He prided himself that he took no nonsense from large impersonal companies. He had worked for them for many years and promised himself that in retirement he would never again accept any shoddy treatment. He knew from the inside what these companies were like. He became determined that while he was a customer they would not treat him as another nameless statistic.
His name was Zachary Arthur Lovat or ‘Zal’ to his close acquaintances. It was not a name to be taken lightly.
On his day of epiphany, Zachary was engrossed in one of his many battles with the corporate world. It was a single-minded pursuit of his entitlement as a customer. He likened himself to a hunter after his prey and, like any professional hunter, he had strict rules of engagement. Zachary’s fulfilment came when his rights were respected and he tasted justice at the conclusion of the hunt.
He was always mindful to obtain the identity of everyone he spoke to, especially those who undertook to take some action on his behalf. He believed that if they knew he had their name they would be more likely to carry through on their commitments, in full knowledge that if they failed in their task, Zachary Arthur Lovat would track them down.
So on this occasion, in time honoured fashion, he asked: ‘May I have your name?’
‘Yes of course. It’s Zachary Lovat,’ replied the call centre person.
‘No I wasn’t asking you for my name. I want to know your name,’ insisted Zachary in steely tones.
‘That is my name. I thought it was weird when you came on. I thought you were pulling my leg, until I checked your file and realised we had the same name. I even have Arthur as well. To be accurate I’m Zachary Arthur Lovat the second. My Dad was the first Zachary Arthur Lovat. Strange eh?’
Zachary regularly googled his name to reassure himself he was the only Zachary Lovat. He checked Twitter and Facebook too. There were no Zachary Lovats, never mind Zachary Arthur Lovats.
‘Please don’t abuse my good nature,’ said Zachary. ‘I’ve put up with enough from your company.
‘Don’t try telling me your name is the same as mine. Give me your real name.’
‘That is my real name.’
‘Alright. Put me through to your supervisor,’ said Zachary not prepared to be toyed with any longer by this practical joker.
The supervisor in turn confirmed that the operative was indeed called Zachary Lovat. She couldn’t say about the ‘Arthur’ part.
Still Zachary would not accept that there was more than one Zachary Lovat, Arthur or not. His name was precious to him. It was, after all, who he was. It gave him a sense of his uniqueness and importance in a world of uniformity. When he had worked in large companies some poor people shared the same names, but everyone knew who Zachary Lovat was. People remembered his name. His father used to boast to friends: ‘He’s the only one, you know.’
So, not to be outsmarted, Zachary phoned the company back and asked for this ‘Zachary Lovat’ by name. He was put straight through to his doppelganger. Zachary Arthur Lovat the second agreed to email him using his company email address showing his handle as zac.a.lovat. But the real kick in teeth was the knowledge that this man’s father was born five years before Zachary.
With this news Zachary sat back in his chair shaking his head in bewilderment. Try as he might, he could take little comfort from the knowledge that this other person seemed to be known as ‘Zac’- something he had always resisted. The fact remained there was another Zachary Arthur Lovat. In fact until recently there were two, one born before him.
He spoke to his wife about it. She too took it badly.
‘There’s another Zal?’ she asked in bewilderment. ‘And one born before you?’
‘It looks like it,’ Zachary admitted without giving her eye contact.
‘But you always said you were the only one. Your father told me so before I married you.’
His wife liked being different from other people. Her maiden name had been Penelope Andora Pibblington and she had thrown over many suitors because of their mediocre names. She was assured that a man with a name like Zachary Arthur Lovat had prospects and, until this moment, he had not disappointed her.
Penelope slumped onto her original handmade Irish oak chair.
‘It changes everything,’ she said.
‘How do you think I feel, Pal?’ he said. They had the same initials, so naturally they called each other ‘Zal’ and ‘Pal’.
‘Could there be another Penelope Andora Lovat?’ she sighed staring in to an abyss of uniformity. ‘What about our children’s names?’
He didn’t know what to say to reassure her. His faith in the uniqueness of things had been shattered.
