…the measure of the lack of order in the universe and the proliferation of chaos     

Oscar’s search for meaning in the universe had brought him to the office of Mr Malcolm Southerly, personal profiler, psychology graduate, expert in career counselling, over ten-year practitioner in personnel placement and possessor of the most prominent advert in the appropriate section of the yellow pages.

“Everything has a place in this world, Mr MacSweeny.” Mr Malcolm Southerly sat back in his all-encompassing leather chair, with the smug look of a person who is sure of everything.

Oscar sat back in his rather Spartan wooden chair somewhat reassured, more owing to his need to be reassured than by any reassuring word uttered, smug look proffered or almost horizontal reclining pose adopted by Mr Southerly. Luckily Oscar didn’t take in the meaning of the words that had filled the room, otherwise he would have been immediately incapacitated by a realization that he must have been the only exception to the rule – Oscar didn’t have a place in this world – where was this place?

“And everyone a position,” Mr Southerly completed his favourite and only aphorism. He allowed a smile to reveal his shining white teeth in order to punctuate his thoughts and give his favourite and overused saying a sense of completeness.

Oscar began to process the meaning of the words that were filling the little room.

“You’re a thoughtful man. I can see that at once.”

Oscar was reassured by the first words he actually understood.

“But you haven’t found your place in this world.”

Oscar nodded. At last, he had found someone who understood.

“You feel this world to have no order and to lack any meaning.”

Oscar nodded again, this time a more pronounced and so a more affirming nod; he even allowed a smile to colour his face.

“But I am here to help.”

And with that, the end to the fist stage of his well practiced and oft delivered speech, Mr Malcolm Southerly got to his feet with a sudden lunge forward from his all-encompassing leather chair, which announced the beginning of the second stage of his well practiced and oft delivered speech, the stage in which he stood high above the befuddled interviewee, the stage in which he spread his arms wide to encompass the whole of the known world, the stage in which he pointed to the ceiling, stamped his feet on the floor, stretched his arms out towards the sunlight streaming through the window, tugged at his hair to show that he shared that feeling of frustration, and finally banged both his fists on the desk in order to sum up his determination, a determination etched into every line on his face, to never give up, never turn back and always look forward towards the next challenge, the next day, the next sun rise.

But before he could properly get stage two underway, Oscar too had stood up. He deftly made his way across the room, a distance of no more than one and a half meters, occupying the only high ground, the space in front of the full-length window next to the plastic bonsai tree, the only window in this quite snug office and so stole the glory, or the upper hand or something, from Mr Southerly – he stole everything. Mr Southerly had no other option but to retreat, to fall back into his all-encompassing leather chair and resign himself to a wholly new experience in his role as personal profiler, psychology graduate, expert in career counselling and over ten-year practitioner in the placement of personnel.

“I see it as a case of the world being at fault… rather than myself being somehow at fault,” Oscar began, measuring each of his words carefully. “Not that I expect you, Mr Southerly, to fix the world.”

Mr Southerly laughed, because Oscar paused for him to laugh, but he didn’t seem at all sure about what was so funny.

“But there is a need… and I’ll be the first to acknowledge this…” Oscar felt himself to be magnanimous in this acknowledgement “…there is a need for a repositioning. Of myself. Relative to the world. A realignment. A new approach.”

Mr Southerly spotted a possible opening for himself here.

“That’s just where I can help you.” His words, shouted out, were reinforced by his lunging forward, in his attempt to regain the upper hand and put stage two, which had been only temporarily delayed, into full flow.

“I’m not so sure,” Oscar quickly countered.

Never had Mr Southerly been confronted with doubt before he even launched stage two, before he even raised the issue of payment in six monthly instalments calculated to match your individual ability to pay, before he even launched into his spiel about self-worth, get-up-and-go and all of those other phrases, sentiments and pats on the back that couldn’t be shrugged off, that would invariably be accepted, and that would always be taken in the spirit they were given – to inflate one’s perception of one’s self, to feel good about oneself and to accept your need for such words delivered in biweekly appointments whenever it’s convenient for you.

“I am not so sure about help,” Oscar announced. “Do I need help? Can I be helped?” Oscar directed these questions at the plastic bonsai tree, perhaps reflecting his lack of faith in the ability of Mr Southerly to respond in an appropriate manner. “Is there something the matter with me? Am I ill? Am I suffering from a series of delusions? Is there a cure?” But the white light from the full-length window contained no answers.

“I’m here to help,” Mr Southerly latched onto these words as though they had meaning in them beyond their denotations.

“I hold out no hope on that score.” Oscar shrugged his shoulders in order to feign empathy for Mr Malcolm Southerly’s dilemma, which was just now taking shape.

Mr Southerly felt it incumbent upon him to intervene at this point. “But…”

“But, but, but. But what? But nothing. But everything… that word can lead nowhere,” Oscar asserted, shaking his head as though to confirm the hopelessness of the situation.

“So why are you here?” Mr Southerly was at a loss. His varnish of order and meaning was blistering and flaking and peeling off his world right here in his own office, right onto his symmetrically patterned carpet such that it had the appearance, perhaps there were tears forming in his eyes, of a random collection of amorphous shapes jostling for position in a world without order.

Oscar nodded in order to express his understanding of Mr Malcolm Southerly’s predicament, and perhaps a modicum of fellow feeling. Another shrug of his shoulders was the only additional help he could proffer, before turning to leave.


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