Daniel’s pulled a news website up and beckons me across. I glance round the office before getting up. The boss, Gordon, might be carrying the weight of the world around his waist but he’s got a careful habit of sneaking up on you right as you’re breaking some company rule. Like using the internet for personal surfing.
‘What?’ I ask, and Daniel points at the second news story down, underneath the one about the Japanese tsunami.
‘Seen this? A revolution,’ he says.
The picture is a city square somewhere, like George Square but hotter looking. It’s full of people. People waving flags. People clenching fists. The headline says there’s ‘unrest’ in the Middle East. Daniel opens the story and we read quickly.
The Tunisian government has fallen. Egypt is in the hands of its people. There’s blood on the streets of Libya. Bahrain is in a state of emergency. Syria is predicted to crumble within weeks. The entire Arab world has erupted.
‘Crazy,’ I say. ‘That kind of thing would never happen here.’
‘Imagine if it did,’ Daniel replies, closing the tab.
I scoot back to my seat and a private message from Daniel pops up at the bottom corner of my screen.
What’s crazier is that all of this is happening and no one here has a clue except us. Ever wondered why they put the news on at 6? At 10? Because if anything happens between 8 and 5:30 no one hears about it. We’re all too busy.
I glance over at Daniel but he’s concentrating on his PC. He looks just like everyone else around here. Working hard, slogging away. Putting in the hours.
That’s a good point, I type back. I’d never really thought of it like that.
Exactly. No one ever does. We’ve got too much to worry about, don’t we? Mortgages, bills, parking fines. Our heads are all too full of the wee things to ever focus on the really important stuff. Does anyone even know what happens in Parliament on a day to day basis? See 25 miles away, there are nuclear weapons capable of destroying any country in the world. And Glasgow doesn’t bat an eyelid. Ken why? Cause we can’t.
So what makes the Arabs different? I type, before taking a sip of my coffee. It’s gone cold now and I push the cup out of reach.
Nothing. That’s the point. There’s no difference. They just woke up, is all. They started to take an interest.
My phone rings and I pick up after the second chirp. ‘Good morning, Steven speaking, how may I help you?’
There’s a pause on the other end, then someone coughing directly into the phone. ‘Aye, hello? Right, see if you can help me. I’m trying to get into my account but I think it’s locked me out or something.’
‘Okay sir,’ I say, taking a deep breath. It’s going to be one of those calls. I can just feel it. ‘Have you got your account details to hand?’
‘Eh? I’ve got a letter yous sent me here.’
‘That’s great. Could you please tell me the name and personal account number on the letter?’
‘Your name and the personal account number. It should be listed just underneath your address.’
‘I don’t see it.’
I take another breath and look back at my PC screen. There’s a message waiting from Daniel.
What would you do if you looked out the window now and saw thousands of people marching towards the City Chambers? If you knew they were trying to take the government back for themselves? Would you join them? I know I would. In a heartbeat. We could march into the banks and tell them that we want our money back. The whole system could collapse within a day and we could start over.
Why don’t you then? Start a revolution, I mean. All these uprisings in the East must have started with one person, one conversation like this. Go for it. See what happens.
‘Hello?’ The voice in my ear makes me blink suddenly and I sit upright, wary of Gordon lurking around the office.
‘My apologies, sir, where were we?’
‘I’m trying to get into this stupid account you lot insisted I make, but it’s locked me out.’
‘Right, of course. Did I get your name and account number, sir?’
‘I cannie find the account number. Jesus, for the hundredth time.’
Another message from Daniel pops up. Would you join me? That’s how these things work. Would you down tools too, or would you sit and watch me try to get everyone riled up until I exhausted myself? We need to pick our moment, Steven. We need to work together.
We? I type. I didn’t say anything about getting involved. Look what happened in Cuba. They chucked their old government and now they’re an economic ghost country under Communist rule.
Is that right? How come Cuba has a far bigger economy than any of these Arab countries then? Did you ever think that there’s more to it than money? That they’re not concerned with if this revolution will make them richer? It’s about democracy, Steven. They’re sick of the old ways. And it’s unfortunate that blood has to be spilled for them to achieve their goal, but they don’t have the option of a peaceful vote.
‘My mistake, sir,’ I say. The headset presses hot into my ear and digs into my scalp. ‘I remember you saying now. Could I take your name and address then, please?’
‘What do you need my address for?’ the man asks. His voice is growing tenser by the second and I’m growing wary that the call is being recorded or listened to by Gordon. Or maybe Gordon’s behind me right now. I spin slowly in my chair, but my cubicle is otherwise empty.
‘If you provide me with your name and address I can search for you in our database and then find out what the problem might be.’
Money makes the world go round, Daniel, I type. The reason nothing will ever change here is because people are scared of change. It’s uncertain. It’s dangerous. We’ve got so much to lose.
Try telling that to the Arab Spring. They see change as hopeful. A force for good. They have so much to gain.
Don’t get me wrong, I wish them luck. I just don’t ever see this sort of thing happening on the streets of Glasgow, Falkirk, Dundee, you know? We don’t have it anywhere near as bad as these countries in the first place. They’re revolting against unelected governments, you know? Governments that oppress them and commit crimes against their own people. I’m happy enough that ours stay out of my life enough to let me scrape by ‘til I retire.
‘Well?’ the man’s voice makes me jump again.
‘My apologues, sir, I’m just searching for you now.’
‘Look, what’s the problem here?’ he says, his words clipped. Staccato and angry.
You’re so typical, Steven. Exactly the attitude they want you to have. Vive la lunchbreak, eh? TV dinner and binge drinking at the weekend. Dream bigger, man. There are alternatives out there. Better ways. The world is changing. We just need to change with it.
I look over at Daniel and he’s pulling his jacket on. It’s maybe time for his break, I think, but then I wonder if he’s going somewhere else. Maybe this is it. Maybe this is him starting something. He stands up and walks over towards the lifts. I read over our conversation again and then tell the man on the phone I’ll return his call when we’ve fixed the problem. I can hear him shouting before I hang up and grab my jacket. Outside the clouds are heavy but there’s a glimmer of sunshine breaking through somewhere over the Southside. Somewhere in the Middle East a country is being reborn.
‘Daniel!’ I shout.
I see him stick his foot between the lift doors to hold them open. Gordon’s office door swings open and he powers out, his face red and twisted, sweat rings round his arms. Daniel gestures with open hands. ‘What?’
‘Hold on,’ I say. ‘I’ll come with you.’