Two Days Out
I have to cut across the city.
From inner suburb to another.
I start at seven.
The bus is running late, and I have half an hour to get to work. Outside the shelter, the winds rip through my uniform. I’m not listening to anything anymore. I’ve switched off. I’m going to work again. All it is, is another eight hours away from my girl.
My heels hang over the edge of the kerb, and my back is to the road. There’s no traffic in the road. Facing the shelter, I run my eyes over the graffiti that decorates it. I cringe at how coarse it seems.
big tits Italian style.
stinky arab cunt is very nice.
fuck me babe sexy one.
My mental imagery raises no objections to its rottenness. In my head, no one has to talk with a liberal stench, to commentate on the urban affair. You just have to look around.
The bus arrives and I hop on. What have they done to that bus shelter? What has that bus shelter done to me?
Getting to work, I sneak past everyone, without saying the routine, without saying good morning. Slinking into the mens area, I saddle up to my locker. Opening the locker, I look inside. One towel hanging off a coat hanger. I can smell that it’s still damp from knock off last afternoon. I grab my notebook, the radio, the pager, and my pencil. My cigarettes are still in my top breast pocket. The box of matches is in my socks.
It’s ten minutes after the shifts started. In the hallway I head for the television room. I walk past the spooks from night shift going home, and the puppets getting a head start emptying rubbish bins.
The middle section of the news, splashes out into the room. Someone has set fire to something. Someone has died somewhere. The dollar is dead.
The bin in the corner is overflowing with choc milk cartons, and plastic sandwich wraps. Crumbs litter the table tops. The vinyl on the chairs is gashed.
I look up when the sport section flashes upon me. It’s a fanciful illumination. The television set is on brackets, stung to the corner of the wall, where it meets the ceiling. My team hasn’t won in nine rounds, and I work weekends.
At this stage of the morning, I chew on what I could be doing. I could head on down to casualty, bit I decide to stay put. I’ll offer personal assistance as required.
I turn to Terry and talk reflex shit.
– Y’catch the game on the weekend.
He nods his head, oblivious to which game I’m referring to.
In the hallway, I head to the service elevator. Getting in I press eight.
On the eighth floor, they have biomedical engineering, which is where they fix stuff. No one goes there except orderlies. On the eighth floor you walk out onto the roof. I stumbled onto it one evening, and ever since, I’ve kept it too myself. A few others know about it., but I don’t really care about them.
The elevator opens, and I head into the fire escape. I push through another door, and I’m in the morning sunshine. My body warms right up, and I can smell the dampness in the air. Lighting a cigarette, I hang my arms over the ledge.
The guys who work on the sixth floor, in the private ward, come up through the other entrance. They hold exclusion over me, even though they don’t get paid any more. The don’t acknowledge me. I look at them, and they the same.
I draw back on the cigarette, as my mood takes me. My mood is brief. I flick it over the edge, watching it arc, spindle, then land next to a BMW. It sparks instantly, then just lies there. I turn away from the ledge.
Before I go through the fire door, I have one last look at the city. It’s over there, and the suns behind it. The rays filter between office blocks and empty apartments. The haze, the smog looks radiant.
My girls out there somewhere. My pay was already two days late.
At the elevator I press two. The outpatients eye clinic has a spring water dispenser.
The medical receptionist is hanging behind the counter. She’s marshalling appointments, and trying to look more attractive, than her middle age lets her. What first grabbed my attention to her was her fingernails. Immaculately sculpted with smooth, pointed ivory baubles. Today they’re the colour of plumbs. She has a blonde bob, and an age twice the size of mine. She tries too hard to look natural.
Standing, checking her out, I sip water from a Styrofoam cup. Turning away I see a man in a wheelchair, with two eye patches. The one on his left eye has dried blood. He’s waiting to be seen.
Tossing the cup, it jerks on the bins rim, then falls, bouncing off the carpet. The receptionist looks at me, expecting it to be picked up. I walk off, remaining someone who don’t confront her.
The fourth floor, is a general ward. Georgie works up on it. I’m going see if she needs a hand. It gets busy sometimes, and I don’t mind helping others out, as long as I don’t get trapped doing their work.
