Chapters 4-7

Ch 4: The Campaign

The advertising campaign that Cream prescribed to Common Grounds grew into one of the most successful of all time, and became a case study for advertising scholars worldwide.

The idea started off as Cambria’s, who in a roundtable discussion, was trying to moot the idea of a coffee for everyone.

Cambria was very methodical in the way she approached ideation, and had a knack to draw insight out of numbers. As a standard prequel to brainstorming, she pored through stacks of research findings, case studies, focus group results, learnings from past trends... whatever she could get her hands on to form a complete picture. At this phase of her process, it did not matter whether the information she was gleaning was relevant or not. Her goal was merely to scrawl as much onto the walls of her mind, to quilt a honeycomb of knowledge she could later use to fuel her thinking. When her brain felt like it was going to burst, she was ready to begin.

Cambria’s study of coffee started with a study of tea. She discovered that in Great Britain, a staggering 165 million cups of tea were consumed each day, more than double that of coffee. Digging deeper, she found that things were not always this way. Long before tea gained its popularity in Britain, there was only coffee. Coffee houses existed as trade centres, as a venue for men to gather and exchange business and political news, a place to read the newspapers and to meet friends. Tea at the time, because it was rare and expensive, was a novelty item enjoyed merely by the aristocracy. But as the centuries wore on, British rule over the world’s largest tea colonies drove its price down, and the opening of trade routes made tea accessible to the man on the street. Over time, tea became more popular than coffee. More popular than ale. More popular than gin. Eventually, it was declared the national beverage. Its place in history was sealed.

But Cambria felt that something was missing from the equation. She was convinced that for a beverage to become an institution, there had to be more. Forces at work more powerful than just price and accessibility. After careful study, she deduced tea’s rapid rise and dominance to one more thing: its power to bring people together.

You communed over tea to announce a pregnancy. To share details of your weekend. Air your frustrations. Confess love. Boast of a sexual romp. More commonly, you got together over tea to talk about ‘nothing’. Tea was the drink that brought people closer in dire times, the drink with the power to heal sad thoughts, patch frayed relationships, soothe weary minds. A cup between two people sometimes marked the dawn of something new. Sometimes, it served as the first steps to rebuilding a friendship. And other times, it was a way to say a final goodbye. Regardless of how tea was consumed, it was usually consumed in the company of another.


Cambria studied the coffee produced by Common Grounds. It was a Javanese Arabica with a delicate and mellow flavour. There was a certain roundness to it and felt velvety to the tongue. Taste tests revealed that their coffee wasn’t something a connoisseur would outright fancy. But it was the joe of choice for every other joe.

Common Grounds was not an unknown brand. Younger people remembered it as the coffee their parents or grandparents drank. Because they were a long-standing home grown company, Common Grounds was still served at establishments that were set in their ways–old highway diners, greasy spoons, factory canteens, breakfast kitchens. Their coffee was also still quite popular out in the countryside. To Common Grounds’ advantage, theirs was a heritage every Briton shared, their common ground so to speak, but a forgotten pride.

Cambria’s position on the campaign was to establish her client’s product as that bridge between people, a beverage enjoyed by all, irrespective of age, colour or creed. When she aired her thoughts to the team, she drew unenthusiastic stares from everyone, except Timmy. He thought it was brilliant. And he derived a landmark tagline for her idea, ‘Common Grounds Coffee. Everyone’s cup of tea.

Common Grounds spared no expense on the campaign. They viewed it, at worst, as a last hurrah. A mere 2 months after Cream were awarded the business, £10 million worth of print, billboards and TV flooded the marketplace.

The ads were simple. They featured people from all walks of life, all enjoying a cup of Common Grounds. The cast selection was exquisite.

In one, there was an old woman, looking sweet as pie, her reading glasses barely hanging on to her nose. She was posed next to a burly leather-clad biker, his long curly beard kissing the top of his belly. She gripped her coffee mug firmly. He held his daintily, his pinkie jutting.

