Dressing gown on I went downstairs and followed the normal routine. Kettle on and into the bathroom to pee. Then sort out the whiney kitten’s food so that I can walk one end of the flat to another without tripping over him. By this time the kettle is boiled so I sit down in front of the television still forty minutes too early for the breakfast news programs, and I drink coffee and smoke the first cigarette of the day. Savouring it and the way it makes me slightly light headed and then I hack my guts up. Not a particularly healthy breakfast is it? A coffee and a fag, but there it is.
I showered then. I really need to change the shower curtain. Not least because the kitten doesn’t only like attacking feet but has ripped several holes in it with climbing practise, but also because it is one of those ones that as soon as you’re wet it decides it wants to cocoon you in plastic like a clingfilmed sandwich! So the notion of a refreshing shower is lost to a fight to the death with the curtain; I won and the curtain ended up ripped down. Maybe it was a slight over reaction, but the pop pop pop of the rail hooks pinging against the tiles was most satisfying. I screwed it in a ball and threw it in the bin, before returning to finish getting washed and dressed. I checked the medicine cabinet to make sure I didn’t need anything since I was planning to go into town after work.
White shirt and black trousers was the order of the day. It’s Tuesday (well technically it is Wednesday now, but it was Tuesday when I got up this morning) and my sixth day back at work. I still don’t know if going back to work was a good idea or not. I’ve only one black cardigan left that fits and it was in the tumble dryer along with a tissue apparently. Well that was just a great start to the day. Little bobbles of white tissue were stuck all over it. I flung it back in to deal with it later, then went back up into the bedroom to find the next largest cardigan. It wasn’t too bad providing I didn’t fasten it. I’ve put a bit of weight on recently. Not that anyone has said as much, considering the circumstances, but I refuse to buy bigger clothes. I am always planning to lose it again, but I fell off the diet wagon on my first day back at work.
It is amazing how quickly the time between rising and needing to leave to catch the bus goes. Even 51 minutes early out of bed I was still rushing by the time it got to 6.30 and I should be out the door. Why is it that I always check as I pull the door shut that they keys are in my pocket? Surely it would make more sense to do it before I shut the door rather than as an after thought. Still I had not locked myself out, and the keys were where they should be. I didn’t have my bus pass or my work ID’s though, so had to go back in and get them. A quick cuddle of the squeaky kitten and I was back out the door again.
It was a dull grey morning, not raining but it looked like it was going to. I should have picked up my jacket — not that it is particularly waterproof, but if I went back for it then I would risk missing the bus. In the end by the time the bus arrived almost fifteen minutes late I could have gone back and got my coat twice over. If I had of gone back for it then the bus would have sailed by and I would have been waiting for half an hour slightly too hot in my jacket rather than standing for fifteen minutes slightly chilly in a cardigan.
Now there is one thing that really annoys me on the bus (buses) to work in the morning, that I find equally annoying on the way home. Actually there are three things and they all happened this morning. The first; two stops into the journey — why is it people are standing waiting at the bus stop for ages for a bus that is fifteen minutes late yet they don’t bother to try and find their bus passes from within their bottomless handbags until they are standing on the bus in front of the driver holding all of us up? What is it with that? I am sure that they only do it to annoy me. The second: the bus I get to work is not an airport bus. It is a city bus. Yet it happens to go through terminal four of Heathrow airport and it terminates at terminal two. There are specifically designed and laid on airport buses with massive racks for suitcases and luggage and baggage. The bus I get to work does not; yet every morning there are at least five people waiting with twenty suitcases. Always the same question. Do you go to terminal two? It terminates there! It says terminal two on the front of the bus! Another ten minute delay as they try to decide how best to get twenty suitcases into a space just big enough for a folded pushchair — not that anyone folds their pushchairs now we’ve got wheelchair buses, but don’t start me on that. The third and inevitable thing that makes every morning a trial is that as the bus I was on pulled into Hatton Cross; the second bus I needed to get pulled out. Missed it again. Every bloody morning that happened! That is why I had to leave the house at six thirty every morning just to make sure I got to work on time. I gave the American dude with the most suitcases the dirtiest look I could muster and got off the bus it was of course his fault that I missed my connection and had another thirty minute wait for the next bus.
