Down one long and blameless silvery corridor after another, a Moustachioed Gentleman ran, his feet pounding the floor, the men on his heels the whole time. They were shouting but he wasn’t listening. This was a different part of the complex, a part that the Moustachioed Gent did not recognise. He took a left and then a right and found himself in another corridor, one that ended with a locked door.
He cursed under his breath. The two men had slowed to a walk and were stepping menacingly towards him.
“Ooh, we’ve got you now,” said one, teasing.
The Moustachioed Gent knew that there was only one way out of this. He reached into his trouser pocket and gripped the razor with his right hand. This movement did not go unnoticed by the two men and their movements became more urgent as they stepped towards him.
“Why, you-“ began the first man. “Get him!” shouted the second.
The two men flung themselves in the direction of the Moustachioed Gent’s right hand as he brought it up to his face but it was too late. The tail ends of their leaps turned to slow motion dives and they found themselves grasping at thin air as so much of the Moustachioed Gent’s moustache hit the ground beside them.
For the Moustachioed Gent the world began to spin anti-clockwise as thirty of his years fell away with his discarded moustache, spinning and shrinking until he finally stopped somewhere around age eight, tangled in sellotape but safe.
The birthday present sat on the table, a mess of half-paper wrapping and discarded bits of tape. The eight year-old Moustachioed Gent stood over it, his moustache little more than a fuzzy ghost slug above his boyish mouth. His hands were unfathomably stuck together in the messy tangle of tape that young children have a habit of becoming. He sighed and lamented the fact that he always ended up stuck back in the same moment of the past.
“Why do I always end up here?” he asked no one in particular.
And when his Mum shouted through from the next room to check he was ok, he just padded through to see her and got on with the job of being eight years old and having his hands clumsily stuck together with tape.
“How did you get like that?” she asked, quiet and forlorn.
“It just happened,” he said, eight years old but weighed down with the hirsute wisdom of his future self and somewhat embarrassed by this tapey tangle.
She unstuck him tenderly and then they got on with things as they had done before and before and even before that.
The years passed by and the Moustachioed Gent grew taller and older and his moustache grew too, thriving in a linear manner, always progressing forward with time. Thicker, bigger, bushier, lushier. As a teenager it grew in length until it comprehensively covered his top lip, developed a more muscular thickness in his youth and as he became a man it added depth and a vibrant personality all of its own.
It was a slow, pedestrian kind of time travel but the Moustachioed Gent rarely manipulated the hirsute time line. On the occasion of his first kiss for example, he rode back in his moustache time and again to enjoy it over and over. He and his girl would kiss. He would pluck a single tiny hair from his moustache. Time would reverse. They would kiss. He would pluck the hair again. Time would obediently reverse. He just wanted to feel the same thing again.
For most of the time he allowed time to run parallel to his own life. It was best that way.
The Moustachioed Gent had spent his teenage years aspiring to be an astronaut, to travel in space rather than time, but then in his youth he reconsidered and decided to train as a chef. After a short period of professional turmoil he did indeed become a chef and secured a position in a kitchen which employed a total of 20,000 chefs, which at the time was approximately 1.546% of the population. In this kitchen, being a chef did not involve wearing an apron and a big white hat, turning tomatoes under a grill and shouting at waiters. Instead it was a job which involved spending a lot of time sat at a desk and working the food from there.
A typical day for the Moustachioed Gent went something like this: walk to work, swipe his ‘carrot’ card at the entrance to the complex and make his way down a series of long and blameless silvery corridors until he reached the kitchen which he shared with 156 other chefs, sit down at his desk, take out his chopping board, turn on the oven underneath his desk, take the food – usually vegetables but also sometimes pork or fish or beef but never chicken – out of the fridge on the other side of his desk and peel and chop and prepare the food in whichever other way may be called for, perhaps use his desktop hob or cross the office to use the communal pasta machine or the blender.
What happened to the food once he had finished the cooking was a bit of a mystery to the Moustachioed Gent, despite the fact that he had been taken on a tour of the whole complex – as all the chefs were – as part of his induction. The process involved magnets and steam and fax but beyond that he was not sure how it worked. Somehow the food was taken and made into the final product which was a series of little round white pills – each one blameless and anonymous. They would be packaged in little silver foil packets – rectangular futurestuffs that would then be sent to the supermarkets.
The general population would then buy the packets of pills and be able to get all the nutrition from the tasty meals cooked by the Moustachioed Gent and the other chefs without any hassle of cooking or chewing or even loading their fork. They would also get all the enjoyment of the fine ingredients sent straight to the necessary section of their brain, without bothering their taste buds about anything. There used to be another way of doing things but this was better, more efficient.
At the end of the day the Moustachioed Gent would switch off his oven, clean his utensils and make sure that his work station was ready to be used the following day. All the chefs were given a packet of pills on their way out, that night’s supper. And so life continued.
Maybe the Moustachioed Gent was just different or maybe it was an effect of the accumulated wisdom of having lived several times more life than most by way of his back-and-forth moustache time travel. But it seemed to him that there could be even more joy to be had from eating the food directly as it came and not in the new and efficient pill-packet form.
And so he began to experiment in secret, hiding small portions of his meals under his desk for consumption later on. Into his shirt pockets he tucked tiny squares of lasagne and he filled the hood of his coat with shepherd’s pie. Back at home he would try and choke down the meals in their pure form.
It was not easy. Having lived on the food pills all the way on his moustache ride through childhood, teenagehood and into adulthood, he found that his mouth was completely unused to crunching, chewing, tasting, swallowing and the effort it took to force down these un-processed meals left him a quivering, sweating, exhausted wreck. How he wished that he could force time forwards, just as he could pull it back.
