I am the richest man in the world. They say I am a recluse, I am afraid of doorknobs, I shower in purified water a dozen times a day, and I eat nothing but the flesh of sterilised fruit. It’s true; I am the richest man in the world, the rest doesn’t matter, it’s of no consequence, it’s irrelevant. All that matters is that these words reach you; that we touch.
I have no one you see – no mother, no father, no wife, no sons, no daughters, no family, no friends. Oh! I have slaves, paid slaves, unpaid sycophants, admirers, devotees even. I suspect that every second of every day my name is on the lips of someone; my name is typed into a search engine; my name is tweeted at the speed of light.
I live at a secret address in the city of London; from the outside, it merges into the streets, just another run-down multi-occupancy property. Inside, it’s different – my private heaven, my private hell. I won’t tell you where it is, you’ll only tell the press, then I’ll be besieged by hordes of desperate reporters with cameras and stupid questions. I’ll be digested, twisted, corrupted, and regurgitated in little boxes, neatly wrapped and categorised, another item on the shelves of the super-psyche-market to be picked up, examined, eaten and defecated.
Aeons ago, in another life, I came from the swamps, just like you, fought for air until my lungs grew, shook the mud from my webbed feet and rolled in the sun on the damp grass. I lifted my eyes to the moon and the stars, and cried like a wolf. I fashioned a stick of wood and dug out the sweet bodies of ants.
I shouted and screamed and laughed in the rain and danced on the graves of my enemies. I worshipped a God, I sucked a breast, I ran with the wind.
The streets of the city welcomed me, they bruised me and cut me, they fed me until they owned me. I learnt how to play their games, how to juggle their balls, how to hedge my bets, and eventually I won. I started to win and never stopped; now I have no need to play. The process is automatic, every day the treasures pour into my coffers like pins flying to a magnet, like water to the sea. I am the sea.
On the streets of the city, I am the dreamer, nothing will hurt me, it’s under my control. I succumb to the dream. A bench in a park, I have nothing.
“Bit cold today mate! Bet you wish you’d worn a coat?”
“What? – cold, coat? Yes, you’re right.”
“Nice weather for the time of year though, innit?”
“‘Ere, fancy a drink mate? Warm you up, a nice tot of whisky or something?”
“Sorry – got no money.”
“That’s OK mate, look, I’ve got a pocketful, it’s a day off, got to take one sometimes, get away from the office, it’s mad in there, like a bit of peace and quiet now and again, I do. You coming?”
“Two large whiskies – ta. Here, get that down you.”
What shall happen next, in my dream, how do I want it to develop? Stop – go with the flow.
“That’s done the trick, want another? Go on, I’m buying.”
“What’s your name then? I’m Frank – Frank and honest, Ha! Ha!”
“I’m Rich, Richard.”
“What do you do, Rich? Is that what they call you? Rich.”
“Yes, that’s what I’m called, I don’t really do anything.”
“On the dole eh? – Don’t worry, I understand. Say, do you want a job? There’s one going where I work. It’s not much of a job, they need someone to look after the executive car park, you know, keep it clean, wash the cars, stop the plebs – like me – coming in. Ha! Ha! The last bloke done a runner, with the chairman’s wife, would you believe?”
“Why not? That would be interesting.”
In the basement, below the city, I sweep, I wash, I park the cars, the Jaguars, the large Mercedes, the unhappy chairman’s Rolls-Royce. Frank runs the guts of the establishment; he is the porter, the caretaker, the cook, and the cleaner. I am his lower parts, the entrance to the womb of his empire. No questions asked, two hundred quid a week in my hand; it piles up in my unused shower cubicle, more unwanted cash to add to the pile. When will it end? This dream. I suspect that Frank has got me on the payroll, another John Smith – two hundred quid a week and the rest in his pocket – why not? I am a man without a life. How many others does he exploit in this way? His merchandise is lies, he uses me, he uses his masters and his garden of deceit flourishes.
I can see what is happening, Frank corrupts, a worm in the fruits of The Company, he turns the whole harvest rotten. In the dark corners of the car park he takes them aside, he has a quiet word. In exchange for packets of information, they give him bulging envelopes. Some of them cry and plead with him, he has no mercy. They are demoralised, robbed of their arrogance and the will to succeed.
Tea break – “Look Rich, it’s the FT, the Financial Times, the nobs read this every day – idiots, they’re idiots. See this article, it’s about our Company, disastrous results. That lot couldn’t organise a wedding – we’re going down the pan. Ha! Ha!”
Twelve hundred quid later I decide I am tired; I am bored with the dream. I seek him out in a dark corner.
“Frank, I have a confession. I am Rich, really rich. I am the richest man in the world.”
His reaction is immediate, intense, violent. “Get the hell out of here, stupid bastard, go away, don’t come back; go back to your bench and your empty pockets.”
I stand and stare, startled.
He pushes me hard. “Fuck off, d’you hear, fuck off!”
I am alone, on the street again, free again.
Back in my castle, I start to read the FT for the first time. I follow the fortunes of the Company – it continues, the fall of Frank’s empire, their defeat is total; they are annihilated. Investigations are promised. What about the poor workers?
I pick up one or two of the reins of power, send for reports, analyses, stretch my fingers into remote parts of my empire. The global headquarters is inefficient, it has no coherent janitorial service. I instruct my executives, I am taking a personal interest. I want to vet the applicants for the job, we must have the right person.
Four weeks later the smells of the ripening fruit attract the right animal. It is him, Frank. Employ – I order, that’s the one.
The worm is in, the decline can commence.
Now I withdraw again; wait for the fall, my liberation.
I am the richest man in the world.
I am the loneliest man in the world.