Another ad featured players from rival football teams, arm in arm, all enjoying a cup of Common Grounds.

In another there was a priest, a monk, an Imam and a Jewish Rabbi.

Carried in all the ads, was Timmy’s tagline: Common Grounds Coffee. Everyone’s cup of tea.

The colourful personalities were modelled against a stark white background. Visually, the ads were elegant and eye catching. The main lure, however, was that it made a reference to tea. In England, just the mere mention of the word caused ears to perk, even if it were whispered counties away. Swiftly and with great precision, the ads cut through the clutter like the ping of a tuning fork across the silence. Their message reached every part of the country, pervaded every home, dipped into every pocket. Timmy and Cambria’s idea warmed the peoples’ hearts, reminded them of an old forgotten friend.

Because the ads were simple, they were easy to be copied, and parodies popped up all over. Late night talk shows made political plays on the concept, placing the likes of Osama and Obama in the same space. The public followed suit and took it many notches higher, spawning ads with every unimaginable pairing.


Following the first wave of media, Timmy and Cambria produced and released a cute and catchy jingle. It featured a montage of different people—young and old, colourful and drab, straight and bent--all singing a single word of a cheerful tune, a number that eventually became known nationwide as the Common song, the song for the common people. It went:

Rockacholic, jazzaholic, rapaholic, grungeaholic,
Workaholic, sleepaholic, danceaholic, alcoholic,
Shopaholic, diabolic, psychedelic, apostolic,
Soccerholic ,sexaholic, philatelic, chocaholic

Different as we all may be
We all gotta have some Common Ground
A common commonality

Near the end, as the jingle tapered off, they all slurped from their cups. “Common Grounds Coffee... ta da ta dah dum... Everyone’s... ta da da... cup of tea.”

As with their print ads, the public parodied the jingle, and churned out compositions of their own. It did not take long before hundreds of videos surfaced on the internet, with different treatments and lyrics.

Audiophile, out-of-style, versatile, paedophile...
Psychographic, demographic, geographic, pornographic...
Blue eyed, evil eyed, cross eyed, teary eyed...

The permutations were endless.

It was as Robert Allen had predicted. No one in the blast radius was spared. A revolution had been sparked. A cultural Chernobyl. This was going to stain for a long time. A very long time.

In a mere two months of their running the campaign, a third of coffee drinkers who drank competitor brands switched over to Common Grounds. The majority of Brits, who on average drank 6 cups of tea a day, started to only drink 5, opting for a mug of Common Grounds to switch things up. To a coffee company in a nation of tea drinkers, it was a wet dream come true.


Timmy had a gift few possessed. He always found a way to the essence of things, to extract from day-to-day living, the little pleasures that warmed your heart and touched your soul. Such was his brilliance. In some circles, his name was mentioned in the same breath as the few who had made it into the upper echelons of advertising: the J. Walters, the Ogilvys, the Bernbachs. It was never Timmy’s dream to pursue such a legacy. His was merely to do that which came naturally to him.


Fame usually comes to those who are thinking about something else.
- Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

Ch 5: Timothy

Timothy Malcolm Smith spent most of his life collecting skills he never used. He learned how to play the piano, picked up all his certifications, but never touched a single key after that. He learned how to ride a bicycle when he was 5, but since then, always opted to run if he needed to get some place quickly. At 14, his father taught him how to saddle a horse, how to spur it into a gallop, how to slow it to a canter. But horse riding hurt his testicles. So he never got on a horse again. (He once thought to himself, that were he ever the Tsar of his own country, women would ride astride, men—side saddle.)

Born of a Danish mother, Timmy spent many summers with his grandparents Kirsten and Jorgen, on Laeso, an island off the northeast coast of Denmark. There he learned to draw honey from a honey comb, hang and dress a deer, birth a calf, spearfish, identify edible berries; all skills he mastered but never used again the following summer. It wasn’t that he lost interest. He merely had an unquenchable curiosity, and was always on to learning new things.

