Every day I exit the tube, stand in the lee of the station and light a cigarette. It takes seven minutes for me to finish the cigarette and by that time I will have just passed the Post Office and be approaching the off licence. I flick the filter away, aiming for the gap between the bins that line the brick wall. There is a decaying pile of filters here, all mine. I smoke too much. It takes me another ten minutes to reach the office.
This morning I finished my cigarette and went to flick it away before stopping, puzzled. The doors to my office loomed ahead of me. Directly ahead of me. The cigarette smouldered between my fingers and I turned to check where I was, though I don’t know why I did. My feet knew the crooked paving slabs outside my office and my body knew the cool shadows thrown from the high rise buildings. Gaps of sunlight striped the street. I was at the office, and yet I shouldn’t be.
Between the Post Office and my office there are three corners (a left, a right and another right), one zebra crossing and two sets of traffic lights. On the first corner there is a florist, on the second nothing of note, and on the third, the entrance to housing estate . I discarded the cigarette and began to walk back towards the tube station.
The route back to the station was the same as I had taken for the last five years. I looked at my watch. I was five minutes early for work every day, but I was now, officially, late. Twelve minutes late. Which made sense.
A stream of bodies had exited the tube as I approached and now they engulfed me. I stood and waited for the flood to subside and then I stood back where I had been when I first lit my cigarette. I was fifteen minutes late now.
One final test. I lit a second cigarette and begin the walk to the office once again. Ahead of me were a small group of suited Japanese men. Their suits were all different shades of grey and at the lead of them walked one man. While the rest clutched briefcases by their sides, he held a map between both hands, out and up in front of his chest. He seemed slightly taller than the others, though possibly this was a projection on my part. He certainly seemed to be the leader of this group.
The Japanese men walked faster than I did but, every few hundred meters or so, they stopped and gathered around the map, chatting earnestly. Each time they did this I gained on them, and each time that moved off I fell back again. One of these men, he walked towards at the back of the group I noticed, carried two briefcases. He must be the most junior of the group I surmised, assigned to hold the map readers briefcase.
The further we progressed from the station the more obvious it became that these men were walking to the same office as I. The relatively small size of the company I was employed at meant that we were unable to afford office space close to the tube station, and so we found as our neighbours the housing estates and old storage spaces.
This slow plodding chase continued until I was pleased to see that my deduction was correction. Both deductions. At the door to my office the map reader threw up his hands and folded up the map. This was exchanged for the second briefcase held by the younger man, who then tucked the rectangular map away in the inside breast pocket of his suit jacket. The group disappeared inside the building.
I too approached the entrance and as I did I took one final drag of my cigarette. I flicked it towards a grated drain cover and as the butt dropped between the iron lattice work I realised once again that I had reached my office with a still lit cigarette, and that once again I had no idea how this had happened.