Avoiding eye contact, I scuttle over to my desk, but he’s spotted me, and is already making his way over. In a slightly higher pitch than usual, he asks if I have five minutes for a “little chat”.
I follow him into a meeting room, trying to look serious and professional and not at all like someone who plans to be elephant-spotting on a jungle island in just over a month’s time.
“I can’t stop you from leaving,” says my boss. “I mean, I won’t try, since you’ve clearly got a pretty solid plan laid out for when you go.”
“I’ve got a one way ticket to Bangkok,” I mumble, apologetically.
“Like I say, I won’t try to change your mind. But if you do change your mind, you’d be, you know, very welcome.”
I try to think of something that might change my mind. Perhaps if, for example, a meteor hit the Gulf of Thailand and submerged the entire Asian continent overnight. No, that wouldn’t do it – I’d just stick around in Rome until I have a chance to reconsider my options. Columbia, probably. Or Turkey. Plenty going on in Turkey right now. Okay, what about this: ISIS announce that they’re marching East with an inexplicable hankering to annex Vietnam. But then, wouldn’t I have some sort of obligation to fight for the freedom of the country that I hope to make my adoptive home? I once met an old lady in the countryside near the Laos border who still had bullets embedded in her legs from an unfortunate encounter with an American fighter plane, but who managed to crawl back home over the course of a year to rebuild her village with the help of the only other survivor. How could I wimp out of a battle, surrounded with superwomen like that? I’d have to pledge my allegiance and fight to the death. So no, not war. Okay, I’ve got one: I find out I’ve developed a rare and terrible disease that means that all my skin will fall off if I travel more than 5 miles from London. That might do it. Although it wouldn’t necessarily stop me from going freelance anyway, just slightly closer to home…
I realise that my boss’ lips have stopped moving and he’s now waiting for me to speak.
“I’ve always wanted to be a foreign correspondent,” I say cheerily, hoping that’s the right answer. “I can’t really be a foreign correspondent in my home town, so the idea is to go somewhere I’m really interested in and write about it, and see if I can pick up enough freelance commissions back home to survive when I get there.”
My boss is nodding. That’s a good sign.
“Well,” he says. “If you get out there and you want to keep writing stories for your old titles, you know, to help you build up your freelance portfolio when you get there, you can always call us up and pitch stuff, you know.”
“Oh, really? That’s great!” I say, genuinely surprised. We don’t do much overseas stuff. We don’t have any freelancers on our books.
“Yeah, of course!” he says. “I mean, we obviously couldn’t pay you for it.”
“Oh,” I say, deflated. My first freelance offer, it seems, is basically doing old job – for free.
This is not a very good start.