For a workshop on future London, five individuals — Arup, Social Life, Re.Work, Commonplace, Tim Maughan and Nesta—created 10 Future Londoners for the year 2023. This is a short fictional piece describing the working day of 19 year old Nicki, a zero hours retail contractor.

0714, Wanstead

Nicki is awake even before her mum calls her from the other side of the door. She’s sat up in bed, crackly FM radio ebbing from tiny supermarket grade speakers, her fingers flicking across her charity shop grade tablet’s touchscreen. She’s close to shutting down two auctions when a third pushes itself across her screen with its familiar white and green branded arrogance. Starbucks. Oxford Circus. 4 hour shift from 1415.

0920, Oxford Circus tube station

As she reaches the exit barrier at Oxford Circus there’s some kerfuffle on the other side, cursing and shouting, and as the crowd gets out of the way she can see what’s going on; security theatre breaking its own fourth wall as two cops wrestle with a guy and get him to the floor, gloved hands pulling back his hood to reveal the shock of his warped face, mutated beyond machine recognition into a disturbed alien mask. Nicki has seen it before, but it still surprises her that people would go to those ends, pumping their face full of QVC home botox injections just to fool the cameras. Misuse can lead to dangerous long term side effects, the EULAs warn. Plus they just look fucking painful. Apparently the swelling goes down after a while, but the stretch marks remain — plus if that’s the only way you can do business inside Zones 1 & 2 then you need to start jacking your cheeks and forehead up with that shit all over again.

1235, Pret A Manger, Oxford Street

Two hour shift down and she’s not even seen a coffee machine, let alone some hipster barista she can flutter eyelashes at. She’s been stuck in a cold backroom sticking vacuum packed, pre-sliced organic cheddar into authentic French artisan baguettes she pulls out of a box from a bakery in Croydon.

1330, outside Starbucks, Oxford Street

Nicki sits soaking up skyscraper focussed rays, eating self made ham sandwiches out of tin foil wrappings, leeching wifi from Starbucks. Somewhere overhead rotors buzz, and she catches a glimpse of one of those tiffin drones straining against it’s own payload as it vanishes behind cliffs of steel and glass, delivering Indian food to penthoused analysts in those tall, metallic tins that swing like bombs from its underside.

1415, Boots the Chemists, Holborn

Boots is busy, a steady flow of post lunch shoppers. Occasionally one of them stops and asks her or one of the two other zed-contractors she’s stacking shelves with for directions to some product they don’t even recognize the name of. She smiles politely, tries to explain she’s zero hours, and offers to find someone to help them. Invariably the customers just tut and twirl on their heels, walking away from her mid sentence. The two other girls she’s working with keep their heads down, don’t even bother to look up. Maybe it’s the best strategy.

1845, Boots the Chemists, Holborn

Nicki and the other two zed-contractors are in the manager’s office, waiting for her to get off a call. It’s nice in here, Nicki thinks. Warm and quiet. There’s chairs and one of those old desktop computers with the big displays. Nicki wonders what it’s like to have a job where you get to sit down all day.

2127, Wanstead

Nicki lies on her bed, surrounded by books from what’s left of Wanstead’s library. Dali, Gaudi, Piccaso, Bosch, Warhol, Giraud. Her sketchbooks sprawl open around her, pencil scribbled designs sprawling across multiple pages; figures and textures, architectures and crowds, trees and towers.

Writer. Debut novel INFINITE DETAIL out now on FSG. Bylines at BBC, Motherboard, New Scientist.

Writer. Debut novel INFINITE DETAIL out now on FSG. Bylines at BBC, Motherboard, New Scientist.