Declan kept a notebook in his right hip pocket, and was forever flipping it out during meetings and scribbling in it. No one knew what he wrote, but we were pretty sure it didn’t have anything to do with work.
“What are you writing,” Frank asked one day.
“That’s for me to know…” Declan didn’t bother finishing his sentence.
“Haughty, arrogant, git,” Frank muttered.
One Friday afternoon, as we stood around the sales office drinking the week’s profits, Declan started telling me about his notebook. He was three sheets to the wind.
“I’m studying self-consciousness,” he said. The pride in his voice was tangible despite his drunken slur.
I considered asking him a polite question, but there was no need: there was no stopping him.
“People are so messed up,” he said. “Not me, of course, but other people, you know?” This wasn’t a question.
“I’m observing people who feel like they’re being observed,” there was a gleam in his eyes as he said this, and he paused as if giving me time to come to terms with the import of his words.
“You know, like, when people get on the bus, and they’re up there paying their money, and they think everyone is looking at them, and they’re carrying ten bags, or whatever, and they fumble their change, and they get embarrassed. I record that stuff.”
“Oh,” I said.
Declan pulled the notebook out of his pocket, opened it, and waved it under my nose. The page blurred before my eyes, but even if he’d held it still, I’m not sure I could have deciphered his manic scrawl. The page was unlined, and his handwriting covered it in oppressive waves of black ink.
“Why?” I asked. I wanted to know.
“Because…” he started, and then leaned towards me unsteadily. He lowered his voice before continuing, “Because I’m going to work it out, I’m going to solve the problem that makes losers fumble their coins on the bus, or trip as they walk on stage, or say the wrong thing in their job interview.”
“Oh,” I said.
“I’m going to analyse all this,” he waved the notebook grandly, “and then I’ll write an essay, or a book, and people will read it, and something will click in their heads, and they’ll be cured. It’s sheer genius, don’t you think?”
Declan picked up a full bottle of beer, threw his head back, and downed it in one long draw. His Adams apple slid up and down as he swallowed.
Frank started laughing, then. He had been standing with his back to us, and listening into our conversation.
“God, Declan,” Frank said. “Everyone thinks about that stuff, and I can tell you now: you’ll be the last person to figure it out.”
Frank’s outburst silenced the room. Everyone strained to hear what Frank was saying, and all eyes were on Declan. Declan’s face took on a sober countenance.
“I…” he said, and then turned and fled the room.
Frank watched him go and then shrugged. “Pretentious git,” he said.