There are 42 people crammed into a room. The tables are adorned with bottles of water, some glasses half full others empty. Notepads spread across the table with the name of the hotel embezzled across them, some have notes written on them, some are blank, others like mine have doodles on them. The chairs are placed neatly around the tables and my peers are in attendance.
Some of us are listening intently to the speaker, some are trying not to fall asleep, I am quietly arguing with Khurram about who is going to get the last sherbet dip that has been left on the table to give us a sugar rush to help us concentrate. Out of the 42 people in this room I like 8 of them, the others I tolerate because I have to. I see them once every two months at the two day meetings we have and to be honest that's enough.
Its not that they have done anything to annoy me or they have done anything to make me like them either further than a cordial hello, as in most places where I have worked in the past there is an air of indifference between us. We have nothing in common apart from the fact that we all work for the same company. We share stories about staff, the good and the bad ones, as we drink the luke warm tea and coffee in our breaks, knowing that we will not talk until the next time we are all summoned to the next two day meeting.
We are brought together because we have to be here, we are all different ages with different goals in life, some of them want to be the next Area manager, others are clinging to their jobs for dear life, the pressure of an under performing team makes them withdraw into themselves and they cluster together with people in similar predicaments. I watch them thankful for the team I have making sure I am not in their shoes.
The meeting ends for the day and plans are made to socialise that evening, this is something I dread. Most of them are young and want to spend the night drinking, Ive been there before and make sure that I am not the one who will have too much to drink and say or do something that I will regret in the morning. Khurram also doesn't intend to spend the night getting drunk so he and Abu decide to go for a walk and ask me to go with them. Grateful for the invitation I accept and happily tag along.
We wander towards the Trocadero in central London, the evening is warm as we talk about the events of the day and share gossip about people that we know. The streets are bustling with tourists, black cabs dart in and out of the traffic rushing to get the occupants to their destination in the shortest time possible. We wander through Soho, stopped a few times by women hanging out of doorways asking us if we want to go inside. We laugh amongst ourselves knowing that our wife's would kill us if we did. We pass the theatres, I point out Jersey Boys and comment how much I liked it, the streets are now narrower and filled with tourists wandering around taking pictures of each other for their albums when they get home.
We reach the Trocadero and are disappointed to find it not as we remembered it as kids full of arcade machines, there are some, racing machines linked together inviting us to sit and play them, flashing lights and noise surrounding us, but now its only on one floor not full like it was many years ago. We are eyed suspiciously by the bouncers in their black t-shirts watching us as if to say to what are you doing here?. Almost middle aged men, feeling out of place we leave and make our way back to the hotel. Khurram asks us to slow down as we are walking too quickly for him and we happily oblige.
It isn't because he is unfit, its because he has just returned to work after an event that would have changed my life forever and I quietly think to myself how happy I am that he is still here. On his way home a few months ago he was mugged and stabbed three times for his mobile phone. A senseless attack that will probably never be solved. He is in a lot of pain and still on pain killers.
He is my mentor, the person who trained me for the job when I first started with the company, a colleague who became a friend, someone who is always there at the end of phone when I need advice. Its perhaps selfish of me to be so grateful that he is here with me at this meeting, making wise cracks about the people around us and sharing in private jokes. He is a father, a husband and a friend, I nearly lost that friendship but more importantly his family nearly lost him.
He takes it in good spirit when ever anyone asks him what happened and I joke that he is telling the story once again. I cant imagine what it felt like when it happened and I hope I never do. If anything it has taught me one thing, I have realized how life is too short to not chase a dream, that in an instant it can be all taken away. Through what happened to him I will now work harder to pursue my dream. My guilt at using what happened to him to drive my own dream onwards is something I will have to carry, but I know he wont mind, hes that kind of person. A mentor, a colleague but more importantly a friend.