I climbed up the three steps to the huge timber and brass door then paused. It didn’t look like the kind of door made for me, this thing opened for captains of industry and important people, the kind of person I hoped to become. I wiped my feet twice before I realsed what I was doing.
“Would you get a grip,” I said silently to myself. I was acting like I was going to rob the bank, not ask for a loan. I pushed the door open and the interior was even grander than the entrance. Polished marble floors and vaulted ceilings stupified the likes of me. I spotted the reception desk and hurried over before security tried to throw me out.
“Good morning, Sir. How can I help you today?” She was young and very cute but the large diamond on her left hand told me I wasn't the only one to think so.
"I've have an appointment with Mr Philips.”
"I've have an appointment with Mr Philips.”
“Name?” she asked, clacking her perfectly manicured nails on her keyboard.
The girl giggled and it was a delightful laugh, it made me fall in love with her a little bit. “I mean’t your name.”
“Oh...” I wanted the ground to open up and swallow me. “Jason Bell," I near whispered at her. What a schmuck.
A couple of key strokes later she looked up at me, her eyes dancing with delight. She was truly amazing. “He's free. His first appointment finished early. You can take the elevator up to six, his office is at the end of the corridor.”
“Thanks,” I mumbled and scuttled away with my face burning with humiliation.
“Oh, Mr Bell,” she called, and I had to turn around.
“Good luck,” she said with a beaming smile and then winked at me. Did I say that I fell in love with her a bit? Change that to a lot. As the elevator doors closed, I got a twinkle of the diamond on her finger and promised myself that someday I would be able to give a rock like that to a girl just like her.
On six, I got out and followed the corridor to the end where I encountered a door with a brass nameplate. Max Philips, Student Loans. I knocked and a man’s voice said, “Come in.” The office was bigger than I thought a student loan officer’s office would be. The walls were decorated with framed diplomas and photographs from high-brow events. The man in the photos seemed the picture of success and very unlike the man pacing around behind a large desk strewn with folders. His tie was puled down and two shirt buttons were undone. There were sweat patches under his arms and his eyes were bloodshot. He looked like a guy that hadn't seen a good night sleep in years.
“Sit, sit,” he said indicating the chair across from him as he rummaged through his desk for something.
“Ah, here it is he said,” finding a bluff colored folder with my name on it. The folder was terribly thin, a bit like my bank account. He flicked open the cover and let himself flop back into his chair. “Warton? My old stomping ground. Congratulations.”
“Thanks,” I said feeling my cheeks color up again.
“I see you're looking to finance the full amount, including housing, is that correct?”
“Yes, if possible,” I said, straightening up in the chair. It seemed we were right into the heart of the discussion.
“Can’t your folks cover any of the expense? This isn't going to be cheap you know.”
“Not really. They've still got four at home and to be honest, I'm the first in my family to get accepted in any college, never mind Warton.”
“Local boy does good, hey?”
“I guess...something like that.”
He slapped the folder closed and leaned back in his chair, stabling his fingers together behind his head - inadvertently showing off the full extent of the sweat stains under his arms. “What’s the plan? Where do you see yourself in fifteen years?”
Now this was a question I was ready for, I had been ready for it all my life. “I want to be on Wall Street, the King of Wall Street. I want to have millions running through my hands every day. That’s what I want. I want it all!”
He unclasped his hands and let his chair fall forward. His eyes stopped dancing in his head for the first time since I came into the office and he regarded me with a stony look. Perhaps I had put too much zeal in my answer.
“The American dream,” he mumbled and a little of the color drained from his face. It was like he had been punched or drugged or something. “You want it all kid, who doesn’t.” He stood and turned away from me, putting his hands into his pockets and faced out his office window. A minute passed, then four. I knew I had blown the meeting, there was no way he was going to approve my loan. I quietly levered myself out of the leather chair but he spoke and stopped me mid movement.
“Ok,” he said softly to the window.
“Ok?” I asked, not understanding what he was OK about.
“Yea...I’ll give you the money,” he said, just as quietly.
“Are you serous!” I yelled, not intending to yell but I couldn’t help myself. “Jesus H, that’s fantastic!”
He turned and glared at me, his blood-shot eyes nearly glowing, “You got to hear the full deal before thanking me.” He picked up the folder and slapped it against the desk. “Four years tuition, housing, medical and full package cover. That comes to three hundred and twenty-one thousand dollars. You start incurring interest as fees are drawn down. The interest is eight and a half percent a year. We don’t expect payment until you finish your studies and take up your first position. After that we'll abridge your wages to the tune of twenty five percent until your debt is paid.”
“That's totally acceptable.”
“WAIT,” he roared slamming his fists into the desk. I fell back into the chair and froze with my hand’s half drawn to my chest like a chipmunk. There was something wrong with this guy. Was he having a nervous breakdown or something? Whatever it was, he was losing it.
“Wait,” he said again, his tone more controlled. “I haven’t told you everything yet.” He moved so his head was craned across the desk, fixing me with wild eyes. “I’m going to take your years, I’m going to shackle you to a desk, and you won’t even object. I’m going to take your youth, your spirit, your drive, your majesty and I’m going to squeeze them until I have wringed every ounce of wonder from them and when you're old and withered, I’m going to toss you aside without a second though. Is that a price you are willing to pay?” he said, his nostrils were flaring.
“Are you saying I can have the loan?” I asked at last. This guy was nuts, but he was still the man holding my life in his hands.
“Yes, that is what I'm saying. If you want this life, this money... you can have it.”
“Yes...I’m sure, l want it more than anything.”
“Sign on the line,” the man said, pointing at the bottom of the document. I picked up a pen and put my name across the line. As I laid the pen aside the man looked at me like he was disappointed, but he held out his hand and said, “Congratulations.”
I shook the man’s hand and he tried to smile at me. “I’m sure you'll have a great time at Warton. Remember, we're always here to help.”
I couldn’t believe my luck as I rode the elevator down to the lobby. The attractive girl at reception looked up and made an expression with her face that said, “Well?” I gave her two thumbs up and she beamed at me. I walked out those doors feeling on top of the world.
That was forty years ago. Today I'm standing at my own corner office on the 46th floor, my own tie is at half mast and sweat stains mar my shirt. I've a beautiful wife who loves my money and her personal trainer, I've a mansion with twelve bedrooms, where I get to sleep four hours most nights. I've money to burn and I’m the envy of Wall Street. In short, I got everything I ever wanted and today, just today, I understood fully what Mr Philips charged me for that loan. I rest my head against the glass and look down at the million twinkling lights laid out at my feet. How I wish I could go back to that day, to that office and slap the pen out of my stupid hand. Only now do I understand the price and it's too much.
I feel the pinch and know my heart has skipped another beat. The time is here. I feel a band of pain cross my chest and I cry out but there is no-one to hear me in this ivory tower. I slide down the glass, the twinkling lights twinkled more magnificently because of the tears I weep over my life. A life wasted in search of lies. I’m a fool, a royal fool, but it’s too late now.
Photo Credit : Billy Kidd