They Are Out to Get Me, by Jane Chisnall
I can remember that, at first, I knew I was imagining things. I believed very strongly that my boss, Mr Houghton, and his henchmen on the board of directors were playing tricks and deliberately making my life miserable, but I can distinctly remember telling myself that I was under a lot of stress and that they couldn’t really be ganging up on me.
They were incompetent, for a start. Weak-faced men who propped up each other’s careers and played golf together on Saturdays. It was laughable to even think that men like that could carry out a programme of targeted mayhem and confusion upon me.
I worked in a large charity organisation, ‘Food for Hope’, which held a kind of lavish food-bank on Saturdays at church halls and playing fields right across the country.
The idea was that those who had plenty – plenty of money, plenty of food, plenty of warm clothes in winter, would turn up at the allotted time and place, pay five pounds for a spot in the church hall or at one of the trestle tables on the school sports ground, and then give away some of their stuff – mostly food, but blankets, clothes, curtains and other assorted necessities of life were also welcome.
The poor were admitted free, of course.
‘Food for Hope’ was praised very highly in the media. It worked for a lot of reasons, but one of the most important was that the days were arranged as a big party. Vendors set up hot food stalls, from hotdog stands to hog roasts. If you could afford to buy the food, you paid, and if you couldn’t you didn’t. No one asked to see any proof that you were in reduced circumstances; the whole thing worked on trust.
Local musicians often turned up to play, and added to the festive atmosphere. Police officers and medical workers devoted a few hours of their time to make sure that the day ran smoothly and there was no trouble. Businesses in the party supplies line would turn up and inflate a bouncy castle for the kiddies, and everyone agreed that it was a smashing day out, and that a sense of community and bonhomie had really returned to the country after everyone had suffered grimly for decades with a culture that had looked inwards instead of opening its heart to the world.
Nice sentiments, but if you followed the money you came up with a different and rather less wholesome picture.
The board of directors, Mr Houghton and his ilk, creamed off all those entrance fees for themselves. ‘Food for Hope’ days might look like magnificent, well-oiled events, but the reality was that it was just a bunch of people doing things for free.
Events like that would ordinarily cost thousands of pounds. I wasn’t supposed to – at least, it wasn’t in my job description – but I had investigated the cost of other, similar events.
For any other event organisers, there were licences to be bought, staff to be paid, equipment to be purchased. Health and safety had to be risk-assessed, and clean-up costs had to be figured into the equation.
But because Mr Houghton and his slimy friends had sold the idea to the nation in the guise of free love and community spirit, millions of people in towns and cities and villages throughout the country were giving away huge fortunes every week in cash, time and goods.
I had worked out some approximate figures in rough spreadsheets and I foresaw that within a year, all the hundreds of thousands of people who were supporting this shadowy charity would be bankrupt and destitute.
I had been holding my breath every day for months, waiting for the crash to come.
Half a million people every week paid the five pounds entrance fee to have the honour of giving away their time and belongings.
That was two and a half million pounds every week that ‘Food for Hope’ made. Apart from the board of directors, there were only five part-time staff. I was one of them, and I can tell you that my wages did not make much of a dent in the profits of the fat cats at the top.
Not that a charity makes a profit, of course. But Mr Houghton awarded himself a salary of eight hundred thousand pounds a year.
It was worth it, the press said, because he was a visionary.
I didn’t just know too much, but I also had a perspective on it that could close down the whole operation.
The one weakness in the ‘Food for Hope’ scheme was the entrance fee, and like the born advertising men they were, Houghton and co. turned the weakness into a selling point. Five pounds wasn’t much to ask, they said. Not when you’re making sure that people get enough food. Not when you’re making sure that kids go to school in warm clothes on a snowy winter morning. Not when you can come to a magnificent party and pay another five pounds for a bacon sandwich.
People didn’t want to get something for nothing. It was simple psychology. If all the wealthy people who joined in this charade had wanted to give away their stuff for free, they would have been doing it already. But make them pay, and the queues would be around the block.