I spotted Leanne waiting for a bus two stops down at the station. She used to work where I do and we were good friends. I’d not spoken to her for about eight months, and well I am slightly ashamed to admit that I avoided her. There would have been too many questions that I just wasn’t in the mood to answer. Not today. Yet just seeing her there and thinking about the questions and the awkward answers and the guilt or shame or not knowing what to say in response started me thinking again. You can’t avoid it can you? The things on your mind; even avoiding the things that put them on your mind put them on your mind because you’re thinking about avoiding them. Sometimes I wish it would all just stop.
That is one of the reasons why I am not sure going back to work was such a good idea. I mean most of them know; certainly all the employees do. The contractors and the regular delivery men who were not privy to the memorandum my former boss sent round don’t and that is where the questions come. The rest of the time people just don’t know what to say. I mean I understand that. What do you say to someone who took a year’s unpaid leave from a manager’s job to stay at home to look after a baby then comes back five months later into a secretarial role because someone else is doing your job on an annual contract. So no one says anything about it at all and instead there are the sad nods and the pitying looks and the ‘it’s good to see you backs’ and the meaningless ‘how are yous’ and the whispered ‘isn’t it awfuls’ and ‘she is back too soons’. I think I make them feel as uncomfortable as they make me feel.
Still, it is no one’s fault and life goes on. That is what I have been told anyway. I wish it was someone’s fault. I wish there was someone that I could blame. Blame for that morning when my eight week old son didn’t wake for his morning feed. But there isn’t and life did not go on for him, and in that moment it stopped for me. Motions are easy to go through though aren’t they? Get up, go to work, go home again? I even went to the pub last week to joyous exclamations of 'glad to see you out of the house'. I didn’t tell them the only reason why I was out of the house was because a well meaning neighbour thought gifting me a kitten would make up for losing my son. I don’t even like cats. Mind you twelve months ago I didn’t like babies either. I was a career woman and a fiancée. I didn’t do men six months before that, but was swept quite literally off my feet on a corporate skiing holiday. I certainly didn’t do skiing and I never will again, but it was networking and team building and I had to go - like I said: I was a career woman.
It is amazing what goes through your head when you’re lying in a bank of snow with you’re foot pointing the wrong way. Funnily enough it wasn’t actually ‘ow oh my God that hurts’. That came a while later. I remember it so clearly. It was Ted the office clown and coke snorting party goer that rushed to my aid, and I laid there in shock and thought: you know you’re a bit of alright. Of course then I passed out and woke up in hospital with metal rods shoved through the middle of my leg and a rather unflattering plaster cast from my toes to my hips. Not quite the team building we had in mind, but Ted and I got together. My God the things he did in bed. He’d been single a while, and me? Well I’d been single a long time. I think we fell in love with the sex rather than each other, so when that sex had an unplanned consequence due to contraceptive failure it was a shock. When I suggested that if he was going to be a father snorting coke every Friday night was not going to be an option — well parties and coke snorting were obviously more important.
In 18 months I went from being a single minded independent career woman — genuinely happy on my own, to being madly in love with a man that didn’t mind that I had a plaster cast on my leg largely because it meant he usually got to go on top, to a fiancée planning a fancy wedding, to a pregnant fiancée planning a fancy wedding in a larger dress, to a woman scared to death of the prospect of being a single mother… to being none of the above and an awkward secretary in an awkward firm with a black hole for a heart sucking the life and emotion out of everything and anything. All that flooded my mind while I was waiting for the bus. I was so deep in thought I almost missed it and as I got on I mused that I probably should have just had a chat with Leanne. She would have probably been so caught up with a new boyfriend or cut up by an old boyfriend that she wouldn’t have thought to ask how my son was.
