The Hipster Who Leapt Through Time Opening
Five. The lights are on. A wash of yellow heat directed at Nisha, bringing out the makeup she’d been plastered in by the makeup team. Just enough to cover the bags beneath her eyes. Just enough to hide the hangover.
Four. The autocue was ready. A square of words to feed into her brain to take the thinking out of the equation.
Three. The guest to her left was nervous. Beads of sweat running down his forehead. Loosening his shirt collar. Coughing into his hand.
Two. A drop leapt from the guest’s chin, landed on the slide of skin beneath his throat and disappeared into the black hole of his open collar.
One. Her stomach wrenched at the thought of the salty fluids finding the man’s chest hair. Surely a balmy forest of dark and grey. She winced, looked off camera, forced her mind to something else. The thought of the red wine she’d drank the night before came to her mind and she hiccuped. She needed to stop everything, just hold on, give herself some fresh air. Just a quick breather—
It’s go time.
“Hello. You’re watching The Good Morning TV Show with me, Nisha Bhatia.” She ran on auto-pilot. The words fell from her mouth as easy as alcohol found its way in. She smiled, all-pearly-whites, cheeks to the ceiling, and made sure to look at the right camera. Easy. The red light marked the spot. ““Welcome back. I hope you had a chance to grab a cup of tea and a bit of brekkie. In the last segment, we got to meet Barry and his dog, Susan — the record-breaking Great Dane, the biggest dog in the country.” None of her own words. All from the autocue. “Can, I just say, somebody should talk to that dog, she was backstage demanding treats. You could say, she was being a big you-know-what.”
That last bit wasn’t on the autocue. Improv. Not her strong point. She laughed at her own joke anyway. She couldn’t just leave it hanging.
She saw the twenty-plus crew members hiding behind the wall of equipment, dancing in the darkness, never smiling, always working. If she did catch a smile from one of the crew members it was likely to be a smile at her expense for saying something stupid on-air.
She looked over to her guest, the thuggish man who’d killed people in the desert and wrote a book about it because it made him feel bad. She laughed a little louder until he joined in with his own faux-chuckle.
“And now I’m joined by my guest — soldier, writer, warrior, Alan Whitman.” She turned to him. “How are you doing today Alan?”
Nisha forced her eyes to stay on his, but she found her focus dropping to the sweaty open collar again. She tried to stop, to keep on the blue circles of his eyes. Wandering even a millimetre would look huge on the camera. The hundreds of viewers drinking their tea, eating their toast, would look at her wandering eyes and think she were aloof or disinterested, which is a big no-no for daytime TV presenting.
“I’m good thank you, Nisha,” he said, a little too quiet, but it was okay. It would be one of the heartfelt interviews rather than the loud and bubbly ones. She lifted her knee and wrapped her hands around, interlocking her fingers. A posture she’d found to make guests feel relaxed, at home, easy peasy.
The idea was to make the guest forget about the camera. To forget that the footage was being broadcast to millions of British people. Hell, there was even the internet now. They could say something stupid. End up remixed and auto-tuned. They could go viral.
He nervously coughed into his hand and his eyes darted from one side of the room to the other.
“All things considering,” he finally added.
“That’s right,” Nisha said, trying to match his sombre tone. “Because you’ve not had a good time of it recently have you, Alan?”
“No I have not, to be honest,” he said, shaking his head like a child who’d had a bad day at school.
There was almost an awkward silence before—
“Go on,” she said, willing him onwards.
“So, I’m a soldier — served in Iraq.”
She nodded, leaned in closer. She could smell the oily mist of sweat that surrounded him. A salty aura. She tried to hide her disgust. She had to show concern when it was due, happiness when it was due. She was a puppet. The producers of the show had the hands inside her. Her operators.
“And … I saw things, action, killing, horrible, dreadful things, that no one should ever have to see in their lives.”
“Mmmmm,” she said, nodding harder. In the fake window behind her they had a backdrop of the River Thames. The big wheel — the London Eye — in plain sight. She wondered if she’d ever go on it. It was a still picture, but the wheel seemed to be spinning on its axis. Slowly, but moving for sure.
“Yes, well.” He wiped the sweat from his brow. “There are times now … when … I wake up from my nightmares and … these nightmares are so bad I often wake up and the bed is saturated.”
There was a moment of silence. Uncomfortably long until—
“Saturated?” she said, lost in the conversation. ”With sweat?”
Alan shook his head. He was confused. Reddening. Maybe even embarrassed.
“Go on,” she said, watching the wheel spin in her peripheral vision.
“So I, with the help of my family, wrote a book which documents my experiences … the horror of it all … the killing …” Alan’s voice trailed off. In the distance, she heard a faint whine, quiet at first, but building. She felt off-kilter. More than the hangover. Her balance was off, like the world’s gravity was rotating around her head, pulling her downwards towards an ever-moving floor. She could see Alan — suit and sweat — and she could see the cameras, the crew, even the backdrop of London, but it was all too distant. The wheel shouldn’t be moving. It didn’t make sense to her. The planet spun with increasing intensity and she couldn’t make sense of it. She just needed to lie down. If she could just lie down for a second.
If she could please just fucking lie down!