Slowly, very slowly, he got better and better at it. And, once he had mastered the art of eating properly, he began to savour the taste of his creations and found that the real thing tasted better. A hundred marvellous times better.
And then the question became – how could he convince other people to try? This Moustachioed Gent was no young fool and he was not so naive to believe that if he took this idea to his employers they would cease production of the pills. He would have to strike out on his own. But who, in this day and age, had any kind of kitchen utensils at home? Who, for that matter, was able to purchase raw ingredients? The answer to both of those questions was “nobody.”
So the Moustachioed Gent began to experiment at work. “Bring down the system from within,” he thought, but did not say out loud. Every now and then he would cut his finished bakes into tiny squares and try to tempt some of his colleagues to have a go at eating real food. Those that accepted his challenge, believing it to be some kind of attempt at worktime daredevil japery, struggled. But a handful of colleagues who came back for another try began to admit to him: “You know, this might be better than the pills.” They seemed amused by this, as though the Moustachioed Gent was playing some kind of trick on them. And, of course, at the end of the working day, they headed home to take their food pills.
He had undertaken these experiments discretely, careful to elude the watching eye of the corporation. Still, the fear that they were watching his every move kept sneaking back into his thoughts. Were they on to him?
Of course they were on to him. In the control centre, two men – two men whose interests were not best served by the Moustachioed Gent inventing an alternative to their very profitable food pills – watched his ilicit taste tests on one of the televisions which made up a huge bank of chef-monitoring screens.
He was not the first. There had been other chefs who had tried to bring down the corporation. It was understandable, they spent all day working with real food and occasionally – just ocassionally – there must have been a temptation to try. Understandable, but not acceptable.
And, of course, they had been watching the Moustachioed Gent right from the start. All the other chefs who had tried to eat real food had worn moustaches. It was a strange fact, but there it was – all the chefs who had tried to bring down the corporation from within had worn moustaches. This meant that the job of monitoring the chefs who were likely to cause trouble was very simple – all that the men in the control room had to do was keep a watchful eye on those chefs who sported moustaches. They had considered the idea of refusing to employ any chefs who wore moustaches, but this idea had been rejected on the grounds that it would let the moustachioed chefs in on the fact that they were onto them.
It had become a kind of sport amongst the men in the control room. They watched the Moustachioed Gent as he began his experiments, let him build up some momentum and then – just as he reached the point where he was about to put some bigger plan into action – they moved to quash it.
“Nearly time?” Said one of them as they watched the screen.
“Yup. Nearly time,” the other agreed.
The first man drained the last of his cup of tea in one swift, gravity-defying slurp.
The second made a fist with one hand and punched the palm of the other.
As the men left the control room, the Moustachioed Gent was still packing up his things for the day, surreptitiously slipping some raw ingredients into his pockets and some utensils up his sleeves.
The two men stationed themselves at the door to the complex, ready to catch the Moustachioed Gent when he came to swipe out with his carrot card and make his way home for the evening. Except, he would not be going home that evening. They were going to make sure of that.
As the Moustachioed Gent rounded the corner and headed for the front door to the complex, walking with the strange gait of someone who has food and utensils secreted around their person, the two men spotted him straight away and began to make their way towards him. He must have noticed something in the menace of their facial expressions because as soon as he saw them he turned and made off in the opposite direction. And then the two men were pleased because it meant that the chase was on – and if there was anything they liked better than drinking hot drinks and watching things on screens, it was chasing.
Down one long and blameless silvery corridor after another, they chased the Moustachioed Gent, their feet pounding out cops-and-robber rhythms.
“Wheee!” shouted one of the men as he skidded to take a corner, enjoying himself a little too much.
They were into the bowels of the complex now, a set of corridors which seemed to go on forever and seemed to lead nowhere in particular, as if they had been created purely for the purpose of chasing itinerant chefs.
The Moustachioed Gent took a left and then a right and found himself in another corridor, one that ended with a locked door.
The two men slowed to a walk. One of them made a fist of one hand and punched the palm of his other hand, his signature move.
“Ooh, we’ve got you now,” he said, teasing.
They watched as the Moustachioed Gent put one hand into his trouser pocket. They knew what that meant.
“Why, you-“ began one of the men.
“Get him!” shouted the second.
The two men flung themselves in the direction of the Moustachioed Gent’s right hand as he brought the razor up to his face, but it was too late. The tail ends of their leaps turned to slow motion dives and they found themselves grasping at thin air as so much of the Moustachioed Gent’s moustache hit the ground beside them.
The Moustachioed Gent had disappeared, whisked off back in time to his childhood.
The two men got up and dusted themselves down. They looked at each other and gradually broke into chuckles. The chuckles became laughs and then graduated to guffaws. Their guffaws were big and hearty bear-bearded hilarity.
Where the Moustachioed Gent had ended up he was no threat to anyone. He was neatly tidied away somewhere else in time, which was a less messy ending than some of the other conclusions the two men had had prepared for him. This was best for everyone. They would just go back to the control room and watch the monitors until the next Moustachioed Gent would attempted to bring down the corporation.
“Come on, lets get back to the control room,” said one.
“It’s your turn to make a hot drink,” said the second.
“Why you-“ joked the second, shaking his fist.
The two broke into another round of guffaws which tumbled around them and bounced down the long and blameless corridors, echoing into the past and present and future.
Throughout the month of November, I am growing a moustache as part of Movember – a charity event supporting prostate cancer and testicular cancer initiatives. To find out more, look here, and if you would like to sponsor me, please look here. Thank you.