Scenes of life - Week 008
Week 008 (26.10.20)
‘There’s a press conference tonight,’ J. says casually as P. and I chat away over the Halloween Disney playlist we have set in the office for the day.
We shift our bodies in his direction at the opposite end of the container. I briefly wonder why he feels like telling us about a conference until the word ‘press’ drops in. It is not a conference linked to his PhD, it is a press conference.
‘Do you think JM’s prediction will be true?’
I turn my head back to P., my body in the middle of the office. Our spaces are well defined within the small container we call our office. A few days before we had held a semi virtual meeting. JM was on a computer screen balanced on a plastic chair, while the rest of us were spread in a moon crescent on the terrace. JM had told us with no shreds of doubts that we would be closed down before the end of November.
It is not yet November.
‘Yeah, probably,’ J. comments soft spoken and quiet as always.
We fall silent. My brain tugs at me to ignore the conversation, forcing my focus to shift to the Disney song purring in the background.
‘Do you think you’ll stay,’ P. queries after a moment, startling us out of our thoughts.
‘You mean here, past March,’ I enquire.
‘I don’t know,’ I start uncertain. This is one of the first time J., P., and I have been in the same room together. We all joined this team around the beginning of October, all hired until March, all on part-time contracts, all here following changes partly brought on by the first lockdown. I wonder if we would have all ended up in these jobs without Covid. J. might have I think, this job an easy follow-up from his previous one. But P. and I?
‘This is a bit of an experiment for me,’ I clarify. I have never mentioned this to anyone at this workplace before. ‘I want to see if this is enough for me to get by, if I can reclaim time in my life.’ They nod.
I listen to their answers avidly trying to ignore the growing discomfort in my stomach. They too are uncertain, their words stumbling out of their mouths as awkwardly as mine have. I think of my previous colleagues and how three years of working closely with them, of jokes and moans, of being overworked and mistreated had created an easy closeness between us. I miss it. I miss them.
We hear an excited voice outside of the container, growing louder as it reaches the perspex window.
‘I rode a bicycle!’ I stand from my chair and look down through the gap below the plastic screen. A child is bouncing on their feet, eyes beaming at me.
‘Did you,’ I ask incredulous.
They nod so hard I’m afraid their head is going to snap from their neck.
‘That is brilliant! Let me get you your certificate.’ I reply enthusiastically, trying to match their emotions.
I shuffle the papers around the desk to unearth the purple card. I place it on the counter below the screen.
‘What is your name,’ I ask solemnly.
‘That’s a nice name.’
‘And do you know who your instructor was?’
‘Great. Here you go.’ I slide my hand in the small opening to give them their certificate. They grab it eagerly. Their father next to them is looking down, eyes filled with pride and joy. It strikes me how much I love being a witness to this joy, screams of anger and string of insults from the customers of my previous job long forgotten.
A second child comes up, J. rises from his chair to attend to his end of session duties, and the three of us forget our conversation as we get caught up in the frenzy of certificate writing, tea making, bike cleaning, and endless chatter with staff, volunteers, and customers.
The rest of the day passes in a blur of activity that stopped all thoughts of the press conference creeping in. On the way home, I block my mind by listening to an audiobook, the words pouring into my ears soothing my brain into another world as my physical surroundings whizz past already well-known.
The news is streaming on the television, the noise muted. I don’t want to hear another word about what the situation is in the UK. I have heard it enough. Graphs, diagrams, and graphics spread across the screen in an increasingly frustrating loop as the next announcement of a delay to the start of the press conference is announced.
I unlock my phone and take to Twitter to avoid thinking about the upcoming conference. We all know we are going to be told a second lockdown is happening but none of us know the conditions under which it will happen. People joke and laugh at the endless delays, string of gifs expressing everyone’s frustration. I wonder if any of the people posting about the conference are feeling like me. Are they too distracting their brains from spiralling out of control?
A familiar clench is gripping my chest, turning my breathing laborious. At the edges of my brain, I can sense alarm bells ringing. I want to curl my body into a tense ball and cry. One day at a time, I echo the words of a psychologist heard on the news back in late March. One hour at a time, I change the mantra. I cannot guess at the future so there is no point worrying about it.
I remind myself of the words uttered by my manager during my induction. There will be plenty of work to do at home if there is another lockdown. Those words were repeated by my supervisor a week ago. I will not be furloughed this time. I will not be… One hour at a time, I tell myself sternly.
I take a deep breath in and hold it before releasing it slowly. The news is still on, the reporters struggling to find something new to babble about. The door of number 10 comes on the screen but the inside cameras do not switch on. The cat waits by the door, the shot held for more time than is necessary.
The onslaught of gif and snarky comments continues on Twitter. I read them all, one by one, before refreshing the page and reading the new ones – there is always plenty of new tweets. Until finally the news reporter is cut off, eyes lit up in relief in the television studio, and we are waltzed away to a room we have never stepped in but have come to know so well.
Slides fill the screen to the constant rhythm of ‘Next slide please.’ I am baffled, unsure of what I am looking at. Most of the diagrams are a jumble of lines and colours, misaligned with the television screen or too crowded with details to be readable. I laugh, unable to stop myself until the prime minister takes centre stage. I lean forward, eager to hear about the new rules, the ones with the power to send me off-kilter once again. They don’t come. Muffled words come out of the speakers, sentences so long I lose track of them. I glance at my partner for help but she is equally confused. None of the words make sense.
I open WhatsApp. My work groups are already responding, my supervisor the first one on there. She reassures us all that she is on the case. She promises to find answers about our wages, about our jobs, about our day-to-day activities. The tightness in my chest eases at her words flooding the small screen of my phone. There is nothing she can tell us now, not so soon after the prime minister has jumbled his words, but she is there nonetheless. ‘Thank you,’ I whisper to my phone. She will not hear the words but I needed to say them.
I remember the waiting and the silence of my previous employer, the agony of time passing, the lack of concerns, the lack of comfort. Thank you, I echo in my brain. Tears well up in my eyes. I am unsure if it is the tension being released, the sadness of another lockdown, how much I am dreading being made furloughed, the sudden certainty that I will not be able to visit my family in France for another few months, the paralysing fear of my own vulnerability. Or all of it at once.
‘Wine,’ my partner enquires, the bottle already tipped over my glass.
‘Yeah,’ I reply in a long exhale. I bring the glass to my lips, close my eyes, and drink.
I know a few glasses of wine will not make me feel better, but it will loosen the shackles around my chest and mind for the night. The familiar music of Strictly Come Dancing jolts my attention back to the television, drowning any thoughts of the future under too much glitter and excitement.