Charlie has been a sweepie for eighteen years. He never meant to stay in the job this long. Thought something else might come up, then a career path at the council. ‘Well, once you’re in, you’re in. That’s whit was supposed to happen, anyhow.’ He probably thought he’d be running something by now. Maybe he should be. Charlie only works until 1.30pm; ‘Efter that, there’s nae one to sweep up so that’s why it’s a guddle by tea time. It’s the cutbacks, ye see.’ In the afternoons, he likes to sit in front of the telly and do his crossword. ‘I love my puzzles, like.’ He hasn’t got enough money to go to the pub every day, but when he can ‘a wee hoff and a nip’ is ‘taken’. Charlie is saving up at the minute, for a holiday. ‘Nothing special like, but ah’d love to go up north. Went when I was in the BBs and ah’ve no’ been since.’ There’s never been a Mrs Charlie: ‘Ah’m just one of they yins who’s never settled doon. Ah’m a bit o’ a free spirit, you see.’ And with a roll of the eyes and a veteran cough, Charlie is away. The next time I see him he is absent-mindedly attacking some chewing gum with his sweeping brush, thinking much of holidays.
A large open plan office. Lots of people walking really quite fast to nowhere in particular. Their heals clump against the carpet, which has a number one haircut. There is a ‘Touchdown Area’ so I run the room’s length shouting in American and then dive down beneath it. That’s in my head, of course. Actually I am hiding in the toilets, wondering where it all went so wrong, for me and for them.
I am waiting for someone, someone who is on a bus. I sit on a wall by the stop and find a song that is five minutes long. At the song’s end the bus is due. It occurs to me I have been doing this for nearly two decades. Now, I am waiting for my daughter, returning with her Granny from a winter’s day in a seaside town. Back then, it would be a pal from a different village to mine, a third of his pocket money splodged on his fare, the other two thirds already mentally spent on a quarter of sweets in a paper bag and Shoot magazine.
A few years on and the lads who were my friends have gone. Now it is lasses who I hope, but I’m not sure, are more than just my friends. You can never be sure with girls, I think as I rewind the Walkman to a song, a song that lasts until the bus arrives. When you’re on your own with them they tell you you’re great, then when they’re at school they ignore you. Anyhow, I’m waiting for this one now, and I can’t believe in five four three two minutes she’ll be here. An actual, walking talking girl that I might be able to touch. The other day in Maths, a lad friend has told me he’s broken ‘top half only’ rules; I just want to get as far as ‘top half only’. It would be a start.
The bus pulls up. She gets off. The bus pulls up. They get off. I look at my three year-old and feel sorry that one day, she will have to be a teenager.
So much seems to be about waiting. Buses, good news, holidays; we’re forever just waiting for them. Our lives are a series of waits punctuated by arrivals and events. I’ve often wondered what I would be now if I’d used some of my waits constructively, learned a foreign language or something. I’m still waiting for an answer to my ponderings.
There are skills involved in waiting, but circumstances and equipment are critical. A wait for public transport without headphones is a tortuous one. A wait for test results added to free time on the internet googling symptoms too. Length of wait matters. Some are long enough for you to forget about in the meantime. Some are practical enough for you to carry out other chores as you, well, wait. Some though, are ten minutes, and ten minutes is rubbish.
A ten minute wait is rubbish because you simply can’t do anything with it. There is not enough time for a pint, and access to ale is a key measure in all quality of life research. There is not enough time to read a significant part of a book, go for a look in an interesting adjacent shop or take a walk around the block without thinking ‘gonna miss it now gonna miss it now gonna miss it now’. But then, on the other hand, there is just enough time to speak to street cleaners named Charlie. I’ve changed my mind. I hope it was worth the wait.