Once Upon a Time, in a city not so unlike yours, there lived an increasingly tired, young woman by the name of Claire. Claire lived in a rather pokey flat in a less-than-ideal part of London. She spent her days at the office; populating spreadsheets, wading through her relentless inbox and attending too many pointless meetings, frequently nodding off with glazed eyes as the boss unveiled yet another strategy to increase client acquisition.
Even over weekends, poor Claire would often find herself ducking out of brunch, her brioche French toast untouched and un-Instragrammed as she rushed to answer yet another call from the office. Apologies to her dishy date as she compulsively switched on her phone to check emails mid-movie were not uncommon. You see, Claire was mid-way through climbing the corporate ladder at a management consulting firm (one of the best in the city) and she was quite proud of her position. She had always been a bit of an over-achiever really; annoyingly excellent at school and university, decent at sports, and surrounded by a group of fellow girl-boss types who spend their days ticking all the boxes in the career, yoga (or was it ballet-barre these days?) and style departments.
But despite her outward success, she felt herself becoming increasingly weary of it all; as if somewhere between becoming a slave to her buzzing phone and saying yes to yet another day of overtime, she’d taken a left turn instead of a right and become stuck in a ‘Groundhog Day’ type of nightmare from which she couldn’t wake. Claire wondered how long she might have to keep it all up for; pondering, as she stood on the platform to her morning commute, if everyone else around her felt the same way.
And then one ordinary Thursday, as she absent-mindedly lumped a third teaspoon of sugar into her triple shot Venti, a gentle but rather eccentrically dressed woman with wild red hair and a stack of bangles that clinked when she moved, gave her a long searching look and uttered these life changing words: ‘Darling. Can I just say…you look like you need to get some sleep. Get some balance in your life. Stop to smell the roses, or at least the parts of London that don’t reek of urine.’ Claire looked around, wondering if the woman was perhaps addressing someone behind her, but the old lady smiled kindly, her eyes intently meeting Claire’s own as if she could read her every thought. Before Claire could utter a response, the woman slipped past her, jingling as she left the busy coffee shop and disappeared into the crowded street outside. For a while, Claire sat still, dumbfounded by the stranger’s perceptiveness.
But then she felt something new, like a fire that had been lit within her (or perhaps just rediscovered). Still clutching her steaming hot coffee, she marched straight into her boss’s office… who was unfortunately on the phone. Holding up his index finger, he kept her at bay for the full five minutes that he took to finish the call; which truthfully did dampen the dramatic effect Claire was after. When he was finally done, Claire launched into a soliloquy about time, work hours, company policies and, in fact, about life itself. She gestured wildly as she threw around terms like ‘boundaries’, ‘balance’ and ‘vacation days’ as her eyes blazed with a passion she hadn’t felt in years.
Silence fell as Claire breathed out, certain that she would be told to pack her orchid and leave. But, after what felt like a painfully long pause in which Claire heard her heart thudding in her ears, her boss cracked a smile and nodded, adding that he’d wondered when she might start acting a bit more human again.
That evening, Claire snapped her laptop shut at 6PM sharp, jostled with the rush hour crowd on the tube to get home, cooked a delicious meal from scratch (it was only eggs on toast but by golly it was a start), climbed into her favourite pair of pyjamas and got her first good night’s rest in a very long time. She thought about the kindly old woman as she drifted off, mumbling something that sounded a lot like ‘Fairy Godmother’ and ‘magic’ as she dozed; fast asleep, but ready to be truly awake for perhaps the very first time.