The facilitator stood at the front of the room, with the whiteboard and flipchart just behind her and a pile of unopened Post-It notes sitting ominously on the table in front of her. The room itself was a bog-standard meeting room, with a horse-shoe of tables and ten or-so bored looking people sitting around, arms-folded, staring blankly ahead. No one was talking yet. Perhaps it was still too early in the day, and several people were slurping coffee disconsolately through the plastic lids of their overpriced buckets of coffee. I was sitting slightly apart, as usual, hands steepled in front of my face, keeping my thoughts to myself.
I knew most people in the room vaguely - some I’ve worked with for years - but I was barely on nodding terms with most of them. It’s not that I’m especially anti-social, it’s just that the only thing I have in common with these people is the fact that we’ve all worked in this same damn building for a decade. I don’t know about you, but for me, that’s just not enough reason to build a lasting friendship.
The woman at the front clapped her hands together. Clearly it was time to start.
“OK. Good morning everyone. My name is Chloë,” she paused to gesture at the flipchart just behind her, where she had carefully written her name in neat, joined-up handwriting –umlaut included - and underlined it all with an emphatic line jerking jauntily back upon itself. There was no exclamation mark, but Chloë had somehow managed to stress in those few letters that, although we were all here to work and that she was clearly a serious person, that she was also FUN and there was no reason why, if we behaved outselves, we couldn’t all have a bit of FUN together as we learned. Or maybe I was reading too much into it. I don’t know. Apparently I do that. I find you people so difficult to read, even after all this time.
Chloë was now starting to get into her stride and clearly wasn’t about to let our limp and unenthusiastic response throw her. “Oh dear. That wasn’t very good was it? Shall we try that again? Good morning everyone!” She raised her eyebrows and gestured encouragingly towards us.
“Good morning Chloë”
“Hmm. Well that’s a bit better. I suppose that will have to do for now, but I can see that you’re going to need some warming up. Right, to get us started, I want you to write your names onto the cards that you will find on the desk in front of you.”
Slowly, reluctantly, we all reached for the marker pens on the tables in front of us and scrawled our names onto the folded pieces of card. I went for block capitals. JOSHUA. Not Josh. Never Josh.
This took all of about thirty seconds, and throughout, Chloë clucked around us, smiling and rubbing her hands. “Good. All done?”
Nods and mumbles. We really weren’t feeling this.
“Right. Time for an Icebreaker! What we’re going to do now, is we’re going to go around the tables and I want you to introduce yourselves. I don’t just want to know your names and where you come from. Oh no. What would be fun about that? I want you to tell us three things about yourself: two truths and one lie. Then it’s everyone else’s job to work out which one is the lie. Got it? Okay, let’s start with William.”
William was sitting directly opposite to me on the other end of the tables and he looked almost pleased to have been picked, such was his evident delight at the opportunity to talk about himself. He barely paused for thought before opening his mouth.
“Hello. My name is William. I’m originally from Kent….”
Chloë interrupted. “Is that one of your three things?”
“No, no. Okay. My three things are…. One: I’m a keen footballer and once played in the same team as Robbie Earle. Two: I’ve played Hamlet semi-professionally. Three: I once appeared on Mastermind.”
Ugh. Kill me now. Do you honestly care which of those is a lie? I know that I didn’t. I can’t even summon the energy now to remember which one was which.
Chloë clapped her hands in delight. “Oh perfect! Perfect! Who wants to guess first? Who’s Robbie Earle?”
Do you need to hear any more of this shit? Shall we skip on a bit? Yeah. Let’s do that.
All I could think about as we went around the table was that I had a full day of this nonsense still to come. And I hadn’t eaten. Helen likes ballet and books but hasn’t actually had a novel published. John plays drums in a band but hasn’t released a record…. Do I need to go on? We went round the room, slowly… painfully slowly and it was clear that I was going to be last. Great. Creeping death. Just before my turn, came Andrew. Andrew was one of those people who I hated the moment I saw him; he looked like one of those people with an unfathomably high opinion of themselves. It soon became apparent that I was right.
“Hello everyone. My name is Andrew. I own a Porsche. I own a jet ski. I own a chalet in the Alps.” As soon as he’d said this, he sat back in his chair and folded his arms behind his head.
Chloë was thrilled. “Oh, splendid, Andrew. Splendid. Who wants to guess?”
A few people were getting into the swing of things by now.
“The jet ski?”
“Nope. I keep that down in the South of France where we holiday every year. We have friends with a villa down there.”
“The chalet in the Alps?”
“No. We have a little place near the Three Valleys. Lovely place. Do you ski? Some of the best black runs in the world, right on your doorstep. It’s perfect. You should come out some time.” He winked at Helen. He actually winked. Who does that?
“So it must be the Porsche then?”
“Ha. No! They’re all true! I’ve got my Cayman parked outside. Good little runner. None of them are lies! They’re all true”
“Oh marvellous Andrew!” Chloë was purring now. He’s a wanker, right? That much is surely clear. Surely we can all agree on that?
“Josh. It’s your turn. Last but not least!”
“Joshua. Not Josh.”
Chloë just looked confused. “Ummhmm. Your three things?”
Everyone looked up at me expectantly. Well, here goes nothing.
“I’m Joshua. I’m three hundred years old and I’ve killed about a thousand people, but I don’t really keep count anymore and I’m not planning on killing any of you. Not before lunch, anyway. Oh, and I hate my job. Any questions?”
Chloë actually laughed. A little nervously, perhaps, but she laughed. So did everyone else. As everyone joined in, the laughter got louder. I might be a little weird, but at least I wasn’t Andrew, right?
Chloë was clearly delighted at the success of her icebreaker exercise. “Well, I said two truths and one lie, but I suppose Andrew rather blew that open, didn’t he? Three truths from him and now three lies from you. Very good! Unless you really do hate your job? You can’t possibly hate your job. Of course you can’t. Very good! Now then, let’s get started….”
We moved on, although not before Andrew had fixed me with a glare. Perhaps he thought I’d stolen his thunder in some way. As if I cared what he thought; what any of them thought.
They’re all true, of course, more or less. I really don’t keep count any more: either of my age or my tally of kills. I might be older, the pile might be higher, but like I say, I don’t keep score any more. I definitely do hate my job though, never more so than today. What a humiliating, trivial way to spend your eternity. And based on that icebreaker, of all the people in this room, Andrew would definitely be the first to die. I know what I said, but if he keeps on like that, he might not even make it as far as lunch. If I didn’t need to keep this job, he’d probably be dead already. But time has changed me; softened me and I honestly don’t think it’s for the better.
I need to get out of this place, I really do. It will be the death of me.