Timmy enjoyed spending time in the kitchen with his grandma. He felt like a chemist who got to eat his lab work. Through her, he learned to bake virtually every type of bread on the planet—rye, kibbled, baguette, ciabatta, Spelt, panetonne, sourdough, brioche, sprouted grain, pumpernickel and fougasse to name a few.

On Saturdays, he followed his grandparents to the flea market to scour for finds. Timmy thoroughly enjoyed flea market days, and developed a deep appreciation for old things – turn-of-the-century farm tools, traditional costumes, old photos, costume jewellery, antique ornaments. He enjoyed discovering how gadgets of the past were used, how they came about, and when, and with what, they got replaced. Over time, he also developed an eye for value, and a feel for quality. He picked up how to test genuine jade with a drop of water, how to date antique furniture by the different articulations of its finish, how to pick a worthy thermos by holding it to his ear.

Of all Timmy’s varied interests, there was only one he kept at. Running.

His interest came early. As a boy, he enjoyed running as fast as his legs would carry him. He loved the feeling of the wind tugging at his cheeks. And he loved that no one could catch him.

In his teenage years, speed became less important to Timmy, and was replaced by distance. He enjoyed the high of being pushed to the extremes of fatigue, to run till he was forced to stop. Timmy felt that running great distances at a steady pace tested his inner limits more than running fast in short spurts. At the time, he derived no greater sense of achievement as when he notched new milestones in distance.

Life’s complications started kneading their way into Timmy’s life as he entered adolescence. His instincts led him to the pavements of London, where for hours he ran. Running for long stretches gave him a chance to strike a lullaby-like rhythm, to steady his breathing; something he found soothing to the soul. Being out of the house, and on the street, also afforded him time alone to think, to untie the knots that were clogging his mind. He often discovered that by the end of a run, many of his problems had percolated into solutions.


When Timmy was 16, reality in its crassest touched him—his parents were taken in a car crash.

He was at a friend’s birthday party on the outer edges of the city, and his mum and dad were on their way to pick him up. After the party, when everyone had left, and his folks had not yet arrived, Timmy got mad at them. It was not the first time they were late picking him up, usually because they were both engrossed in their work. Figuring that they had forgotten about him, his friend’s parents decided to send him back. Timmy’s world caved in when they passed the wreckage on the way home.

Following their death, Timmy became a very angry person, angry mostly at himself, and after that, at life’s unfairness. He used to marvel at the might of tragedy, of the way it swept you away, made you a passenger on its winds; and how afterwards, everything which has been thrown out of orbit, just fits back perfectly into place, solely because it no longer mattered that the pieces fit. Everything lost its shape. The things that once held meaning, no longer did, was robbed of its configuration, its definition, its distinction.

Timmy’s parents were pious Catholics, and he followed in their footsteps. Timmy did not share this with anyone, but he used to confide in Jesus throughout the day, as if Jesus were his alter ego. These conversations took place in his mind, in street talk, as one would with a chum. He even had a nick for Jesus. ‘Jezza’, he would call him, sometimes shortened to ‘Jez’.

Do ya believe dis here? What would ya do if ya wuz me, Jez? What would ya do?

Timmy regarded Jesus not as a distant being in the sky, but as a friend he had allowed to reside in him, a friend he thought he could count on to watch over the people he loved. After his parents were taken from him, he expunged Jezza from his life, and adopted a new religion. Running.

Timmy knew no better way to release his pent up anger, than to deplete every joule of energy on his runs. He pushed himself to the limit and ran further each time, for longer periods. His longest run lasted 6 hours and 13 minutes, before he blacked out in a London alley. For Timmy, this was a period where there was no medium, only extremes. It finally got to a point where his obsession with running insane distances came in the way of life, and he eventually conceded that he could not afford to dedicate that kind of time to it. So he sped up his pace, and capped his runs at 26.2 miles, the length of a marathon.

