“Should I get the door?”
You look up, uncertain about the sounds you’ve just heard.
“I’m heading home now, should I leave the door open or are you staying the night?”
The implications of all she’s said may not have dawned on her, but you know now is not the time to mull over each of the tributaries of your thoughts. You nod, and thankfully she intercepts that as a “yes, leave it open” – because you’ll be stepping out of the office and locking up behind you, and trying, trying hard to get some of your old self back.
20 minutes later, the only force driving you out of the door and your reverie of self-pity is that you have to water the plants in your house the next morning. It’s a house now, you notice – it’s not a home. It’s a place where things you own are kept, not where you live and make things happen and cook and feel calm. You wonder when the difference set it. You know when.
Of course, the elevator has a couple of stops to make before you can get in. There’s Anita from upstairs repeating into her phone that, no she can’t hear you. Can you… can you please wait? She’ll text you back. You smile at each other, and in other circumstances you’d have asked her if she’s still planning on negotiating her yearly package with Nadira. But she’s too busy and you don’t care for small talk today.
The street outside is filling in. Friday evenings in this part of town mean that you have to be in the right place at the right time to be able to get anywhere. It wasn’t this way, you note – or perhaps it always was and you’re just in a place to really observe it. There’s a non-threatening drizzle in the air and you know that once it would light up your face and make the world spin with excitement around you but today, you note it as mild precipitation. The walk to your ATM is lined with restaurants. What is this love for Asian food that’s permeating the world? You’re more of a continental food buff but really, these many outlets? And always full, at that. What are people celebrating all the time? Is everyone just a terrible cook when left to their own devices? Is corn syrup really all there is to it? You don’t even know what corn syrup really does.
You pull your coat a little closer to your body having admitted not knowing to yourself. Maybe I should try more of these truth telling moments. Embarrass myself around me. That’d be a change.
The ATM’s a little dark inside as usual, so you peek in to see if there’s a light on the screen… and yes there is. You step in and wait for the card to process so you can get the month’s cash in hand and transfer the rest to your savings accounts. The screen flickers a little and your irritation with the world as it is spikes – irritating because now, your card’s stuck. Irritating because it’s been a relentlessly bad day. Did your tone show on the phone call? Let’s leave that for Monday, but right now, the card’s stuck in the slot and you need to calm down.
You wait for the screen to come alive, but this is it. Of all days, after months of slowing down in function and luminosity, this ATM machine has picked the day you had to put your 13-year-old dog down, to crash.
You shrug, set your glasses back, and remind yourself to be objective about this. The ATM machine did not know about Binks. Cannot know about him. You need a solution. Is there a helpline on the machine? Ah yes. You wait for it to be answered. But the call disconnects of its own accord. Try again. Nope. And again and there’s no network, as if there’s a finite quantity of network and today you’ve used up yours. After a little juvenile push to the machine, you step out looking for distance from the issue and help in case anyone can lend you their phone.
The drizzle has taken the time you were in the ATM room to turn into a light shower. For the first time today, you smile. Or you don’t frown. Well, something in your face changes.
There’s a chap smoking a cigarette by the store display to your left. Shouting across a few feet isn’t nice, so you glance back into the ATM and run the distance of a few feet to ask for his phone. When he turns, however, you want to ask him a whole lot of other questions.
What’s your wingspan?
What happened under your eye?
Can I put my fingers in your hair?
You’re about to cross the line of polite staring-going-to-letching so you quickly blurt out something about the ATM-card-phone-yours.
“Is it stuck inside the machine?” Your toes need not have curled at that baritone.
“Cancel the card. Sooner the better.”
He punches in a password as the two of you walk towards the ATM. He hands you the phone.
A conversation filled with a lot of verification details about your account and about the problem and about the card and about the ATM and about if you’re sure later, you stare at the phone in your hand. While the relief of the card being cancelled settles in, you realise that the phone owner is still inside the ATM space. His attention, however, is outside and on the rain. It’s even heavier now.
For a moment before you take in the updated meteorological status, you take in the muscle of his back. His grey jacket is stretched over the scapulae and his slightly unruly hair has a sheen of droplets. The ATM must have stilled because phone man turns back inside then.
Look up look up look up.
“It’s coming down heavy, isn’t it?”
Fuck your small talk. To add insult to self-inflicted injury, phone man grunts.
You stretch your hand with the phone in it. He takes it back and your breath gets caught in its shoelaces, so your thanks comes out too raspy.
That, unfortunately, gets him to look up.
“It’s alright.” Why’s the ground rumbling to his voice? “You look unwell” – uhm, okay, but now he knows this isn’t your usual face? – “Do you want to sit down?” – there’s nothing to sit here but thanks for the suggestion, stranger – “Maybe have a coffee with me?”
What are you doing? What are you doing? What are you doing?
“There’s one place, down the road, same side, needn’t cross. Three shops to the left. Don’t slip.” He opens the door and makes a dash for it.
Next in the series.