Georgie’s emptying the linen skips. It’s a bluster of soiled sheets, blood, pyjamas, shit and piss. When I started working here, Georgie was one of the first to show kindness towards me. I enjoy talking with her.
– Hey Tobe … y’got that twenty y’owe me?
Georgie knows there’s something not quite right with me. I like her simple honesty. I can’t tell her why I don’t have the money, besides it’d all come out wrong.
– Sorry Georgie … y’know better than to ask for money on a Monday mornin’.
Georgie lifts a sharps container out of its slot. She fastens her keys back to her belt.
– Y’know Tobe … it’s been ‘bout four weeks now.
Georgie’s debasing my ego, and I feel ashamed.
– I’ll get it to you on Wednesday … after the pay goes through.
I obsess over many things, getting sweaty and anxious along the way. I certainly don’t obsess over a direct deposit of cash, that my employer feeds into my being every fortnight.
When the doors in the elevator close, they bar the outside. Tiredness comes along, and I press six. It’s a chance to take. What could be found up on the sixth floor?
Stooping down to my ankles, I pick up my shoelace, and tie those laces right.
On the fifth, the doors open, and my boss walks in. I stand up, not bothering to finish with my laces. Here I am, myself and my boss, in the elevator, all alone. We don’t acknowledge each other, but it’s certain he’s checking me out. I give him the required nod. It acknowledges a presence in the image of the other. It’s a useless activity, but a requisite nevertheless. Everyone here seems to do it.
It occurs to me, the needle mark on my arm. I’d shot up a point on the weekend, and it had left a sepia bruise, the size of a 20 cent piece. It’s in the usual spot, in the inner arm, around and above the elbow joint.
Looking up, my boss is noticing the bruise. He looks at my face, then at the vein, getting out of its skin. I fold my arms, and clear my throat.
– I juss had an’ appointment with the Staff Doctor … another blood test.
It’s been about a year since I’ve been tested for Hepatitis. My boss doesn’t seem to trust me, but I do my work well, and I know whose buttons to push in, and whose to bite down on.
The elevator gets to the sixth, and even though we’ve gone two floors, it still seems like it’s taken too long. Walking out, I rustle my hands into my pockets. The spare change suggests I’m 10 cents short for a Pepsi. At seams, and posing naked before my boss, I think of asking him for the difference. It’s hot, and sweat is slipping under my tie. As I step out, I take another look at my boss. He speaks sternly.
– Tobe … I’m putting you up in ICU this afternoon.
I’ve never worked in Intensive Care, but before I can tell him, the doors close. He’s gone.
I watched the light above the elevator indicate three. He’s heading down to his office, but the humming veneration of his higher authority is still sniffing about.
Walking past the soft drink dispenser, I let out a held breath. It’s two more days till the pay comes. I’m up, in under forty eight hours.
I walk past the rubbish room. Bestami is in there, pushing down a garbage bag into the bigger skip. Piles of linen bags are stacked up under the chute. The attendants who work on the wards, like Georgie, bring all the rubbish and linen to this point, and then cleaners like Bestami open the chute, or take the rubbish out to the compactor. Bestami yells out to me.
– Hey! … Tobe! … Whatssup?
My legs crack as I turn around, and Bestami is standing in the doorway. I know a little bit about him, but not much. We’ve worked on night shift before, and he comes across like a good bloke.
– Hey Bestami … how’s the schoolin’ goin’?
He’s studying to be an engineer, and his brother Hakim, whose one of the security guards, got him the job.
He looks up from his shoes, smirking like I know better than to call it schooling. I look down. The remnants of a mercury stain on the linoleum, hold my gaze. Bestami talks down to me. He’s preachy about his institution.
– You mean university Toby.
I’m kinda over this. I was just making conversation.
– Yeah that’s it … how is it?
He pauses, thinking this over, then smiles. He answers, with all the assurance of someone whose on the way up.
– I pay money, I work hard.
I like this response, it shows drive, it shows adversity over circumstance. It’s also smug and arrogant, an insult to the underclass. I just offer some third rate slogan, something I say, so I don’t have to think, about what really hurts me.
