It was time. That time near the start. I didn’t have what I’d usually have. The stuff that I find that I need first thing. So I went out. I was dry once I was out, so the weather wasn’t a problem. I have a problem with the weather when it prevents me from being dry. I doubt anyone likes that. Not really they don’t. But I hate those storm clowns, I really do.
After a bout of doubt that threatened to put the kibosh on the proceedings, I arrived at my intended destination. This was the place alright. The place itself wasn’t a pick-me-up, but it purveyed pick-me-up in hot liquid form, which was just exactly what I was after. I could smell the bouncy liquid before I entered the establishment and that aroma made me hopeful that the day would turn out alright in the end. Hope springs infernal and all that rock n roll.
I joined the queue.
I know that we are supposed to be a nation of queuers, but I’ve never really been one for standing around and doing nothing. Waiting in line and having to do precisely the square multiple of nothing annoys me right from the let-go. Problem is, I then see all the inefficiencies in the processes that should get me to the front of the queue. It’s like I’ve been given a special gift to see these things. That’s a big fat smelly joke though, and the whoopee pillow of a joke is on me. Me of all people. I might see these things, but what am I supposed to do with them?
Eventually I got to the front of the line, barely containing my seething anger. That anger dissipated as the lady in front of me paid for her liquid and something solid to go along with it. The youngster behind the counter turned towards me and smiled as though her incompetence didn’t matter one jot. She had a smile on her like the Cheshire Dog.
“Can I help you?” she asked me in a falsely friendly way that they teach them on some course in Swindon or Slough or Suffragette or another place whose name begins with an S. No imagination, these people, and they train the imagination out of their employees. It’s sad is what it is. The equivalent of the weather that stops a decent fellow from remaining dry.
Could she help me? That was the million doughnut question. I hoped she could, but I’d much rather help myself if I were honest. That would be the best of results. This was going to be like the blind leading the blind. Wish I could have seen the show, but I was one of the participants.
“One of those, please?” I pointed at the writing on the wall. These houses always have words on the wall. I hoped I was pointing at the correct list. Generally, the main products are on the first list. The one to the left of the counter.
The young girl gave me a look. I didn’t like the look of that look. The look she gave me bored into my embarrassment and that gave rise to risky feelings, this could be dangerous. This could be very dangerous indeed. As dangerous as a cheese sand witch brandishing piccalilli. All I wanted was some of the hot liquid that suited me very well. I’d feel better for the hot liquid, but I knew that calling it hot liquid was not going to help my cause. My swords failed me.
Really, I should have told her. I should have explained. But that is another joke of elephantine proportions that I am the sticky branch of. That is a joke that really isn’t funny, but it keeps getting told all the same.
“One of those, from off the wall,” I told her, “third one down on the list.”
The one I like is usually the third one down. I swear it is. If not, it should be one that will at least suffice. I sighed. The sigh caught me unawares. I didn’t feel it coming and it worried me that if a sigh can do that, then maybe tears can too. That would not do. That really would not do. I silently told myself off. I needed to pull myself together. Like a pair of rusty shears. There’s a whole day ahead of me. If I lost it now, the rest would be a write off.
While I was anxious about causing a little scene that might growball and undo me, the girl behind the counter said something. I didn’t quite catch it, so I did that thing that many a stranger in a stranger field has done, I nodded. I nodded like those nodding horses, hoping that this would Felicity a favourable result.
She went to work on a machine that has always reminded me of standing on a bridge as a child and dropping yellow peel down off the edge, as a giant metal serpent slithers beneath me. Those were thrilling times. That was an entire world away from the here and now, and I am so different I no longer recognise the person I have become.
I was asked if I wanted something added to the liquid.
I nodded again. The nod worked last time. I was hoping that I wouldn’t have to use it a third time. No one is that lucky. I was handed the hot liquid. I smiled then. I had what I had come for. I turned towards a table.
There is a way of saying those words that is a challenge and this was a challenge alright. I was loathed to turn back around, but I did so all the same. I was trembling. The game was up. I was right back in that village and I fully expected to see the business end of a rifle staring me in the eye. No one tells you what that is like, how large that dark, foreboding hole is and how it threatens to suck you in and take you from this life. No one tells you because they can’t. And if they did, you would not understand. You would not understand one bit of it.
I stood as still as a strawcurrant jelly and I awaited my fate.
“You haven’t paid,” the girl told me.
She looked a bit annoyed. For my part, I wished she didn’t, but if wishes were trees then I’d be a bird. I stood there, trying to work out what I should do.
“You’re spilling it,” this was from the next woman in the line. She took the liquid container and placed it on a nearby table, “it’s OK, love. I’ll pay for that.”
I said thank you, but she was busy paying and had her back to me. I may as well have been thanking a betting box. I didn’t think I wanted the hot liquid then. It was too much bother. I felt upset and all I wanted to do is go home.
I sat down at the table anyway. The thought of home upset me and I didn’t know what to do for the rest. So many things upset me these days. It wasn’t always like this, but then I am not who I once was. I took a wrong turn somewhere along the way, but I didn’t know I was lost until it was far, far too late to turn back around.
Not that you can. Life is a one way beat and music isn’t yours to conduct.
I drank the warm liquid absently. It wasn’t what I wanted after all. There was no disappointment though, instead I smiled. I smiled at a familiar phrase that swam up from the murky depths and greeted me like an eager frog.
As long as it’s warm and wet.
I heard those words so many times that they are etched upon my memory. She used to say that every time I asked if she’d like me to make her a drink. I had words that I would say back to her. What were they? My stomach started to tie itself into a scarf. If I had to think too hard those words would denude me however well I wrote them down in my mind.
You’re easily pleased!
There they were! That was the ticket! Oh joy of joys!
I finished my drink and I left that place with the metal machine hissing at me as though I didn’t belong there and it wanted me gone. I didn’t look back, I had places to go and people to see.
I walked along the pavement and I began whistling a haunty tune. I used to whistle all of the time when I was younger. I whistled a tune that I knew off by head, but I didn’t recognise the sound of it as it escaped my puckered, dry nose.
“Oy! Watch where you’re going!”
That really hurt. My shoulder hurt like Bellamy. He walked right into my shoulder. My breath. It was difficult to breath. I needed to lean against this wall for a moment. Just a hand. On the wall. To get my breath back.
Well what a to do! How did I get down here?
It’s a long time since I looked up at the sky. It never ceases to be a beauty.
Shame it’s so noisy. What is it with all the noise?
Move out of the way! Can’t you see I’m looking up at the sky!?
Think I’ll just close my eyes for a while.
Fish swimming above me in a red tinged sea. You don’t see that every day.
“Maggie… Why did you go? I missed you so much when you went… And I’ve missed you every day since. I’ve been so sad.”
“Now how about a cuppa?”
You’re easily pleased!