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The Death of a Management Consultant
Jihad Samra

I do not remember what happened exactly or how I ended up in this dark room. For what I know, all of a sudden, I found myself ascending a path of light. Everything was so bright and I could not see anything except glittering lights all around me. And then, everything stopped moving. I do not know what I mean by everything since I could see nothing at all, but I had a strong feeling that everything around me had suddenly become motionless. Frankly, at first I was terrified, but this was only when there was movement. After that, I did not really care, since it was all a dream.

It is really a blessing to be aware of the fact that you are dreaming, especially if you are the type of person who suffers the company of nightmares. It is always relieving to know that in fact, no matter how bad things went, you would eventually wake up in the end, safe, unharmed and even happy that everything is just the way you left it before you fell asleep.

I once read an article on several types of sleep. It was one of those scientific things that blabber for pages of unidentified codes, figures, tables and illustrations, and in the end, it is nothing but a restatement of what was said in the few lines that make up the abstract at the beginning, and in the conclusion, they tell you that what has been known forever is either true or untrue, and that they cannot really tell because further research and evidence are needed. And after more than five thousand years of recorded civilisation, they still cannot tell us how we can dream what we want, how to end an unwanted dream, or how to make a pleasant dream last. After a second thought, I actually think I am glad they failed there, otherwise they may have cloned our dreams or come up with some chip that could probably program our dreams according to what some star CEO of some company, who suffers from a multi-ulcer, might think the idea of such a chip to be cool.

But this was not the issue now. The issue was to see where that dream was going. But since it was a dream, I had decided to remain calm anyway, because for better or worse, I could always wake up to save my skin. As the lights got dimmer, I could finally see where I had landed. It was a huge hall with numerous seats arranged in sets of rows and columns, placed adjacent to a large number of closed gates scattered around the walls. Before I even felt confused, a neat gentleman wearing a black uniform came over and introduced himself as the hall superintendent and hoped that I had a pleasant journey. Frankly, I could not recall whether it was pleasant or not. However, I realized that this old man was one of those quality-customer-service-obsessed people and hence I thought that if I complained, he would certainly go through the hassle of finding out what had gone wrong and how they could make it up for me. Of course, I did not even know who ``they" could be, but who cared any way? It was a dream, an exciting dream and I just wanted to see the end of it. I therefore thanked him for his concern and assured him that it was a most pleasant journey. It could not have even been a better one.

The man then kindly asked me to follow him, which I did. I was able to see men and women sitting in the seats all around. They were all dressed in white uniforms, and the funny thing was that I suddenly realized that I too was wearing a similar one. I fancied a red rose could have made me look more elegant but then I decided to leave the banter for a more humorous dream. My guide walked me through the hall and then stepped aside, gently asking me to enter through gate number seven. I hesitated for a moment but then, number seven was always my lucky number, so what the hell, I thought, and walked through. It was nothing but a dream after all.

Size and grandiose seemed to have diminished. Yet, neatness and an air of seriousness dominated the dim room in which I found myself. To the left was a huge mural showing angels, demons and human beings playing a game of soccer, but after a minute or two of keen observation, I finally gave up for I could not tell who was playing against who.

I then indulged myself in observing the rest of the room. To the right, there was a huge closet, gray in colour and obviously made of metal. In the center of the room, there was a huge desk with a computer on it. Clearly, it was not a Macintosh, but I am not sure this made me feel very happy. At least it did not have a coloured case. Behind the desk, there was a leather seat and behind it on the wall, a huge painting was hanging. From the left top corner of the painting descended a hand to meet in the center another which was ascending from the bottom right corner. I think Michael Angelo had this inspiration in one of his paintings in where he was trying to show two hands meeting in the center for some reason that I never figured out. Maybe Michael Angelo was here before. But it did not need a keen observer to realize that the painting was tilted. Besides, the extended fingers of the two hands were each heading in a different direction, as if the lower arm belonged to someone who was drowning but nonetheless wanted to swing his hand in harmony with some unheard rhythm. The upper hand, meanwhile, seemed as if it were fishing for something in a dirty bucket of water. I had not finished enjoying my observation when a young man entered the room and saluted me politely. He even knew my last name and pronounced it correctly. That alone, coming from a young man who apparently worked on a computer made me realize that I was dealing with professionals. I greeted him back and thanked him as he asked me to be seated.

