At noon, Maxine had reached Our Luxurious Lounge No 5 at the Royal London (which was in fact The New Royal London, but not a lot of people know that). She had drawn a number and was waiting to be called to one of the confessionals, or confies as most people called them. She was still a bit exasperated from her climb through the Crossrail and had given it much thought whether to have the tiniest of seaweed sandwiches at Liverpool Street Station. But she had stuck firm to her beliefs and had invested her last five million Sweets in a small bottle of Cool spring water, the drink that gives your skin the healthy complexion Our Medical Profession craved. At least that’s what it said in the ad.
Maxine had decided against eating a seaweed sarnie for fear it might show up in her scans later today. If found out, Our NHS would consider this a breach of Our Foodstuffs and Forbidden Substances Policy and a breach of contract punishable with at least three months of de-contraction; that was posh-speak for no more employment with Britain’s Employer of Choice. And after that, Maxine would have to climb up all the way of the corporate ladder, starting with growing spare toenails and ear lobes before even getting close to ever growing a pair of boobs again. It was weally weally no use trying to beat the system, she said to herself.
“They probably could train monkeys how to do this”, Maxine thought while taking her seat amongst the other Job Seekers and Happily Employed.
She feigned a reassuring smile to the lady who sat next to her. It was always important to look reassuring when you were on the premises of the NHS. Their whole world revolved around the idea of looking, acting, feeling reassuring and they weally weally liked their employees to be reassuring, too.
“Not three, but four arms”, she thought. “Some people don’t know when they’ve had enough.”
Of all the jobs Our NHS handed out, and it handed out all the jobs that existed in Britain, at least the legal ones, Maxine found growing arms the most difficult to manage. She had tried it once and thought it the most confusing five weeks of her life. In the final days, she kept dropping cups and plates all the time because she never could seem to tell the difference between left right and centre. It was a good thing there wasn’t any cutlery around, Maxine thought to herself, or she would have been cutting any of her fifteen fingers all the time. Of course, she had only heard of cutlery when Charmaine was talking of the good ol’ days, which gracefully she now reduced to a minimum after Maxine had kicked up a huge fuss about it a few years ago, when she had turned sixteen. Maxine imagined that cutlery might have looked a like the surgical instruments dangling from the ceiling of Our Luxurious Lounge No 5 for decorative purposes, but smaller of course.
“What must they have been eating”, she wondered, “in their good old days.” Nobody needed knives or forks to slurp a cuppa Soy with flakes and Maxine was very reassured by that thought.
A few moments later, Our Public-Address System, always cranked up to the max, announced that number three-seven-eight was expected in confessional box eight, number three-seven-eight, please, and after twice checking whether it was indeed her number Maxine shuffled along across a vast expanse of shiny vinyl floor that was sprinkled with children’s toys but no children. Maxine didn’t give it a second thought that you rarely saw children in London these days. She hardly remembered what kids looked like. She imagined them squashy and slimy and noisy, and wasn’t quite sure whether she’d ever been a child herself because you had to erase all your family pictures from your phone once per month as a prerequisite to vote in The Shuffle, which was of course mandatory. So, family pictures of her probably did exist somewhere on the hard drives of the respective NHS agency (Maxine was no fool, you see) but she had no desire of seeing herself as a slobbering mess with a spoon in her face, stuck in a spotty onesie and an idiotic smile on her face.
“I guess that makes me an infantophobe if only for aesthetical reasons,” Maxine thought. “So there.”
Maxine drew back the curtain of confessional box eight and noticed that Our Nice Lady of the Royal London was already waiting for her. After her formal introduction as Arlene, she proceeded with laying out the details of Maxine’s new job – if she would indeed volunteer to grow a breast for that young lad from The Piccadilly Estate that was weally weally desperate to become a lady “like you and I”. Maxine put on her attentive face and tried to look like she pondered weally weally deeply all that Our Nice Lady had to say but she couldn’t help feeling she was playing a small part in an elaborate charade she found rather unconvincing. For starters, the NHS always made it sound like the job at hand was for someone living just around the corner though everybody knew the rumours of whole planeloads of body parts being shipped out of the country each night from Gatwick.
“Well we better pay Our Debt somehow”, Maxine thought, sitting upright, “and we better take hard cash, no Sweets, to do so.”
