Sorry I am so late with my piece for the Daily Post today, but it’s been one of those days! Better late than never huh? I’m off to check everyone else’s responses now 😀
Tom liked his job. It wasn’t for everyone, and he understood why; after all, who wanted to literally be clearing up everyone else’s crap? He felt himself to be in the same class as bin men, sewer workers, and morticians. No-one wanted to do the jobs, but the world would be a pretty bad place without them. He was proud of his work, taking pride in a sparkling white surface and the scent of pine. He kept fluffy towels laundered and regularly replaced, pretty bottles of hand sanitiser sat at each basin and he was the nemesis of the entire fly nation; no winged germ-monster was going to sully his pristine latrine.
Tom hadn’t always been a lavatory attendant. Three years previously he’d been a high flyer in the city, trading in numbers which boggled the untrained mind, which meant nothing in real terms, but everything in the virtual world of buying and selling. There had been times he wasn’t even sure the things he was trading actually existed; he pondered them being invented by some nerd in a basement under the stock exchange as virtual money flew back and forth.
Looking back he realised how solitary the job had been. He spent each day yelling at people, or typing at people, being yelled at, or typed at, but never having real contact. Every evening had been the wind –down, the bottles of wine – champagne on a good day – and the drugs. Now he could understand how it was all that held them in that bar night after night, the endless cycle of drunken boasting and drug-fuelled belligerence. Not one night had been about friendship; just one pissing contest after another. Most of the time he hadn’t
even known the name of the person he was drinking with, or remember what they’d spoken about in the morning.
The bar was heaving every night, teeming with a hundred people, all on their own. Groups would flow together and ebb apart, leaving no mark on anyone caught in the wave. The bar staff were too harried to remember names, or take time to talk, desperately trying to pump an ocean of booze into every solitary drop in the rowdy sea. Occasionally a fight would break out and, for a brief moment, there would be solidarity as the crowd gathered, cheering on the participants with non-specific goads; because no-one knew names.
Pouring out onto the street there would be calls of ‘see you tomorrow’ and ‘we should do lunch’. Numbers would be exchanged, dumped into pockets and removed by a hundred dry cleaners, connections never made. Small groups would stagger along the pavements, certain they were swaggering, cat-calling to every woman, hurling insults at female derision and their fleeing steps. The groups would split as cabs piled up in yellow streams, cabbies eager to fleece drunken men for whom money held no actual value.
Three years ago Tom had experienced a bad night. His trading day had been appalling; he hadn’t been able to put a foot right, deals falling through left, right and centre. The colossal loses had sent him into a night of immense drinking. When someone had offered him drugs, he’d bought everything, chasing one lot after another and washing away his woes in constant whiskey bottles. His feet had danced a complicated tango, three steps left, two right, some back, some not, until he’d found the bathroom. Groping his way along the wall, head filled with cottonwool shot through with blinding flashes of colour, he’d found the urinal, realised he wasn’t capable of standing up for that long, and collapsed into a stall.
He’d woken up in the hospital, stomach pumped and listening to constant lectures about drunk and drugs and addiction and getting therapy. He’d discharged himself as soon as possible, heading back to the bar. There was someone he needed to see. The ambulance tech who’d popped in to check on him after delivering him to the ER, was the only one who was able to tell Tom what happened. Now he wove his way through the tables laden with chairs, a large woman rumbling around the silent room with a vacuum, eyeing him suspiciously. He tried a smile but she turned away sharply; he realised he must look a wreck, still in his stained and rumpled suit, a black eye and an arm in a cast, limping and reeking.
He pushed through the swing doors leading to the toilets and hung a left. The men’s room seemed deserted, but a clank and a whistle suddenly issued from a far stall. Jack, the lav man as he was genially known, emerged swinging a bucket and mop, whistling off key but with enthusiasm. His smile lit up when he realised who was visiting him.
“Mr Shaw! Am I glad to see you. Thought you were a gonna when you left here.”
Tom hurried forward, grabbing Jack’s hand and pumping it.
“If it hadn’t been for you, I would have been. I don’t know how to thank you. You saved my life.”
“Ah now, it was no big deal. I just came through, doing my job. I do like a clean latrine, Mr Shaw.”
“Jack, if you weren’t so good at your job, so committed to making my environment, the bars customers, welcoming and clean, I’d be dead this morning. How can I repay you for finding me, for calling the ambulance and for walking me around until they got here. How do I pay you for my life?”
Jack studied the dishevelled figure with his battle scars and seemed to make a decision.
“If you real want to do that, Mr Shaw, I’d ask you to pay it forward. One day, somewhere down the line, do for someone what I did for you… You can’t do that if you keep working there,” he flicked his eyes in the direction of the stock exchange, “or coming here night after night. Go connect, and be alive. Now, sir, if you will forgive me, I have a lot of work to do before the lunch trade.”
He gave Tom’s hand a final shake and bustled off, resuming his off key whistling as if he had never stopped.
Tom smiled, warm with recall, and applied his mop to the floor of the toilets of the Soho bar. He was connected now, knew the names of his visitors, and they knew him, calling him Tom the loo dude, and he laughed with them, alive. One day, somewhere down the line, one of them would need him, and he’d be there.