‘So who are you?’ she asked the man she had been married to for thirty-five years.
‘What do you mean?’
‘Well you can’t say you’re Zachary Arthur Lovat because he is and his father was there before you. So who are you?’ She looked genuinely mystified as she stared at him.
‘Well. I’m still me, I think,’ asserted the man with little conviction.
‘Who’s me?’ she retorted.
‘Zachary Arthur Lovat.’
‘No,’ she said wagging a finger. ‘He already is. You both can’t be the same person can you? Especially as his father was there first. He has more entitlement to the name than you.’
The man formerly known as Zachary Arthur Lovat stood in his living room. He felt empty, he felt naked. He stared at an original painting of Loch Lomond above the fireplace. A voice in his head said, ‘There aren’t two Loch Lomonds’.
Many of his friends in the seventies had gone off to find themselves in India or in voluntary work overseas. But most of them had common names like Rodney Rogers and Michael Murphy. They needed something to separate themselves from the herd of namesakes. The man had believed he didn’t need to go to any such trouble; he was born ready formed as a unique person. He knew who he was by the fact that he was the only one to have his name. Now to his horror in the autumn of his life he had discovered that his parents had imposed on him a duplicate identity. If they had told him he was not the only one he would have taken steps to develop a distinct personality, like his friends. Now what was he to do?
That night he slept alone. Pal said that just as she had always insisted that she wouldn’t sleep with a homeless person, she wouldn’t sleep with a nameless one either.
It was clear to him that he had to do what his friends had done forty years ago: find himself and get a name suited to who really was.
Sitting at the breakfast bar early the next morning with a large suitcase already packed, placed upright on its wheels in the corner of the kitchen like a puppy eager for a walk, the man had stopped eating and was staring intently at the TV news reports of a tsunami in Mexico.
Pal noticed the suitcase as she walked in.
‘What are you going to do?’ she said with a pained look.
He didn’t answer and remained watching the TV, holding a spoon poised over a bowl of homemade organic cereal.
‘We could put unusual names in a ….I don’t know ….in a hat,’ she giggled nervously, ‘and pull them out to give you a new name. You know changing your name is very easy,’ she said putting a reassuring hand on his arm. ‘It only costs £15. We could……’
The man turned to her.
‘No, Pal. I’m not taking a £15 name from hat! I’ve thought about this. I want to do this organically.’
‘What do you mean “organically”?’ she asked, turning round to look at their fridge, thinking he was going to name himself after a vegetable.
‘Look at those people,’ he said pointing to the TV with his spoon. ‘Their lives have been washed away by a tsunami. They’ve lost everything except their names. My life has been washed away too. I’m not who I thought I was. I’m thinking we could help each other.’
Pal stared open mouthed at the TV and at the man holding the spoon in such an uncouth manner. He was a stranger to her already.
‘I will find myself there, helping those people,’ he said dreamily. ‘Once I find myself I will know who I am and a new name will arise. I think you have to earn a name and not have it thrust upon you.’
They sat in silence watching the unfolding scenes on the TV being beamed live from the area of devastation.
The sound of a car’s horn broke their silent wonder.
‘That’s my taxi,’ he said jumping up and kissing her on the cheek. ‘I’m staying in London tonight and flying to Mexico in the morning.’
‘The sooner I get this done, Pal, the sooner we can get our lives together back.’
He was out the front door before much more could be said. Pal immediately dialled a number on her phone.
‘Hello. Is that Zachary Arthur Lovat?’ she asked with a smile.
‘It worked. He’s going to Mexico!’ she screamed, not in horror, but in delight, her feet dancing on original ceramic floor tiles.
‘Mexico? We had a bet on it would be India. I thought you said he was predictable.’
‘Poor dear. He’s had such a shock. He thinks homeless people in Mexico can help him find himself,’ she said between giggles.
‘We’ll switch the boys to Mexico. Mexico will be a good place for us to work with the chaos of the tsunami.’