the Soup Kitchen an hour later. Since I didn't have a job anymore, I thought it would be a great way to keep my mind away from reality. Let me amend my previous statement slightly. Going to the Soup Kitchen was a great way to let the horrible news fester in my brain until nothing but animosity consumed my soul. It never hurts to be honest, unless that honesty is expressing that you wish another Neopian to lose his way of life.
In case you were wondering what the letter said, I will quote it for you:
"Dear Mr./Mrs. Norman," it read, starting under the intricate letterhead, "We at Rockwell Enterprises regret to inform you of the following." Clearly those at Rockwell Enterprises weren't above using a preformatted letter to deliver devastating news. "Your outstanding debt (which you owe to us as part of your agreement to the Neopian Small Business Codes) has reached a preordained level which, as part of your agreement to the Neopian Small Business Codes, you agreed would never happen. Therefore we request an immediate payment of [some extraordinarily high amount of Neopoints] to the account of Mr. Rockwell by today. Unfortunately this leaves you very little time. We wish you the best of luck in not going out of business forever. Kindly yours, Horace."
I would have to have a talk with Horace. His writing style was blocky at best.
The words "kindly yours" stuck in my mind the most. Were they included, perhaps, to negate the malicious meaning of the message? I knew that I certainly didn't mind being told that I would have to sell my entire company to ascend out of debt, as long as the letter informing me of this was signed "kindly yours." They were just such aesthetically pleasing words.
I sat at a table by the window. I had many tables to choose from, but I thought that the window table had the cleanest tabletop. It was beside the point that this table was as far away as possible from the Soup Faerie.
I didn't ask for any soup yet. As far as I knew, the associates of Rockwell Enterprises hadn't finished cleaning out my bank account. I wouldn't want to confuse the Soup Faerie. She was after all a Faerie.
From my table, I was able to see the street outside. In a coincidence that could only be orchestrated by fate, I happened to notice that the very first Neopian I saw pass in front of my window was Rockwell himself.
This is what you call a plot device.
I tapped on the window in order to get the Tonu's attention. He halted, searching for the source of the noise. I gazed at his impeccably ironed suit. His suit was in perfect array. Somehow that hurt me more than the letter. This Tonu's company ruined lives, and his suit was spotless. The logical fallacy pushed me over the edge. I exploded out of my seat and through the door. Rockwell was waiting there for me. "Was that you?" he asked. Perhaps it was just my sour mood, but I perceived him as an egocentric, prim executive with no idea of the repercussions of his actions.
Before he could say another word, I shoved him. He fell to the ground. Did I think that this physical accost would be his payment for his crimes against me?
Yes. In that instant, I did.
I helped him up. He brushed himself off. His brow furrowed and then relaxed when he looked at me. "What is your name?" he asked.
His response caught me off guard. "N-Norman," I stammered.
He nodded and set off at a brisk walk down the road. For a moment I stood in place. My anger at his nonchalance bubbled over. "Don't you realize who I am?" I called after him.
Rockwell stopped. He straightened his suit before he turned around to look at me. "What more should I expect from a degenerate," he said in a clipped tone, "than ignorance to the situation. I fully intend to report this incident to the Defenders of Neopia. This world cannot afford to have a menace—" he stressed this word—"roaming the streets. Why would I care who you are? You could be Queen Fyora herself and I would still report you to the Defenders." He sniffed.
"You storm into my life and put my company out of business," I said, my true feelings straining against my polite voice, "and you don't even know my name?"
His face hardened in a way that suggested he had heard this argument many times before. "You agreed to the contract when you started your business. You can't blame me for your lack of attention to detail."
"How can you sleep," I continued, "knowing that you ruin the livelihood of Neopians every day?"
He started to walk to me, his stride growing more aggravated with every step. "Without my company, your business would never have existed," he growled. "I gave you the Neopoints to start your enterprise, and it was your choice to not pay back your debt. I have no control over your decisions."
He was now towering over my diminutive form. Only now could I tell how significant the size difference was between a Techo and a Tonu. If the conflict had continued, I might have been the one reporting him to Defenders of Neopia. But the Soup Faerie saw fit to intervene.
Suddenly Rockwell and I were in a windowless, doorless room. The walls were blazingly white. In fact, every surface was blazingly white. The Soup Faerie stood in the center, facing towards us.
"Hello, children," she said, managing to sound both kindly and self-centered. I had to admit, it was a useful skill. "You have an issue." Pure unrefined benevolence oozed from her every word.
Rockwell looked at his watch in a panic. The Soup Faerie chuckled patronizingly. "You still think that your schedule is more important than the livelihood of the people around you," she sang. "We'll see if that statement stands true in an hour. Just talk to each other. Tell each other your stories." She disappeared in a flash of brown and brown.
And that is the exact sequence of events in how I arrived in this room with you. It's your turn, I suppose.
The green Techo stops talking. He nervously fidgets in his spot. The massive blue Tonu who stands next to him crosses his arms. "Was that supposed to change my life?" the Tonu snaps rudely.
The Techo stares at the seam between the wall and the ceiling. He hums a three-second clip from a song and quickly looks over at the Tonu again. "Go ahead," he stammers. "We're never going to get out of here until you do."
"I'm not resorting to childish games," replied the Tonu with a demeaning scowl.
"If conversation is a childish game to you, then continue as you are."
"Conversation isn't, but telling my life story to a scoundrel is. For all I know, you and the Soup Faerie are cohorts in some plan to overthrow my company."
"Then you must know very little! Where's the shame in a little decency, some honesty? I hope you can find it in yourself to tell the truth for ten minutes."
There is a flash of mahogany, and the Soup Faerie appears in the corner of the room. She frowns visibly. "You didn't last a minute," she says. "Now, I'm going to teleport you two to your respective homes. Don't try to find each other, or I really will be forced to call on the Defenders of the Neopia."
Before she transports the two Neopians out of the room, she whispers, "For beings so alike, you two certainly are different."