– That’s it Bestami … no one’ll pay y’extra if y’complain ‘ey.
Bestami seems surprised, like I’ve said something he admires, but didn’t think I had it in me.
– Correct Toby … correct.
The longer Bestami thinks about it, the more he thinks I’m taking the piss. He sort of scrunches up his face, perplexed, then lets it all out.
– You’re wasting in this hospital Toby.
To help him out, I turn the key, I open the chute door, and start loading linen bags into the opening.
– Um … w’whadya mean?
Bestami taps the shirt pocket on my chest.
– What’s this notebook y’always hooking into?
I have to lie. I have to keep up the charade that I’m dumb.
– I’m juss writin’ in my jobs … takin’ down the numbers.
Bestami looks at me, as he picks up a full bag from the bin. He smiles to himself, like he knows better. He hoists the bag into the skip. He pushes the other one down, with a steel rod, talking to me as he does.
– As long as you pull yourself up Tobe … will to take the gamble so to speak.
This is starting to turn into a lecture. Bestami is becoming a bore. I’m becoming a cynic.
– Yeah … but moaning about it all Bestami … won’t make any of it happen.
Bestami lets out a rough noise from his throat. He seems like he’s getting upset with me, like I can’t see what’s in front of me.
– I ain’t moaning … I’m telling you. Anyways what are y’doing, you’re cluttering up m’time. You’re in my way.
Bestami seems like he’s flipping out, and it’s making me feel amazed.
– Bestami … you talk like that … But you asked me over in the first place.
While the seconds turn silent, I look at some nurses, then Bestami speaks. He hits me up for a cigarette, and I put one between his fingers. He puts it in his top pocket, and looks down at the plastic bags in the corner. The bags are two colours, green and yellow. He speaks like he’s thinking to himself.
– I’m knockin’ for a break … wanna come out with me?
– I’m not hungry, could do with a drink tho’.
Bestami walks out into the hallway, nearly bumping into a doctor.
– Besides Bestami, it’s nearly lunch.
He points back, over my shoulders, pointing at the ground.
– Tobe, this is all about linen, and this linen can wait … Besides I gotta go pray.
Something shudders through me.
– To the hell what?
Bestami tugs on his beard.
Now he’s got me interested. I come across as being insulting, but innocent enough as well.
– Which way is it?
Bestami looks at me, steely cold, like I’ve offended him.
– So which way is it?
Bestami spins around on the ugly tiles, and looks over his shoulder. He looks back at the wall he was facing, then spins around in that direction. He sticks out his arm, pointing out from him, so rigid it looks like it’s going to fall off. His palm is outstretched like a paddle. He smiles at me through his beard.
– Mecca … is thatta way.
I’m thrown over, like I’ve just been kissed. Bestami puts his hands in his pockets, and rocks back and forth on his feet. He looks self-satisfied, chuffed, like he’s just performed a magic trick.
– So … Tobe … Y’gonna come with me.
Bestami brings me back to reality. I stutter somewhat.
– Oh … n’no … I don’t w’wanna interrupt.
Bestami walks towards me. Reaching out, he places his hand on my left shoulder. I look at his hand. Hair is coming out of his knuckles.
– Tobe … y’shouldn’t feel like that … at all.
I’m interested, but don’t want to look stupid, even though deep inside, I’d like to watch this performance of prayer. I shrug my shoulders.
– Bestami mate … It’s juss something you gotta do.
I walk away, holding a great delight under my tongue.
I’m opening my locker, grabbing my towel off the hanger. It’s less wet than this morning, but still humid enough. In the shower, the waters mixing, to make a comfortable temperature. I lean in, holding my hand under the shower head. It feels like an agreeable cool. Pleasant enough to drain off the sweat from my skin.
I step in. I think about Mecca. I think about this mornings dawn. How it seemed to be ripened. How it went inward of me. How it seemed to break apart inside me, but then I got to work. Hopefully the dusk will be like that tonight. I turn the taps off. Someone should tell engineering that the washers need to be changed.