Seared by the embers of his past, Timmy exiled himself from everyone he knew. He declined invitations from anyone who tried to include him in their lives. Invitations to Christmas dinners, birthday parties, baptisms, Easter lunches. He resented that people were trying to absorb him into their world, chiefly because his had been shattered, and he did not want their pity. One day, the invitations stopped coming.


Timmy died once before. It was 6 years to the day of his parent’s fatal accident. From the time he woke up that morning, he was stalked by a dark loneliness that would not leave him, a nettling sadness that buried itself like a splinter under his flesh. He dealt with his grief in the only way he knew how. Laced up and headed out the door. That morning, he had the urge to break his body, and he exerted himself harder than he had ever done in the past.

Timmy deviated from his usual running route, opting instead to go by the hospital his parents had been rushed to after their accident. As he passed the entrance, he punished himself to run even harder. His blood felt like lava coursing through his veins. His body felt like it was tearing from its bones. And his world faded from grey to black.

When Timmy opened his eyes, the doctors told him that he had a cardiac arrest at their doorstep, that his heart had stopped beating, and that he had been clinically dead for three minutes.

His ribs were broken when CPR was administered, and they had to tape his chest tight. He did not remember much of what happened. His only recall was his chest pulling tight like a trampoline. And then the lights went out.

Hospital bound, and advised to lay off running for at least 2 months, Timmy felt like a straight-jacketed heroin addict denied his poison. They held him for a week, primarily for observation and to run some tests. Under their care, he got really annoyed by how the hospital staff constantly reminded him of how lucky he was to still be alive, of how he was one of the fortunate ones not to have suffered any brain damage or long term side effects. At the time, Timmy was uncertain if he was happy to be alive, or if the hospital had done him a disservice by resuscitating him.

Timmy always had a heart rate monitor strapped around his wrist when he ran. The device, which logged each minute of his run, showed that his heart failed at 198 beats per minute. His doctor told him that 198 was good a gauge of his MHR, or Maximum Heart Rate, scientific speak for how fast and hard his heart could beat before it got into trouble. For the future, Timmy was advised to stay within 85 percent of his heart’s fail point. They also warned that each year of aging usually knocked that ceiling down by one.

Confined to the boredom of the cardiac ward, Timmy started to contemplate his ‘beingness’. He looked at the world around him and the world within him. It wasn’t pretty.

For the time he was kept at the hospital, he did not receive a single visitor, a single card, a single phone call. It was as if he no longer existed in the universe. But what disturbed him the most was when he started to grow envious of Noah, the 8-year old kid across the curtain. Noah had a pair of balloons tied to his bedposts and a bedside table full of get-well-soon cards, each colourfully splayed open. He received a fresh basket of fruit every two days, and had family who snuck in home-cooked food for him, food with flavour. Noah had a terminal disease with weeks to live. Timmy knew this. But it did not stop his jealousy. He realised that to be envious of a child with a death sentence only meant one thing: he had hit rock bottom. Strangely, he was comforted knowing that. That he could sink no further.


Switchfoot is a term for when a surfer flips his footing on the board to get new perspective, to take a new stance in the opposite direction. Timmy’s heart arrest knocked him off his feet, from his mantel, and he found himself reacquainted with his mortality. He was shaken by the fact that he had technically died, and each day, he grew more and more perturbed that his experience of the afterlife was not what he had expected. There wasn’t a light he could walk towards. Just darkness and silence.

He always believed that when he walked past the gates of death, his spirit would un-dock itself from his body, and he would be able to look down on the spot where death had taken him. In the afterlife he thought he would hear angels in hymn. That his parents, bathed in a frosty silver glow, would be waiting to welcome him. But he experienced none of that.

Timmy fell into an existential panic, realising there may not be a hereafter, just a here and now. Reckoning that the life he was currently living was possibly all there was, he felt he had best make the most of it. This became a turning point in his life... and he switched his feet.