The man introduced himself as the quality control supervisor in the Customer Service Department. His concern was, he said, that my file was almost empty and had a lot of data missing. That annoyed me a little but I did not feel worried because this was pretty much the case wherever I went. However, I thought that these people must have undergone some organisational restructuring or probably acquired an ISO 9000 certification, and thus wanted to make sure that everything was documented and done by the rules of the book. Again, I did not mind and was in fact amazed how my work was imposing itself elegantly and accurately, even in my most unexpected dreams. I assured the supervisor that I was willing to provide all missing data, and he was apparently pleased with my positive and supportive attitude. At least, this seemed to be the expression on his face.

His first question was about my having two family names, and I patiently explained to him that I had acquired a new family name after my father and I finally realized that we could not agree on anything in life, so I wanted to start something new on my own. I could tell that he was shocked, but that did not really matter.

He then asked me if I loved my wife and children, and I immediately answered positively. Not surprisingly, he then asked me whether I was married and had children. I say `not surprisingly' because even the best consultants may sometimes commit silly mistakes when they create questionnaires and survey forms. But apparently the young man was taken off guard when I told him that I was neither married nor had any children.

Obviously, he was young and inexperienced, but I would still doubt that an older and more experienced supervisor would have understood. You see, I loved my wife and was gentle and faithful to her. I took best care of my three daughters and nurtured them in the best possible means that a man could have. But I never married my wife, and we never had any children. They all, the entire family in fact, existed only in my mind. And back then, I had a choice, either to get married and start an imperfect family that may break down in a few years, or simply have the perfect family that would stay in my mind for as long as I lived. Logically, I went for the second option because it was more feasible. I even applied all the accounting and economic formulas that I could recall, and conducted a feasibility study which in turn proved to me that in terms of profitability and utility, my choice was the correct one beyond doubt. You see, if people can have virtual relationships, cyber sex, and even cyber money, why canít a man have a virtual money as well?

It seems however, that the young supervisor had neither studied business nor economics. At best, he had done a year or two of psychology because I could see a funny expression of astonishment and incredulity on his face while he typed in my responses. I could see that he was an incompetent typist, since he spent some type using the back space and delete buttons to fix the errors he made. I wonder what kind of person can take so much notice of such details in a dream.

The questioning went on for two or three hours. Actually, maybe more or less, because I had no touch with the concept of time in that room, even in the whole dream.

Finally, the young supervisor stood up and shook my hand, thanking me for the time and effort, and apologising for the hassle. I told him that I did not mind. We were silent for some time and then it seems that he remembered that he was supposed to tell a customer in my situation, `I can understand sir, that you did not believe in God during your life.'

I nodded positively and waited for him to continue. He paused again, and then said, ``Well, according to the procedures, you will be spending the rest of eternity in hell. I hope you will enjoy the quality of our service there and in case you have any questions or complaints, which I assure you that you won't, please do not hesitate to page me."

He said that as he proudly handed me his business card. Although it was a dream, I nonetheless felt serious. I did not regret anything in my life, least of all the fact that I did not believe in God. But what bewildered me was that I always thought that I was such a smarty who knew much more than others, and yet, while millions of fools had somehow realized that God and life after death existed, alongside with angels and the rest of the story, I just fail to realize that for a fact. Apart from this, nothing really bothered me, not even going to hell. After all, this is exactly what they teach us about in responsibility and accountability lectures. Yet, whether it was a dream or not, the one thing that I could not help was my curiosity and so, I asked the young man, ``Can I just have an idea on what the difference between heavens and hell is?''

His answer came, cold, precise and yet monotonously pounding in my ears, ``None whatsoever. It is just a way of segmenting the market, you know, Marketing 101.''

I really have no idea when exactly I had realized that this was no longer a dream. Disillusion is always hard, especially on those who had always thought they had known, perhaps because awareness of sudden regression to ignorance is somehow debasing and humiliating, especially for the ego. But you know what, nothing really mattered, even if everyone else thought that it did, even if it actually did, even if it actually did not.