People liked to feel they were getting value for money, and if there were no money involved, there could be no possible value. But if you stuck a price tag on it, it all suddenly meant something.
There were plans in the pipeline to add another tier of philanthropy into the mix. A gold level of charitable giving, if you will, at ten pounds a head, which would buy you the opportunity to sell your wares at your particular stall, as well as give them away, and to donate the profits you made that day to the ‘Food for Hope’ fund. There was also talk of a platinum level, where if you paid fifty pounds, you wouldn’t even have to turn up at all, which would be a boon for busy people who worked weekends.
They were thoughtful like that, were Mr Houghton and his golfing friends. They hated to think of anyone feeling left out.
The cost to the organisation was zero.
Except for the hundred or so hours a week of minimum wages that they paid to five part-time staff, and the salaries of the board of directors, of course, and their expenses. Mr Houghton had to have a house in the country and an apartment in central London, wholly paid for from the charity’s bank account. And since the charity was expanding internationally, he and the others had to fly, frequently, to deprived areas in California, the Bahamas and New York, to see what had to be done to ease social suffering there.
They had to stay in five star hotels. They had a lot of work to do and needed reliable and secure Internet connections and conference facilities. And they had to entertain the brightest and best in a fitting manner, in order to attract further funds and support, so there were opera tickets to buy, and because they entertained regularly, they might as well buy a VIP Box and be done with it.
It was because I knew all of these things that they had started the conspiracy against me.
To drive me mad, see? Because if I’m certified insane, no one will listen to me. I know that the others in the office are whispering about me. I heard Tom say to Debbie that I’m developing a few tics. It’s true that my hands shake quite a lot, and my eye twitches, and when I talk I tend to babble, but that’s because I’m trying to hide so much from them; how much I really know, until the right time comes.
It’s all down to stress. I’d love to be able to go to my doctor and get something to calm my nerves and help me sleep, but I daren’t risk it. If I do, I might get sent to talk to a therapist, and people might see that in the wrong light if it were to come out when I make my move and tell the world about the charlatans I work for. They might think I’m not quite right in the head, and it’s important that the information I give to the world isn’t undermined.
Because the ‘Food for Hope’ scheme does a lot of good. It really has transformed the country. The rich-poor divide has narrowed to near-invisibility, and we are the only nation in the world that has begun to operate a successful voluntary economy, where people pay what they can, if they can afford it.
And whole industries have grown up on the foundation of the ‘Food for Hope’ campaign. Craftsmen and women come to give away their goods for free to the poor at these things, and whilst they are there, they attract the interest of the wealthy.
I’m not saying that it doesn’t work. That’s not my point at all. What I’m saying is that it’s wrong.
But in order to convince a whole, happy nation of that, I’m going to have to spin my words and statistics very carefully. People are going to have to see things my way, or they simply won’t understand.
So I try to ignore all the petty things that Mr Houghton and the others do to torment and torture me. And I continue to collect evidence against them, and arrange it in the worst possible light. And when the time is right, I will reveal it to the world.
And I try to stay sane, whilst I wait and bide my time. They do small things to try to get under my skin and distract me from my purpose. Things that would make people think I was delusional and paranoid, if I told anyone about them. I know that Mr Houghton thinks I’ll crack under the strain, and I can sense that he is planning to mount an attack to discredit me. Just yesterday he came into my office especially to offer me some ‘Occupational Therapy’. He was keen to say that it would be completely at the organisation’s expense, and that I could take some time away from work, too, for a month or two, if I needed some personal space.
I said no, of course. I see right through him. I know the things he does. The things they all do, to get to me and grind me down.
I don’t have a single matching pair of socks left.
That’s how small and petty they are. They break into my home when I’m not there, and they steal my socks.
Jane Chisnall loves the characters she writes about, even though for the most part they are nutsbananas-crazyglue insane. As well as having work appear at the magnificent Infective Ink, she has a story forthcoming at the marvellous Bewildering Stories.
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Tags: dysfunctional, Jane Chisnall, mental illness