He lay stretched out on the beach and felt the warm glow of the sun and the faint sea breeze on his skin. To his left he could hear the murmur of conversation, and in the distance the delighted shrieks of children playing on the sand and in the sea. The sea mirrored the cobalt blue sky, and the foam was white where the waves broke. An occasional gull dipped on the waves and flew off with a morsel of food. He felt that he was beginning to live. He looked searchingly at the scene before him, and sank back, closing his eyes, his thoughts lost in meditation . . .
People seemed different on holiday: for a week or a fortnight in the year they were carefree. He contrasted in his mind the worn and worried faces that he saw in the tube trains every morning and evening going to and from work. Those deadpans were the same people who on holiday were happy. Of course, he was no different. He would have to spend a lifetime at a monotonous job, with an occasional glimpse of what life could be like. Yet no doubt a life of leisure could also be monotonous, but there were such long stretches of work ahead, and at the end of it, what?
Work seemed to crush out any creative inspirations. He smiled grimly as he recalled having escaped to Epping Forest on Saturdays with his brushes and paints in order to attempt to catch on paper the changing shades of the green foliage. Yes, it was an attempt; that is all he could say, but the effort was worth while, because it prevented him from getting into a rut—of becoming a work beast. Of having no interest in life except work.
Why was it that he hated work? He recalled that when he was young, life seemed like an adventure. Then he was fired with ambition. “Work hard, my boy, and you will reach the top of the tree,” was the advice of his father. Well, he had always worked hard . . . He had long ago learned that efficiency did not increase his earning capacity. It is true that he had been grudgingly given a rise when he had married, but he still had only enough to eke out week by week, and this applied to the other chaps on the job. Did he hate work because a lifetime was expended doing the same routine, and of being denied the right to enjoy and have the good things of life. Or was it because of the mental conflict of holding a job he disliked, in order that he could exist. He had noticed of late that he had become more irritable. To him, his future seemed hopeless. Yet there were thousands in a similar position to him. What did they think and feel? Or had they become part of the machines they tended? This was the machine age and the machines had left their mark. This was the age of despair, and the future seemed grim and dark.
He shuddered slightly. Overhead a seagull circled and dipped and gave its strident call as if to mock him.
S. W. C.