As Timmy was emerging out of his purgatory, he fell in love with a student nurse at the hospital, and she became the centre of his universe for 2 years. Although things between them did not work out in the long term, it was through her that he learned to love again, to laugh again, to live again. Learned to keep his pernicious tendencies at bay.

She helped reopen his soul to the things he once cherished, and she convinced him that happiness hinged more on your disposition than your circumstances, that the world is lush with beauty to those with the eyes to see it. His near death experience, she felt, was a big blessing, to remind him of how fragile life is, and how it should be coddled as if it were the most precious thing in the world.

After Timmy got back on his feet, he took a new approach to running. He became enamoured of running as a science and grew fascinated by the mechanics of the human body. He knew that the road to perfection was an endless pursuit, but he stayed the path, and worked tirelessly to refine his form. Running took on new meaning for him once he was able to look beyond emotional relief as its sole purpose.

It took Timmy months to arrive at new plateaus, to train his muscles to adopt new ranges of motion as part of its natural, to derive from his body all that it was capable of. The process was long and arduous, but the end was rewarding. When he was on song and fell into perfect rhythm, he experienced a oneness with himself, a rapport with the earth. And this was a feeling for which he found no replacement.

After he was discharged from hospital, Timmy devised a game which he played with himself each time he ran. He tried to guess his pulse rate, and matched his answer to what his pulse reader showed. He became real good at the game and was never more than one or two beats off.

Following his brush with death, despite emerging a better person, Timmy’s inner demons never left him completely. They skulked in the wings, waiting for every opportunity to re-emerge. It was a long time before Timmy allowed family to seep back into his life. He always feared that their direct link to his past would evoke emotions he wasn’t strong enough to handle. So he stayed away from the big events, and limited himself to quick house visits, where he would drop in on a moment’s notice for a quick exchange.

During the two weeks Timmy was confined to the hospital, he developed a maudlin attachment to Noah, the dying boy next to him. The boy enjoyed hearing of Timmy’s little adventures and misadventures on Laeso. Timmy found that by retelling those stories, he was able to relive his time on the island, and that gave him joy. After being discharged, Timmy continued to visit Noah, everyday, for 17 days.

Ch 6: Kim, Chloe & Monica

When Timmy made Creative Director, he inherited his predecessor’s personal assistant, Chloe, a decorous pink-cheeked lass. Chloe had, for a long time, harboured a bit of a fancy for Timmy, but never found the courage to kindle a romantic relationship with him. She had mixed feelings when the announcement was made that Jonas was leaving; sad, because Jonas was a good boss; elated, because she was to resume her role under Timmy.

Timmy got along well with Chloe. Actually, Timmy got along well with everyone, at every level. From the partners to the freelancers, the managers to the interns, the clients to the cleaning ladies. But although he was as friendly as they came, there was an invisible line he backed away from. He avoided getting too attached to people, a built-in defence mechanism he developed after his parent’s demise. Weathering his fears, Timmy still showed keen interest in the lives of the people around him. On Mondays, he’d always enquire about how your weekend went. And other days, instead of greeting you with How are YOU doing today?, he had the funny habit of asking, How are WE doing today?, as if to suggest you and him were interlinked; that he was in your boat, for better, for worse.

Of Timmy’s flaws at work, being organised was his biggest. As such, he appreciated the assistance Chloe provided. She helped organise his daily, his week, his year even, each morning trailing him while reading a transcript of his day out loud, in the same way the President of the United States is briefed on the go while chomping on a bagel. From day one, Chloe was on the ball, and no one worked the Rolodex with her speed and efficiency. Time being a scarce commodity, she protected every minute of Timmy’s day. Proudly, she embraced her role as a sentry regulating his personal dealings with others, functioning as a switchboard connecting him to his every need.

