Scenes of life - Week 005
Week 005 (5.10.20)
A waft of rubber and bicycle grease hits me as I step into the large container. I am nearly thrown back from the smell, at once familiar and foreign. I close my eyes and inhale deeply. Am I really going to be working here?
I open my eyes slowly and for the first time look around. Tyres of all sizes hang on the walls, a multitude of tools I recognise but do not know how to use are nailed onto a board, their outline clearly marked in white. On the left, a stand is erect, waiting for a bicycle frame to be clamped by it. I walk further in into the makeshift building. Marigold gloves, each bearing a person’s name, are held by clothes pegs on a couple of strings, the weight of them creating arcs like a smile .
My feet carry me along the length of the container, past shelves filled with bicycle parts, until I reach a door. I open it and enter the other side of the container, the dividing wall behind me. A couple of desks are placed against the wall facing the entrance of the property. Cupboards are jammed into one corner, overflowing with boxes and an assortment of paper I will no doubt come to know off by heart. On the opposite side, a kitchenette complete with sink, fridge, microwave, and toaster is sparkling clean. A mountain of mugs decorated with sharpies rest precariously at the far end.
I think back of the previous day, standing awkwardly in a giant warehouse, sharing cupcakes and cups of tea with my previous employer. I had expected not to be allowed in but instead my ex-employer had prepared a tea party of sort for me.
Two metres apart, my ex-colleagues and I stood in a wide circle eating in semi-silent. Half of them know how much I resent my boss currently happily waffling away as if all is rosy and pink. We share glances in between replies, our voices faltering.
During a lull in the conversation, I glance around for the last time. The gigantic orange and blue racks have been dismantled in preparation for ending the lease in this warehouse. I smile at the memories of week-ends spent climbing them, health and safety thrown out of the window, to get the items on a customer order. The building had been silent then save for the feet of gulls on the roof and the occasional cooing of a pigeon. Only a sales assistant and myself ever worked at the week-end, our presence dwarfed by the endless rows of boxes living behind us.
My eyes fall on the never-ending sea of awning shoved against a wall. After years of warranty work on them all I can see are their faults and the weight of them as I dragged them across the dusty floor of the warehouse. The wobbly repair frame is gone, it too having disappeared somewhere else. It isn’t my place to know about this any more.
One by one, my ex-colleagues return to their desks in the upstairs office. I am escorted to the exit door by my ex-boss. We exchange niceties and promises to stay in touch. I do my best to lie and smile. The door closes behind me, leaving me alone in the parking lot with the pile of uniforms held against my chest. My ex-employer did not want them back after all. The shirts will be useful for odd jobs around the house and in the garden, the trousers will be turned to rags.
I glance one last time at the behemoth of a building behind me. I expect to feel some sadness, maybe some anger too, but nothing comes to me. It is simply a building I used to see everyday, one that will slowly fade from my mind. I turn my back to it and walk to the car where my partner is waiting for me.
‘Shall we go,’ I say.
My partner starts the car and we drive away towards the commercial district a few minutes from there. We have curtains to buy.
‘Hi, I’m Allysse,’ I wave instead of offering my hand to shake. ‘I’m the new office person,’ I explain.
‘Nice to meet you. I’m T.’
We both smile, conversation flowing and repeated throughout the week as I meet a new member of staff every day. It feels easy to be here, the basics of the job simple enough to understand and put into practice from day one. I am slow, each tasks taking me much longer than needed, but I know time will change this. For now, I take it easy, looking, learning, chatting with everyone about my new workplace and whatever each person is willing to share about themselves.
It is odd to be greeted each morning by someone new to me, someone who doesn’t think cycling eight to ten miles to work is anything to write home about. Instead of gasps and bewilderment, I am asked about my route, nods of the head telling me they know exactly what I’m talking about. They too, have ridden those routes.
‘Choose the masks you want,’ I am told my a colleague. ‘We bought them from a local place. You’ll have to wear one any time you’re inside.’ I pick three different patterns, open the one with flowers on and put it on. We head inside. M. explains that I will be in charge of making drinks for everyone, the office the domain of a select few colleagues. Hand gel, wipes, and spray bottles adorn every desk in neat lines of defence against the virus. I can feel my anxiety sliding away from me. It isn’t perfect because nothing can ever be, but everyone around here seems to be taking this pandemic seriously.
‘See you tomorrow,’ I wave goodbye at my new colleagues as I hop on my bicycle for the last time this week.
The muscles in my calves are sore, unused to cycling this much so many days in a row, but my legs spin effortlessly, the movement of the pedals so instinctive I do not have to think about it. I follow the blue signs of the Filwood quietway, my body already aware of bumps and cracks in the cycle path, my movement and speed adjusting unconsciously. I glide through Temple Meads, past rows of cars, hoping on and off pavements, my eyes alert to the metal machines and pedestrians alike. I cross a road and follow the invisible Frome river buried under my wheels until it is allowed into the light again. The rank smell of Hymalian balsam is still lingering in the air, too far down for me to be able to reach it and stampede on it.
I whistle through poorly designed bike tunnels to alert other cyclists to my presence and whizz up the last hill of my commute back home, my legs pushing hard in one last effort before the week-end. I am back in familiar territory, the networks of roads around like a spiderweb in my head, my home in the centre and countless options to reach it. I choose the fastest route today, my body spent from the eighty miles cycled in four days.
I hope on the grass verge by my garden door, walk the bike through the small gap, unhook the panniers in a gesture so ingrained in me I cannot remember what the movements are. I open the back door of the house, drop my bags, kick my shoes off, and slump into the sofa where my partner already is.
On the television, a muted Roland Garros game is in full swing, tricking my brain into thinking Wimbledon will soon be on its way with jugs of Pimms in every pub, giant screens erected in city centres, and endless summer days of cycling and walking in the hills of the South West and Wales ahead of me. The quiet hum of the boiler pumping warmth through the house tells me it is not so, a message reinforced by the long sleeves worn by players on the screen. But in that instant, I can forget about the past Spring and Summer and dream of days spent outdoors in the careless freedom of warmer months.