Are you stressed? Tired? Struggling to manage your time?
The questions on the front of the A5 page – technically a sheet of A4 folded horizontally down the centre of its landscape format to create four sides of A5 – seemed to be speaking to him. Standing in the self-help section in WH Smith, Tim hesitated. He wasn’t in the habit of frequenting this aisle, and had only found himself there on account of taking a detour to avoid a woman with a large pushchair and another child, a toddler, hanging off the hem of her jumper, as he made his way toward the stationery department. A self-professed realist, he didn’t believe in fate or chance or coincidence. Nevertheless, it struck him as strange that this pamphlet should be there, quite incongruously, yet somehow most appropriately. Yellow/cream in colour, with plain serif lettering in black ink, contained within a two-line rectangular border on the front, it was unusually eye-catching in contrast to all of the sharp, bright photographic images of Paul McKenna and other self-satisfied-looking self-help gurus, and the pastel shades of the other books that promised to reveal the secrets of relaxation, happy relationships, success in all aspects of life and eternal youth and well-being. Most eye-caching of all was the legend in the very centre of the page, in block capitals and a full forty-six points high: ‘LIBERATE YOURSELF!’ it read. It seemed as though it were be shouting, the words reverberating within the cavity of his skull. Then, at the bottom of the page, appeared the line ‘…and discover who your real friends are’.
Tim didn’t have any time for this airy-fairy mind and body spiritual claptrap, but something about this leaflet, perched in front of the official glossy publications impelled him to pick it up. What was it doing there? Who had left it there? It looked too carefully placed to have been accidental. But why would anyone leave such a publication lying around in a shop? What could they possibly hope to achieve in doing so?
As much as he was a realist and a rationalist, Tim was a capitalist, and his solipsistic world-view ensured that he could not conceive that others would operate beyond the parameters of the social norms within which his existence was framed. Even a philanthropist needs the means by which to sustain themselves, and even charities require funding to cover operational costs. Nothing in life is free, and to that end, the motivation behind the document in his hand, that he had picked up and was now eyeing suspiciously, perplexed him. And yet he could not bring himself to dismiss it out of hand, or to simply ignore it, leave it where it was in the store, and go on his way.
He was stressed and tired and struggling to manage his time. He rubbed his eyes with his thumb and forefinger. His skin felt rough and dry, his eyes sensitive and watery. He was exhausted, and this was reflected in his sallow appearance. Turning the leaf, he read the first few lines of the text printed in 11 point Times New Roman across the two centre pages. The questions on the front cover were repeated, this time in bold, followed by the promise that ‘This pamphlet will explain how, in a few simple steps, you can reclaim your life for YOU!’ Tim couldn’t help but be sceptical, but read on anyway:
Consider the following questions: How much time do you get for leisure? ‘You’ time? Time for socialising? Ok, so you probably have responsibilities – job, family, general living, specifically cooking, eating, washing, etc., etc. – and how much time away from these do you get? Yes, leisure time. That’s time to do as you please, things you enjoy doing. Time spent participating in activities that aren’t a chore.
‘Excuse me, young man’, a decrepit old bid said, prodding his arm with a bony finger.
With a start, Tim turned to her. ‘Yes?’
He sounded more aggressive and irritable than intended. He couldn’t help it. He couldn’t help it, he knew he sounded ‘off.’ The simple fact was that he had been feeling decidedly fractious lately, and it was difficult to pinpoint the exact reasons why.
‘I’d just like to…’ the wizened old goat’s voice quavers and tapers off points down the aisle with the pallid unguiculate hand she had been poking him with.
‘Oh, right. Yeah.’ Tim flushed slightly. ‘Sorry.’ He felt like a twat. He stepped aside and waited for the crone to creak past before folding the pamphlet in half and tucking it into the pocket of his pure wool charcoal grey suit jacket.
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