Chloe had a friendly face, not drop dead gorgeous, not a head turner that guys wanted to bed for a night. Hers was more of a classic, timeless beauty; Audrey Hepburnesque. She was one of the sweetest people you could ever meet, and people always felt an obligation to protect her, to shield her from the abrasive world. Because she was often overly polite, she always sounded like she was apologising. This was something that Timmy took awhile to get used to.

Late one evening, while working on a presentation, Timmy looked up and saw Chloe at his door. She had the reports he had requested for. With one hand on his jaw, he ratcheted his head to one side to release the crick in his neck. After placing the reports on his desk, Chloe proceeded behind Timmy and started to knead his shoulders. He welcomed the midnight massage and told her it really helped. He was taken by surprise when he felt her hair brush past his shoulders. She kissed him on the neck. Timmy withdrew himself from the situation right away, and explained to her that his interests lay with another. She apologised profusely and left the room, shaking, tears running down her cheeks.

Things very quickly got awkward between them. Embarrassed by the whole situation Chloe threw in her resignation a short time after. Timmy was unsuccessful in his attempts to get her to stay and granted her her request for immediate release. Timmy felt awful with the way things turned out. So he slipped a letter into her hands on her last day, when she came to say goodbye.

Dear Chloe,

I feel really flattered to be the choice of your affections. It was merely a matter of timing. My heart, as I’ve already explained to you, is with another. I hope you understand.

But let our friendship not end on this note. With time, I feel we will be able to work out this awkwardness between us. Coffee this Friday?


It took many months of Friday coffees, but Timmy was eventually able to nurse Chloe’s heart back to health. They went on to be really good friends who cared deeply for each other.


Timmy meanwhile was set on a different skirt—Monica de la Pena, an intimidatingly beautiful senior account manager at Cream; dark hair, tall, tawny complexion, with amazing presence. Eyes locked on her whenever she entered a room, and conversations paused, as if to offer a bow.

Some are endowed with it, and some aren’t, and she was. She possessed ‘a glow’, a cloud of magical dust surrounding her person; intrigue, awe, allure, reverence, impress, astonish; all specks of its comprise. She also had the gift to voice without the need to speak, who with a smile, or disapproving nod, could sway pillars of belief. Hers was a beauty that blurred the line between want and need.

There was a magnetism to Monica, not just in her physical appearance, but in the way she carried herself and a conversation. Monica’s father was an ambassador for Peru, so as a child, she was suitcased all around the world, to whichever location he was assigned to. Having attended her share of state dinners, Monica came well trimmed with savoir faire, and held her own at any function. She possessed what Renaissance author Baldassare Castiglione described as sprezzatura, that most subtle veil of nonchalance and reticence, intended to make that which is difficult, appear effortless; a mask that also disguised her inward thoughts, feelings and desires.

At socials, she enthralled for hours, with tales of distant lands, and with the colour of how she lived her day-to-day. Timmy had limited dealings with Monica at work, and his one-on-one conversations with her seldom exceeded a couple of minutes. Mostly, he watched from a distance, as she stood within the circle that always seemed to form naturally around her.

Timmy could not however pin point the true reason for his captivation; if it was the resumé of her experiences that bore the entice, or if she merely was a highly prized feather that every male in the office desired to obtain. His attraction to her somehow lacked the warmth that one normally experiences upon finding true love. And for that reason, he always wondered if another woman, someone with a little less fairy dust, a little more earthly, was better suited to him, if someone more like Chloe, was what his heart truly yearned for.


Cream’s human resource department frowned heavily on Timmy’s decision to allow Chloe to leave on a moment’s notice. They were privy to his stringent and long drawn out hiring process. And they knew they had to move at a frantic pace to fill the position.

Timmy always believed that talent was God given. When he had to hire, he spent weeks, sometimes months seeking out gifted individuals, and he typically went through no less than a dozen candidates for a single position. The thing that irked the HR folks the most was this. Timmy often opted for the first person he interviewed, who by the time Timmy made his decision, had already committed to another employer.