Plenty of motions were went through at work. They weren’t particularly taxing motions. Some audio typing to begin with. Then my former boss and director of the company was most apologetic when he asked me to take some minutes. Two of the pool of five secretaries had gone sick — I suspect they had gone shopping but said nothing of it to anyone. The other two were already booked, so that left me to take minutes in a high flying meeting where the woman doing my job while I was at homing looking after my dead son for a year was doing a presentation on a new advertising campaign. She didn’t do a bad job. I would have done better and everyone around the table including her knew it. That just made me feel worse.
I completed all the work I had to do by three. I had to go to the bank so I had already arranged to go at three thirty. So I popped my head into my former boss and made a point of saying goodnight. He looked at me curiously and asked if I was alright. I responded that I was. How else are you to respond to a question like that. They didn’t really want to know. It was pleasantries. How are you doing? Fine thanks. Common office conversation. Still he had been good to me. He fought with me tooth and nail to get a year’s unpaid leave, and then he fought with me tooth and nail to get my job back early. We both had to settle for secretary. I caught a glance of Ted as I was leaving the office. Our eyes met but as always he looked away first and hurried off in the opposite direction.
It was raining when I left work. Not proper rain. I don’t think you could even call it proper drizzle. It was just wet and it left me dripping as I waited for the bus to go into town. I couldn’t decide whether I wanted to go to the small high street where I lived or to the main town so rather than ponder it I decided to get on the bus that came first. It was the bus into the main town so I got on that. Leaving work at three o clock on a Tuesday and getting the three fifteen bus was a bad idea. By the time we were ten minutes down the road all the schools had let out rowdy, dishevelled, foul mouthed, satchel swinging teenagers. Not that any of them had satchels. They were rucksacks, or book bags, or sports bags; apart from the poor geeky kid with jam jar glasses that sat at the front and had a blue carrier bag. One of those nameless carrier bags from a pound shop or something. When some of the others started to roll up pieces of paper and throw them at the back of his head I wanted to punch their lights out. I didn’t though. I probably wouldn’t have stopped if I had started and a trip to jail was not planned for today.
I went into the bank and paid in a couple of cheques. Then I cleared my credit card completely. I had been meaning to do that for months, but never got round to it. Now it was done. I transferred some money from my savings into my current account and cleared the over draft and then I drew out five hundred pounds. I owed a friend a couple of hundred from a my last night out before giving birth and had never got round to giving it back. He had never asked for it either, bless him. I’d not seen him for a while. We used to be inseparable, but damn him, he only went and got himself married. Nice chap he married, but it was the end of us doing everything together. He was the only person that still treated me like normal though and I appreciated that. I never told him it though, but I would. I would make sure he knew how much he meant to me.
The rain was actually coming down properly by the time I left the bank. I definitely should have gone back for my coat that morning or bothered to pick the tissue off the cardigan that fastened, because my white blouse in the rain wasn’t doing so well. At least I wasn’t in the same state as some of the school girls wandering round the town in skirts so short that if they dared to bend over you’d likely see what they had for breakfast and shirts so tight around their new breasts that as it rained the white cotton turned pink against their skin and revealed all to everyone.
The rain brought out umbrellas. I hate umbrellas. I am blessed by being six foot tall, and apparently that means that all umbrellas are approximately eye height. Not only was I getting drenched I had to dodge ignorant people that seemed to see if fit to blind anyone over five foot five. I stopped in the coffee shop and got a take out vanilla latte. I stood under the edge of the shop and lit a cigarette while I drank it and watched the world go by. Everything just kept on going all the time when it seemed to me like everything had stopped. For a few minutes, I looked around the diverse people rushing back and forwards in the rain searching out a white face. I contemplated on how much the area had changed in the last twenty years. It had always been quite an ethnically diverse place, but now I was a minority. I didn’t mind. I quite liked it. It made for pavement side latte drinking interest. There was no community though and that is what was missed. Like people mingled with like people and that was the end of it. I watched a very wet woman in a bhurka for a while wondering how heavy it got when it was soaked with rain. I wondered if I would get stabbed or accused of being racist if I asked her so declined.
