The Simple Things in Life

The youth stopped at the crossing. He pressed the spent chewing gum onto the button, making the decrepit "wait" light shine, then, realising there were no cars coming, he crossed the road. The lights changed as he reached the other side.

"I'm a bank manager too. Oh my God..." That thought just completed the cliche that Hugo had just realised he was. He was dull, there was really nothing in his life. He was married, but couldn't think how or why. In truth, he realized, was because his wife was as one dimensionally unattractive as himself. Except now she probably wasn't, it seems she's found someone else. She'd told him, matter?of?factly that morning. He'd known something was amiss because they didn't normally talk at breakfast, just sit, eat and read the days copy of Del Mondo. She wasn't going to leave home just yet, but the marriage was over.
As he crossed the road towards the tower block which contained the branch of the Bank of which his life consisted, he thought again the thought which had been bothering him for the last few months; "What's it all for?" He knew it was another cliche, but cliche's are cliche's because they are so often true.
"Oh damn!" He'd forgotten to collect that parcel from the postal office. He checked his watch then turned to go back across the street, just in time to see the last amber flash give way to red. He stabbed the button angrily and felt, as the "wait" bulb lit up, the warm moist chewing gum spread over his finger tip. The realisation hit him, and this last straw demolished the dam head been building against his feelings. He put his hands to his face and sobbed.
"Are you alright Mr Golas?" It was one of the older, more annoying tellers, who had been waiting outside the bank to be let in.
"Of course I'm not!" he snapped angrily before his mild mannered personality could stop him. He pulled his hands from his face, hearing as he did the quiet tearing coming from his scalp, as toupee glue proved weaker than chewing gum. Mrs Castas' face contorted strangely at the double shock of the vehemence of her employer's reply and the realization that he was bald. She became the 15th woman in Havanna that week to discover that late to middle aged women have heart attacks quite as regularly as men. She crumpled to the floor and was almost immediately set upon by two worried passers by. Hugo stepped backwards away from the scene, the blood draining from his face. There was a piercing shrieking of tyres as the car he had just stepped in front of slewed wildly across the road on avoid him. A collision with an oncoming car sent it careening through the window of the newsagents, clipping a couple of pedestrians.
Hugo looked round at the developing nightmare with bewilderment. Then his face changed, became resolute, and he started towards the tower block.

He stood now at the top of the tower, he looked down. All was confusion below. A crowd of people, mostly youths, had gathered and were sifting through the decimated front of the newsagent, taking magazines and confectionery.
"Never mind," thought Hugo, as he watched a police car round the bend at the edge of the plaza. "They'll sort it out." And, after a brief moment of thought about how exactly one steps of a building, stepped off the building.

His body slammed into the roof of the arriving police car and almost immediately became a corpse. The roof of the car caved in spectacularly, knocking the driver unconscious and exploding most of the windows. The car's path on the road became erratic, to say the least, and was halted abruptly by a pillarbox, which not only sent a carpeting of letters across the pavement, but also the other policeman through the windscreen, his seatbelt undone in the brief struggle to take over control of the car.

The crowd had swelled and took this apparent attack on the police as a signal to go wild. Within minutes several shops were being looted and the car in the newsagent window was on fire. Reinforcements of police were holding back, because this was the capital of Cuba and they weren't paid enough to be heroes.

This was the opportunity Miguel Astinas had been waiting for all his life. He knew that in the modern cosmopolitan version of Havanna which existed today, opportunities for revolutionaries came once a lifetime if they were lucky. The first general meeting of his fledgling group was about to kick off with the 9'o'clock speaker as the violence erupted outside, and Miguel took the stage instead to address the 700 members of his self styled "Free Cuba" organisation to explain his new plan.