When hiring, there was one thing Timmy viewed more important than your skills—chemistry. Talent, Timmy felt, could be measured by looking at your paper qualifications, or by browsing through your portfolio. Chemistry on the other hand, could only be gauged in a face-to-face meeting. And that was the reason why he insisted on meeting so many applicants.

Two days after Chloe’s position opened up, Timmy marched up to HR and told them that he had found his candidate—Kim, a temp at the agency who was filling in for an account executive on maternity leave.

The peeps in HR agreed, only too happy not to have to endure Timmy’s recruitment marathon.


Timmy felt as if he were driving on a roundabout without an exit. Frustrated that the same stale ideas were eddying in his head, he rose out of his chair. Reckoning that some fresh air would do him good, he decided to get some coffee from the cafe round the corner. It was on this cold damp night, on the front doorsteps of Cream, that Timmy met Kim for the second time, the man who would eventually be his new personal assistant. They had shared a brief encounter the day before, when Kim was shown around on a statutory first day tour.

Kim had his back against the wall when Timmy exited the building. Partly immersed in shadow, it was hard to tell if Kim was having a cigarette or blowing cold mist. The trademark scent resolved that question. It was Timmy who initiated the conversation.

“Mate. It’s late. What are you still doing here?”

“Ahh, just wrapping up our deck. We have a presentation in the morning. Some plonker set the meeting at half eight. Yourself?”

“Have an ad due for the presses. Early.” Timmy sighed. “But I think I can get it pushed. Maybe to the afternoon.”

“I see.”

“Hey, I’m going to get a coffee at Marie’s,” Timmy thumbed in the direction of the cafe, “want anything?”

“I’m mostly done here. I’m knackered and will be on my way soon.”

“Alright then. You have a goodnight.”

“Yes, you too.”

As Timmy started to turn, he got pinched by a cigarette craving and stopped mid-step. He was typically not a smoker, but on nights like these he was.

“You mind if I steal one off you?”

“No. Not at all.”

“Oh, it’s your last one! You should save it.”

“No take it,” Kim pushed the pack closer to Timmy, “Really mate. You’ll be doing me a bloody service.”

“Ok, alright. Since you insist.” As Timmy drew the remaining Camel, he toasted, “Here’s to your health.”

“Ha, ha, ha. Don’t mention it.”

“Kim right?”

Kim smiled and nodded, a little embarrassed that he could not draw Timmy’s name. Timmy lit up.

Timmy was bad with new faces, and usually lost a person’s name two seconds after an introduction had been made. Kim’s name, however, registered from their previous meeting. He thought it odd at the time for a bloke to have a broad’s name.

“Sorry, I didn’t get your name.”

“It’s not easy when they introduce you to fifty people in the span of twenty minutes. One a day is my threshold.”

Kim chuckled.

“That’s so true. I think I got the names of the first two fit birds. Everything after that is a big ball of stroganoff.”

“Timmy,” the young Creative Director flashed a wide grin as he held out his hand. Kim shook it. And they got to talking.

Midway into their conversation, Timmy sensed that something was eating at Kim, so he asked. Kim opened up to him.

Kim was not a smoker himself, but changing circumstances in his relationship with his girlfriend changed that, brought back his cravings from years ago. Her name was Liz. Things between them ended awfully. Upset by the breakup, Kim’s first instinct was to buy a pack of twenty from the store. He felt feeding his lungs with smoke helped fill the void in his chest that she had left.

Kim was at the interesting part of the story when he and Timmy realised they had drawn their cigarette to a stump. Because it was a chilly night, they adjourned to Norma Jean’s, to resume the conversation they had started. They ended up chatting until the cafe closed at one.

Over coffee, Kim concluded his story about how he lost his best friend and his girlfriend on the same night, after he found them having sex in his room. He explained how he also lost his bed that night. Trapped in a rage, he threw his Queen over the balcony into the communal dumpster below. From the 7th floor, the downward impact was so great that the top rim of the garbage bin folded inwards, sealing the mattress in.

