It was late afternoon in my shop. Me and Hanna were beginning the final clear-up, as we had only thirty minutes or so until time came to an end. That’s how the end of the day feels sometimes. We say farewell to the last customer of the day, shut the door and begin the mindless yet vital routine that sees the shop clean, tidy and ready to begin afresh tomorrow. And we have our daily rant about colleagues, customers, anyone who has pissed us off mightily through the day but at a time when the exigencies of the job have dictated that we bottle it all up inside and say nothing for now, but we refine our anger and resentment to a white heat of exquisite delayed torment, knowing that the time for our spleen to be vented will surely arrive.
And arrive it does. We have our rants, purging ourselves with the joy of obscenities freely and indiscriminately hurled, of prejudices justified, egging each other on to worse slanders and viler vilifications, mostly quite unjustified, until we are spent. But we feel relief, partly because we’ve let it all out and used the pent up emotional trauma of the day as fuel to power us though the mindless routine of cleaning up the shop, but also because we won’t have to inflict the day’s anger on our respective loved ones when we each return to the bosoms of our families.
Yes, I’d say that in some ways it feels like the end of time. A new dawn awaits. But first we must cross the dark river of eternity, swim against the currents of grim inevitability to emerge, reforged into the light of new experience. Or some such bollocks.
But then the phone rang. It was Fretful Mathew. The only customer I’ve ever known to phone the shop to apologise for not coming in because he feels unwell. Or some other pathetic excuse. But that wasn’t his reason for calling today. Today he was calling to tell me that he’d fallen asleep after cutting the grass and sitting down to watch the BBC news at lunchtime with a ham sandwich and a glass of milk because he’s had to stop drinking vodka in the day because his doctor had told him it might not be the best thing for his blood pressure or the other problem he has which he doesn’t feel quite ready to fully confide in me but it does involve regular samples of easily collected bodily waste fluids being analysed at some unspecified location but I guess it’s not the Environment Agency doing the analysing. Anyway, as an inevitable result of all this, there had been a mix up over his taxi into town, and would I still be able and willing to serve him if he arrived within the next ten minutes. Hanna had got the general gist of his message, mainly because I’d been repeating his salient points in a tone of faux-horror and despair, and as I mouthed ‘ten minutes’ at her she flew into action.
“Ah now, Mathew. Bad news there, I’m afraid. We said a fond farewell to our last customer of the day just six minutes ago, and I’ve turned off the tea machine as a general act of despair at the unlikelihood of seeing any more customers today and thrown away the last half pint of home made potato and watercress soup, which I do realise is a particular favourite of yours, mainly out of spite towards an unforgiving world. So there’s really not much point in your coming into town. I think we’ll be closed very soon. Young Hanna’s finishing the washing up and the chairs are flying up onto the tables like they’re possessed. So no, Mathew. I wouldn’t worry yourself too much about coming in today. It’s really quiet this afternoon.” He breathed very heavily. He gasped.
“Ah. Well. If you…Er…Yes….I’ll see you tomorrow? I’m very sorry, er, I’ll see you tomorrow. Sorry.” We said farewell and each of us, exhausted in our own way, replaced our telephones on their cradles.
I turned to Hanna.
“He apologised. The fucking fucker fucking apologised.” Why did I feel so guilty?
“Do you feel like a shit?” she asked.
“Yes, but let’s get finished here first. I’ll have one after you’ve gone home.” So we did.
On the way home I was stopped by John the Taxi. He’d brought a distraught Fretful Mathew into town. On the road from the village Mathew had spotted an old discarded blanket. He had persuaded John to stop so he could pick it off the road, then paid him the extra fare to take him to the waste recycling facility on the other side of town by the railway line and dispose of it there.
“He was really upset. Some bastard’s really ruined his day.” Said John.
“Yes” I agreed. “You charged him full fare to the tip and back to the town? You’re a bastard, Taxi John.”