Loud music thumped from the subwoofer under the stage and tacky neon strobe lights flitted across the room, reminiscent of a 90's techno club. Michael supposed that was the intention. The 2020's had arrived and the kidults, born in the 1980's and early 1990's, had ascended to a tragic child-less midpoint between young and middle-aged.
This was the second part of the evening, the end of financial year party at a rooftop bar which had started with a trivia competition that was miscalibrated for the large Chinese and expat contingents of the company. The handful of Australian-born natives were the only ones with the slightest clue about Alfie, Hey Dad or Hey Hey It's Saturday, let alone Dawn Fraser, Cathy Freeman or Ian Thorpe. Several had however heard of Adam Goodes, the Deputy Prime minister of SATSIC (The Sovereign Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Confederation).
He was celebrated as a founding father of the SATSIC, having shot to fame for his bravery in the face of racism and exclusion by standing up to a racist twelve year-old girl in the AFL stands when he was Australia's most celebrated player. Since this formed part of the citizenship exam, all teams got the question about Adam Goodes right, which meant that it still didn't help any team without Aussies to win.
In one corner of the room, a gaggle of Chinese interns posed for photo after photo with full flutes of Chandon Imperial. The girls wore light pink cotton cardigans over white blouses and sported oversized bows in their hair and large plastic framed eyeglasses. There were only two males amongst them, one tasked with taking the photos and the other with holding the lighting gadget, that would boost contrast, producing a more flattering image for WeiChat.
After each toast, they would giggle in Mandarin, rearrange their hair and reshuffle with dainty little steps into new positions to take another picture, being sure not to spill any of the yellow mouthwash into their mouths or on their clothes.
The expats and handful of Australians observed this strange ritual with some quiet amusement but knew better than to risk any commentary. Diversity and Inclusion were two of the key pillars of the company's business strategy and the children of CCP Party officials were worth their weight in gold to win and retain lucrative tenders. They didn't even need to turn up to the office, but most of them still did. Some even wanted to do some real work, which caused huge headaches for middle management. Meaning people like Michael, whose Mandarin was not up to scratch, a mark against his name that was noted as a "lack of motivation to engage in cross-cultural productivity".
Feeling his buzz starting to wear off, Michael wandered over to the bar to get another drink. He glanced at his watch. 10:13pm. Just seventeen more minutes for a silver social participation credit. The pert young Thai waitress popped open his IPA and thrust it in front of him unceremoniously and without the brief eye contact that might have lifted his spirits momentarily.
A group of Indian and Sri-Lankan staff had surrounded two tables and were imbibing at a significantly higher rate than their East Asian counterparts. Two of them approached the DJ to change the music to some Bollywood-covers of gangster rap. Michael's eyes wandered across to the other side of the room to the figure of Thea, an expat from the UK who was over with her boyfriend, the obliging Timothy.
Thea wasn't what you would call pretty. She was plain in face and body, but was ample enough in figure to draw attention to herself in a dress. She had a squarish jaw and a slightly masculine energy which Michael found attractive in a perverted sort of way. He walked over to the couple, smiling.
"Hiya", Thea said with some enthusiasm.
Michael leaned in for a hug (kisses were not corporate), and shook Tim's hand, which he gently crumpled as Tim grinned stupidly.
"You two lovebirds aren't going to stut your stuff for us on the d-floor?", enquired Michael with a wry smile.
Jane looked at Tim and rolled her eyes
"Not for us, I'm afraid. Tim's never been much of a dancer"
"Shame", replied Michael, stealing another quick glance at her chest. It was covered with a frumpy black polyester business-attire blazer, and only a brief outline protruded halfway down the lapels where a crease popped the gorge out of shape, revealing a similarly stretched white shirt.
It wasn't worth it, he thought to himself as her eyes caught his on the way back up. He considered a different tack to keep this interesting.
"So, when are you two going to tie the knot?", he ventured, looking directly at Thea.
"That's up to this guy," she replied as the motioned to her embarrassed-looking partner.
"Well tut-tut Tim, you've got to make an honest woman out of her one of these days" Michael leered, knowing well he had already breached safe HR territory and was now playing with his job.
"An HONEST woman you say? What kind of sexist claptrap is that!"
Michael's face broke into an even sleazier smile. She was in the confused space between arousal and canned outrage, and a couple more well timed jokes and a dance could deliver him an illicit rendez-vous with her or a summary dismissal, or both.
"You'd better not talk like that in front of Thea", Tim warned, leaning his head in apologetically.
He was starting to feel the effect of his fourth gin and tonic but had enough of a hold on himself to gently wind things back.
"Ah, you know I'm just giving you a hard time Timbo". Michael was glad he hadn't dropped in his impression of Gollum and his precious.
"I think we're about to enter the 'nothing good happens after 10:30' zone", he added.
"We all want those silver stars", admitted Timothy sheepishly.
Strangely, there were no gold stars for staying past 10:30, perhaps because management knew they was a direct correlation of HR-reportable instances of hanky-panky with the twilight hours of alcohol-soaked company social functions.
"Time I head off guys", enjoy the rest of your evening. He took a final look at the Chinese interns who had progressed to the dancefloor and briefly considered whether any of them could qualify as candidates. They were bobbing awkwardly to the slow RPM of the Bollywood R&B like underage teens. Michael preferred a more sensual and womanly energy that would not be found in the interns, but there was a naive girly innocence that he could get behind with sufficient motivation. He thought better of it and kept walking.
Michael always found an Irish exit preferable to the tiresome ceremony of having to inform everyone of his departure. He discreetly took the side doors, refusing to meet the gaze and nod of the Polynesian security guard at standing outside, arms akimbo.
Why should I validate his parasitic existence? , Michael thought to himself, ignoring the self-aware tinge of his own insolence that would reliably appear when such thoughts surfaced. He dragged himself to the train station and looked, bleary-eyed, at the advertisements for Chinese-Australian visa expedition and property investment. 'We only get results', the mega poster read in the only text that was in English.
The newly-built metro was not overly busy at this time of night. The new Australians weren't as into late nights, preferring restaurants, bubble tea and sweet desserts to beer and pub rock bands.
His train deposited him at his station, where it was a short walk to his one-bedroom Marihole apartment. Circular blue and red LED 'Open' signs outside a series of late-night massage parlours beckoned for the remaining credit in his WeiPay account. Straight to bed he told himself, and he followed the familiar path to the apartment complex and entered the lifts.