Timmy learned that Kim had a Malaysian father and a Norwegian mother. After Kim revealed his full name to Timmy, they both concurred that ‘Kim’ was the most pronounceable part of his name. Six foot, with blue eyes, a squarish jaw and dirty blond hair, Kim showed very little of his oriental genes. Except for a smattering of an accent Timmy could not quite place, Kim was as Nordic as they came.

After talking to him at some length, Timmy was impressed by the Scandinasian’s fluency, and the profoundness of his thought. He found it peculiar how Kim, who looked well into his thirties, was temping for a living. Timmy later discovered that Kim took 7 years off to see the world, picking up odd jobs wherever he went. Though there was some transience left in him, Kim opted to settle down in London after meeting Liz, who he was going to marry, so he thought anyway. Kim shared stories from his travels, and Timmy listened with interest, having seen quite a fair bit of the world himself.

The two found they had a lot in common; with the way they approached life and extracted meaning from it. They traded stories throughout the night, and even shared their dreams, past failures, their secrets, their fears.

Timmy never told anyone about New York. But he told Kim. Of his dream to one day win his maiden race, the New York Marathon. This, Timmy always felt, was the perfect precursor to his other dream, which was to work for Oddinary, New York’s most prestigious advertising think tank.

Because he was aware of its improbability, Timmy never shared his dreams with anyone. He preferred not to have an audience were his to be a failed endeavour. But Timmy discovered a level of ease with Kim he had never enjoyed with anyone else. And he was thrilled that he finally met someone who ‘got’ him.


An individual he could trust with his trust.
A person with candour who would tell it to him the way he saw it.
One with a sense of adventure, verve, who took life by the horns.
Someone with genuine eyes.

These were all the things Timmy was looking for in his personal assistant, and he saw those qualities in Kim. Kim even passed the chemistry test. Aced it.

Timmy was going to offer Kim the position on the spot, but figured he should ponder on it further and decide in the morning. But with an ad to produce by sunrise, he had very little time to sleep on it.

It was past two that Timmy got back to his house. His eyes were tired but his mind felt like a loofah that had just been dipped in a bucket of water. His late night conversation with Kim opened up new arteries, cured his paucity, and left him with fresh fodder for creativity.

The ad was to be for LIFE, a pro-life charity organisation Timmy sometimes volunteered at, a cause he held close to his heart. LIFE offered advice to pregnant mothers who were planning to abort, and presented them with alternatives—to help with the raising of the child, they offered financial support, housing and above all, a support system.

The message that Timmy’s client was hoping to get across was that life is precious, and should be preserved at all cost. As Timmy sat in his living room with a notepad, a piece of his conversation with Kim re-entered his mind. Timmy had shared a fear of his with Kim; that were he to participate in the New York Marathon, victorious or not, his life would be stripped of purpose afterwards. On hearing Timmy’s words, Kim countered with a stern reply.

“Timmy! You’ve been bloody running since some of your earliest memories, and your feet have touched the bloody earth ten thousand times more than the average person. Everything you’ve done, from then to now, has steered you to this moment. You’ve gotten within half a bloody minute of some of the best running times clocked in New York marathon history. Dreams exist to be achieved, not to be skirted around. Don’t even bloody think of backing away from your dreams. You’ve got a real chance here. Don’t bloody squander it. Many people would count themselves lucky to be in your shoes, to have this opportunity before them. Half the people on this planet can’t bloody afford shoes. Some are born without feet. Some without legs. Some don’t even get born.”

Kim’s words repeated itself in Timmy’s head, and a suffocating sadness came over him. Some are indeed denied the most basic gift of breath, their life sometimes intentionally extinguished before it had come to being, before it had a chance to prove itself worthy of a place on earth. Timmy was moved to tears by this sad reality, and he started to write.

> Chapters 8-10

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