Astinas fancied himself as Cuba's Hitler, without all the morally questionable policies that came with that dictator's version of revolution. The time was good for him, the Leadership's popularity had plummeted with the current recession, and better still, he had the madman's passion that stupid, violent people seem to delight in following. As the 700 members poured from the meeting hall across the plaza and headed for the Central Hall they were rapidly joined by the two hundred rioters, already spoiling for a fight and, rallying behind the propaganda blaring Free Cuba banners and loudspeakers, the group rapidly grew past one thousand. Astinas had sent two one hundred strong groups around the perimeter of the centre of the city to spread the word to other potential recruits. News of the riot had spread faster than seemed possible, and by the time the three groups converged at the Central Hall of the People it numbered over two thousand. No mean feat in a country where public gatherings and shows of strength are simply not permitted.

Here came the crucial point. The commander of the 300 strong Committee Guard, who had, bizarrely, received no warning of the rabble's approach, saw the well organised though lightly armed core of the group, then looked at his own underpaid, demoralised ragtag army, and promptly swapped sides. A life preserving move at the time, it seemed. However, from then on, the rabble was armed, and seemingly supported by the army. The leadership, defenceless, surrendered, in return for safe passage out of the country. Preferably to Switzerland. Nothing to do with secret bank accounts, they assured the revolutionaries. They, erm, just liked the clean air there. All except Castro of course, who was kept in the cells for less than gentle questioning. It was in one of these questioning sessions Astinas finally found out what he wanted to know and started to put his master plan into action.

From the outside world's point of view this was one of the most incredible and eagerly welcomed coups ever. The USA was ecstatic, confident it could control the little dictator far more effectively and persuasively than the crippled, post revolution Russia could. And you never know, eventually they might be persuaded to evolve to a healthy democracy. So it was in a buoyant mood that the American Special Envoy arrived for his meeting with Astinas.

Fifteen minutes later he left in a foul mood. Astinas was clearly mad. The first thing he had done as the meeting started was demand vast quantities of money, military goods and land from America. In return for him not peppering America with nuclear warheads. The envoy knew perfectly well that Cuba had no such warheads and had inadvertently laughed at the little madman. At which point he'd gone berserk, screaming at a pace which lost the interpreter completely. Until he translated all three minutes of rabid screaming and three hard punches as; "The president respectfully asks you to leave to allow private deliberations."

What the envoy didn't realise was that Russia hadn't completely given up on Cuba as a missile base, and, in '72, had tried again. Far more subtly. Far more successfully. The operation was concealed from the world, the Russian people, and, more recently, the post revolution leadership. thus it came as a fair old surprise when a previously unheard of Strovsky High Speed Medium Range Nuclear Missile streaked across The States and destroyed a large proportion of Alaska.

Astinas was essentially a simple character, where he came from, when you had all the aces and someone didn't believe you, you showed them your hand. Making this strike was a warning shot, if you like. He'd told his captive Russian operators to reprogram one missile for Alaska, on the basis that the States wouldn't mind too much, and would give in. Forty small, fast moving red dots on the central command screen suggested otherwise. Astinas looked in horror at the screen. It was some moments before his madness returned. He suggested politely that the operator quickly launch all the remaining Russian missiles at America, Cuba would go down fighting, he decided. The operator pointed out that there wasn't time to retarget all the Russian missiles before the American missiles hit. So Astinas shot him and fired them all anyway, on the assumption that at least some were aimed at the USA. The mechanics of firing was a complicated task, made easier for the operators by the graphic demonstration of what happens if you said no. The last missile left its silo as the first American one hit.

Thankfully, in a way, intercontinental ballistic missiles had improved since the Russian command centre was built, and Astinas perished, along with his entire country.

The west has mechanisms to deal with accidental release of missiles and agreements that they won't retaliate to accidents or freak missile releases. Unfortunately for mankind, these mechanisms didn't work at all. Everyone assumed Russia was attacking and within two hours 98% of mankind was dead or fatally irradiated.

It took another fifteen years for mankind to finally peter out, bizarre weather patterns, disease and, typically, infighting, all took their final toll. The earth was, to all intents and purposes, dead.

Far away, in a parallel universe, the youth stopped at the lights, spat his gum on the floor, and none of this happened.

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