Time was getting away from me before the rain stopped so I abandoned the people watching and wandered over to the drugstore before it closed. Paracetamol only came in 16’s now. It seemed mad. There were four drugstores within 200 metres, which meant anyone who wanted to could get 54 within fifteen minutes or so. As it was I only needed 16.
I had to get moving then. There were a lot of things I wanted to do before 8.00. I grabbed a burger on the way up to the bus stop. It wasn’t great. It had been on the rack too long and it settled like a lump of lead in my stomach, but that was it about fast food and burger joints, wasn’t it. You fancied it on a whim or an impulse. Then, when you’d got it and eaten it, you didn’t particularly enjoy it and you felt a bit more sick than full when done.
I made my way home. I could get a bus straight from the town to the village where I lived. Not that there was anyway it could be really defined as a village now. The only green nearby was a school playing field or the verges between the runways of the airport. The area was just one sprawling mass of uncharacteristic concrete. There was no personality left and that was how I felt.
As soon as I got home I cleaned out the kitten’s litter tray. How one tiny cat could make so much smell was beyond me, and then I was thinking about my son again. The first time I had changed his nappy. It was repulsive yet fascinating at the same time. It didn’t matter that it smelt or looked like mustard or was sickening. I had been so proud of him for doing his first little poo. Funny what made you think of things. I had done quite well on the way home. Had been thinking about crowded buses and people that thought it was okay sit on the aisle seat and keep their shopping by the window when others, including me were standing. Standing still so long made my leg ache so I got in the bath.
I went online after that and left a message on my friend’s face book account. He went on there every morning so I knew he would see it soon enough. There was going to be no fuss. Because like I said earlier, when I got up this morning I knew how this day was going to end. I only needed 16 paracetamol because I had known how today was going to end for a long time. There was only so long that I could go through the motions while the emptiness and pointlessness of everything ate away. I was an empty shell and I had made a decision. A decision that I had planned for and worked towards. When I made my mind up nothing could change it. All my debts were cleared. I had said goodbye to people that I needed to. There was only one more thing I needed to get so I redressed in a smart pair of jeans and my favourite T-shirt. I pulled on my leather jacket and I went down to the off license across the street. I selected a litre bottle of Smirnoff Vodka and 20 Benson and Hedges cigarettes. I wasn’t going to do this with cheap brands. The shop tender was on the phone and in no hurry to serve me, something else that annoyed me immensely. Everything annoyed me these days I never used to be so cynical.
As I was waiting, the bell above the door sounded indicating someone else had come into the shop. He went to the fridge and got a two litre bottle of diet cola out and came and stood behind me. I paid no attention to him until he tapped me on the shoulder and advised me that I had forgotten my coke. I didn’t want coke. I didn’t intend to have any coke. I turned to face him and to tell him to mind his own business, but there was something about him that made me stop before my mouth ran away with him. He wasn’t anything that special looking. I mean, he was way too thin and he had a crumpled brown pin striped suit on. He rabbitted on for a couple of minutes about how bad smoking was for your health and that I should quit. I just shook my head slightly, what did he know. Then he did something very strange. He held his hand out to me and asked me to go with him. I just looked at him as though he were completely mad. There was no way that I was going to go anywhere with him. He was a complete stranger. He put his hands on my shoulders and looked into my eyes. I looked away from his before I got sucked into them. They seemed so deep like you could fall into them. He took my hand and asked me again to go with him. I then in no uncertain terms told him that I had plans and that I would not be going anywhere with him. He took my hand and he said something that almost stopped my heart there in my chest. He said quite casually, ‘Your plans can wait. Come with me and give me a single hour of your time. What more can you lose?’ Now if he had said what have you got to lose, then I would have probably slapped him, but he didn’t. He said what more can I lose. It was as if he knew that there was nothing left for me to lose. I huffed and I followed him. His hand was clenched around mine so tightly I thought my fingers were going to go numb and drop off. It was as if he didn’t want to let go.
