IMAGE: “Hamburger” by Andy Warhol (1985)
The floor was slicked with oil. Two, three, four times and the team still slid around the slippery varnish in the back kitchen; my mop did not make a difference. It was hot. In the middle of the summer months when it started off bright and the days ended muggy and stale. I wore a uniform; a stiff blue shirt, dark trousers, and a cap with a large yellow “M” on the front. That was the summer I finally got a job after the euphoria that came with the end of my GCSEs.
In three months, I learned about shifts; what it meant to be sleep-working the early- and the horror of late-night closing. I learned about timers for filet-o-fish and fries and the only rule to remember: listen out for the beep. I learned customer service; the magical smile to open up each sale and the toothy grins saved for complaints. I learned about true exhaustion; dosing off on the bus ride home and the effort it would take to move my jelly-like legs once I got off.
After my second pay-slip, I realised I wouldn’t last. On my days off I applied for other jobs motivated by the memory of smells that would waft out of the female toilets. I only had to think of the number of times I cleared the tables and re-cleared the tables; moped the floors and re-moped the floors to know I wouldn’t last. Even then, I knew that the greasy tables and the greasy floors would stay that way long after I left.
IMAGE via The Menteur
I see you. Tall. Orange hat. Bony oval face. Long limbs with shiny skin like mine. Black waterproof, zipped up.
I see you ahead. You look lost. Stopping. Starting. Circled by a wall of tiny orange, blue, white and grey tiles.
It’s drip drip damp; stale down here.
We all offload and it’s loud, a rush to get the green 9, the turquoise 6, the blue 2, the red A. For some, it’s up the stairs, down the vault, around
the corner, heavy legs shuffle through the long concrete tube, up the stairs, a walk through the ticket barriers, up the last set of stairs, then air. An easy exit 5.
But you stay down here. Punctured air.
Lurking in the tunnels, on hold for us. I saw you yesterday and last week. Yesterday you stopped in the crowd and crouched to fix your lace,
looked around and again behind, got up, turned and stumbled.
‘Pardon, pardon’, looking down at the floor. You had a brown laptop bag but it looked empty, dirty. What’s in it?
Now, you walk ahead, slowly, bottom half squashed in the crowd, shuffling.
We turn off and lose a dozen.
We drag our feet across the hard floor and up the stairs.
Two armed policemen stand at the barriers and to the side of me now I see you turn and I catch a glimpse as you walk back through the hollow tunnel.