Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Big Fish by Liam Hogan

Read by Daniel Jade Levia

I don’t mind people who don’t walk on escalators. Really I don’t. I don’t understand them, but I don’t mind – just as long as they leave me enough room to go past.

At school they called me the BF – the Big Fish. I took it as a compliment, and an accurate assessment of the aspirations of the private school my middle class parents struggled to send me to. A Big Fish swimming in a small pond. They, I’m sure, meant it as an insult – that I wasn’t all that, that I was only remarkable compared to them, and that in the wider world I would struggle to make an impact. I pitied them, and their attempts to belittle me by pointing out what inadequate competition they were.

The pushchairs are bad. Oversized suitcases on the way to or from the airport are worse, there’s no getting round those, but the most annoying of all are the cretins who have absolutely no goddamn reason to block my path. The couples standing side by side, the tourists oblivious to the unwritten rules of escalator etiquette, the women with handbags the size of microwave ovens sticking out at 45 degrees to their fat arses.

I’ve always been in a hurry, always on the move, always had my eyes on the prize. I don’t usually take vacations – too many opportunities lost - but when I do I’m always looking for an activity holiday - climbing, or diving, or even skiing. No sitting on a beach going lobster red for me, no guided tours, the pace dictated by the slowest in the group. The only time I’m truly at rest is when I’m asleep - and I begrudge every wasted  moment of it.


As the shuffling masses diverge at the bottom – left for the achievers, the go out and get-ers, right for the happy with their lot, content to be carried, let the world pass them by sheep – sometimes the people on the up and up come to a juddering halt, the whole escalator snarled up by some impassable blockage ahead, or some idiot too polite to push past, to tap on a shoulder, or to loudly say “Excuse me!”. It makes my blood boil.

At Uni I realised – and it was a hard, cold lesson – that talent wasn’t enough, that in a big pond there was always going to be someone better than I was, and that my mediocre upbringing was never going to compensate for that. If I was going to become what I wanted to become, I had to want it more. I had to strive, to come up with alternative routes to the top, to improvise. And I realised that the best qualifications were not always – were hardly ever – the grades of your exams, or the class of your degree.

I always push past, whatever the blockage, whatever the reason. How dare they slow me down. I’m sure it earns me sour looks, but I smile as I hear the muttered curses, because by then they’re behind me, trailing in my wake. You don’t get anywhere in this life, finishing second.

There are no small fish in the City, in the private banks and hedge funds that are my domain, my stomping ground. All the traders are big, some much bigger than others. That’s not to say they have talent – far from it, those upper class twits often have remarkably little; they rise on the quality of their family crest, the right school followed by the right college at the right uni, the right friends at the right private members clubs. But they all have drive, they all know how to maximise their potential. They know how to schmooze, and how to ignore the flotsam and jetsam that clutters the escalators of life.

City traders of course don’t think of themselves as just any old fish. No, they know they are the biggest fish in the ocean – they are sharks. And they attack with the same ruthless efficiency whenever they sense blood in the water. They say sharks never stop swimming, that if they do, they’ll sink and drown – they need the flow of water over their gills to extract oxygen, they need that flow of water to give them lift, to compensate for their limited buoyancy.

Ahead of me there is a man moving almost as swiftly as I am even though the escalator is rush-hour busy. I clock his bespoke suit, the backs of his expensive Italian shoes, a leather over-the-shoulder bag no doubt brimming with the latest and best electronic goods. A self-certified Master of the Universe - a Big Fish. I pull the hood of my paint splattered sweatshirt firmly forward, obscuring my face from any CCTV cameras, and curl my hidden fingers round the shaft of the box cutter as we both approach the top of the escalator. A quick cut, a sharp turn and what is his will be mine. I’ll be out of the ticket gates while he’s still wondering what he snagged his Gucci man-bag on, and where exactly it has fallen to in the surging crowd.

He’s wrong, you see, always was, always will be. He truly believes he’s at the top of the food chain, and his ability to beat those he regards as his peers over a dealer board or his contempt for anyone with the wrong colour of credit card, only blinds him to the obvious.

Which is that the battles he fights are only make-believe – a game played by the rich with the unwitting consent of the poor - and that in this day and age, even sharks get hunted.

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