Secondly, the name of Our Nice Lady probably wasn’t Arlene because all NHS names started with A these days. Surely, some geek in a lab had found out that the letter A sounded somewhat more reassuring than any other letter that offered a sufficient variety of conceivable first names. Realising that poor “Arlene” also had some time to kill before she could sign off and go back to her quarters in Enfield Gardens or Epping Forrest, Maxine behaved herself and played the part she was here for. It was way up the social ladder, Maxine thought looking at “Arlene”, where The New Masters lived. Nevertheless, she did her the favour of nodding politely and uttering reassuring noises every now and then to make sure “Arlene” got the impression Maxine knew what she was talking about and was not indeed another bit of Trash from the estates.
By now, Maxine had lost count of the number of NHS jobs she had done. It all started quite innocently when she was still in third grade with growing spare toe nails and ear lobes just for the fun of it. No one weally needed these spares but as growing things was part of Our Curriculum, kids had to be made aware of the importance of work if they ever wanted to have any hope of securing jobs from the NHS. And what fun it was! Of course, you couldn’t start with growing arms or legs or whole internal organs (especially brains) off the bat with school children but you had to start somewhere. It was a stated policy of Our NHS that “There’s a Cure for Everything but Hate” and solutions could and would be found if, say, the need arose for a new tummy or a brain transplant for a three-year-old. “Solutions at Our Hand”, the NHS poster tooted proudly in the confy where “Arlene” made Maxine feel welcome. And Maxine found this very reassuring because she weally weally liked helping people. After all, that’s what she had learned in school.
After almost an hour of relentless posh-talk, Our Nice Lady lifted Her Niqab to throw one last, inquisitive glance at Maxine. Of course, she knew this part of the routine: the foodstuffs and forbidden substances part. There would be routine testing right after Maxine had declared herself willing to help that poor chap from Piccadilly (or wherever, Maxine thought) who needed boobs in a skin tone only she could provide. Our Boobs Job was supposed to take between four to six weeks with the same period defined as convalescence time after successful removal and fully paid as part of the one-day-on-one-day-off hoppy week arrangement, a Stated Government Policy.
And should anything untoward happen during the growth period or thereafter, the assignment would be cancelled, the partly finished body parts removed from her and/or the recipient’s body and invalidated in Our Incendiary at Maxine’s expense. She was expressly forbidden to partake in pork, alcohol and other problematic substances like Coca Cola and ice cream (they never got around to fixing that bit of their presentation, Maxine thought, wondering again whether ice cream was verboten by itself or only when washed down with a Coke, in case you could afford one). Any taking out of Our Proprietary Stem Cell Matter before the job was finished would be considered a severe breach of contract, also any selling on of body parts fully or partially grown except to Our NHS and Our Registered Agencies would also result in termination of contract for the foreseeable future.
“Sign here, please”, Our Nice Lady said, pointing to the dotted line.
All done and dusted, Maxine thought, in under one hour. “Arlene” put Her Niqab back on and popped it shut; it was so much more hygienical that way, Maxine thought. “Arlene” then escorted Maxine through a succession of doors and hallways on the ground floor towards the lab were testing would begin.
Maxine could never stop wondering about the vast expanses of highly polished surfaces all around her. Spotless, radiant and shiny walls floors and ceilings, as if built yesterday, tiptop and absolutely first class, The Envy of the World (and indeed elsewhere, as someone once famously said). A far cry from the North-West Tower of The Covent Garden Estate where she and her mother lived. Well it wasn’t too bad, weally. Charmaine only wanted the best for her daughter, I’m sure, that’s probably why she met Martin and got pregnant. After all, life was just that bit easier for kids when they were not too light skinned these days; what with the ozone layer and all that. Maxine never got to know her father because he re-migrated to Afruca when she was still very small, but at least she and Charmaine were living in Central London and not some god forsaken place that gave you the doldrums, like Wakefield or Chester.
Freddy was from Chester, maybe that’s why he was so keen to go to Cumbria for that blasted weekend. Maxine had still had the odd ear on her back then because the NHS were having an incident with their computer software the night before and couldn’t take it off in the morning. It did have to stay there over the weekend and the ghastly thing did almost put Freddy off the act because it made him feel like someone else was listening in on him until they covered it with a napkin. It was weally weally awkward, Maxine thought, all the trillions spent on this beautiful trip and that lovely hotel, she was so sorry but Freddy always felt like someone was listening in on him. Must come with the job being a Member of Parliament – as if anyone cared what that old bore had to say anyhow, Maxine thought and snapped out of her trance.
“Here we are,” Our Nice Lady said, offered Maxine a seat on a small stool in the middle of the room and left without saying good bye.
© Guardian Council 2018