Now this is where this story gets totally unbelievable. I even wonder whether I had already taken the paracetamol and drunk the bottle of vodka, but since I am neither sick or dead I couldn’t have. He had a blue box thing. He told me it was called a TARKUS or something like that. I wasn’t really paying that much attention. I was too concerned about what I was doing following him like a puppy when I didn’t have any clue as to who he was or where I was going. Even when we got to the blue police box I followed him into it. I’m not going to tell you what it was like inside because you wouldn’t believe me. Nor will you believe me when I tell you that I entered it in Ashford High Street and he ran around and hit some buttons and I am sure he pumped up something with a bicycle pump. When he opened the door and took my hand it wasn’t late evening and September dark or raining and it wasn’t Ashford High Street and it wasn’t even 2009!
It was a bright, sunny day and we were in Central London. I knew that because I could see Marble Arch and that didn’t change. A lot of other things had though, but then a lot of things were also the same. The people were equally as diverse as they had been. He pointed out a woman in a bhurka and commented that he pitied them when it rained. That he’d had to wear one once and it got very heavy. I laughed at that and he smiled warmly at me. A smile that seemed to penetrate me to my wooden heart. Then he bounced gleefully and pointed across the street keen for me to see something or someone. He pointed out a child. It was a boy about ten years old. He asked me if I thought he looked familiar at all. It was only when I peered closely at him did I realise he did. He looked a little like my brother had at that age. Then a woman came out and she looked very much like me.
I asked him who they were. He told me the boy was called Steven, and I almost fainted there and then. My son had been called Steven after my father, who had died of pancreatic cancer several years previously. The man in the striped suit turned and faced me. He told me we were in the year 2048, twenty nine years in the future. That the woman with the boy was my daughter and the boy was my grandson.
He could see I didn’t believe him, and why would he tell me this anyway. I asked him that. He told me that some things were fixed and some things were in flux. He told me that the boy across the street would in fifteen years make a discovery that would change the future of the human race and benefit mankind for millennia. That he was one of the most important men in near future history. They are three words that do not sit well together in my understanding of the world. He explained that he had returned from a time when that discovery had not been made, but that it was fixed and it had to be made. He had traced the timelines back to find out when the divergence had occurred and discovered that the point of change was me. That tonight I had a choice. I could buy that bottle of vodka, and that woman and that boy would never exist. The discovery would never be made. Or, I could go back home. I could sort myself out. I didn’t have to stay a secretary in that firm, that there was a vacancy for an advertising manager in one of our rival companies and he knew that they would love to get their hands on me. That I could pick my life back up out of the gutter and that I would succeed. When I asked him how he knew I could do that, he pointed over the road at the boy and the woman who were now moving off and told me he knew because I already had. That made no sense at all, but somehow I felt better. He made me feel better just by being there his cool hand in mine. I glanced down to him wondering why his hands were so cold on such a balmy — in more ways than one, day. He’d commented that cold hands meant a warm hearts. My standard response slipped out with a giggle — cold hands, bad circulation - heart attack. Then I looked at him again — had he said heart or hearts? He just chuckled and led me back to the blue box. In the blink of an eye I was back outside that off licence. He didn’t say anything just opened the door for me to leave. When I asked him who he was, he said he was a friend with that warm smile. When I asked him what the name was of that woman was he told me that he shouldn’t tell me that, but then he grinned at me — and he told me her name was Hope.
So here I am. On the night when I knew how it ended, still very much alive and possibly more so than I have ever been. I’ve deleted the message from Face book, and the paracetamol are gone. I’ve got a whiney kitten settled on my lap — he’s actually quite cute when he’s asleep. I don’t even know that man’s name, and I am not even sure he was a man — not in the human sense, but what I do know is that there is hope and that tomorrow is a new day. One that won't be easy, but one where I am going to go out there and I am going to get that job, and I am going to be myself. And maybe, just maybe, one day I will be standing on Oxford Street in Central London by a coffee shop and I will be waiting for my daughter and grandson, and across the street I will see him again and even if he doesn’t see me I will thank him for being that anonymous friend who changed my mind and saved my life.