An Acute Interest in Birdshit

Informed the day before by telephone, that the meeting, which had been arranged between noon and two, was to be attended in the office, in-person. As it was, this made little impact on me. Before I went to bed, I packed away my (company) laptop, (personal) mouse, (personal) keyboard, numerous cables and power supplies (company and personal), a flask of water, my Olympus XA, and a ‘fun-size’ chocolate bar I thought might remind me of home during lunchtime. I was pleasantly surprised by how light the beyond-of-my-blinds was when I woke at six off my alarm. I had only to part my index and middle fingers between the slats to see that it was a fine spring morning. There was a song stuck in my head. Hot shower music.

Because of the lockdown, the trains are running a Saturday service, one-an-hour, at five past. One train an hour out of this town was unnerving. I smoked and became so anxious that I began to tremble more than usual. I walked to the platform and then along the twelve carriages, finding that I could not do so properly, was stumbling, kept catching the tips of my shoes, such was the way that my unsteady legs wobbled underneath me! I got into a quiet carriage, caught my breath and buried myself into a book I had brought along. Focusing hard enough that I did not once look out the window, I drifted off and woke up in Manor Park. The train was busy by then, as busy as it would have been Before, and the number of passengers only became apparent when we reached the end of the line and a crowd spilled out, a crowd I was pulled into and along with; although as quickly as the crowd had arrived it disappeared and I was on an empty street walking toward the office. The queue for the café was out the door; when I got to the front, a colleague, jolly and round, strode up to me, quipping something I did not quite catch, then stood next to me, removed his mask, talked and flapped his lips. My nap on the train had ill-prepared me for the sensory – and emotional – tumult of it all! We walked back to the office. The man on security called after me—‘Look what the wind blew in!’ We had seldom talked before – other than him telling me not to smoke in various locations – and so I was caught off-guard by his comment and only replied—‘You miss me?’ stepping into the lift before he had a chance to answer.

At eleven o’clock, I was called into a meeting with some gentlemen who, rumour has it, are looking to buy the company. The man sat opposite me I did not like, although that was hardly unusual. I studied him closely – his hair gel, the line of his beard, the logo on his jumper, his habit of spewing complete nonsense – which he mistook for interest and insisted on making eye contact with only me while talking, which irritated me greatly, but I would not drag my eyes away. As he spoke, he would smile big white teeth, a smile that would beam then crumble in an instant, on the peak of a syllable, and that irritated me greatly, too. I was the only one in the room wearing a mask, which made me feel slightly foolish, until I thought about making my parents ill. The meeting went on for a long time. At one point I made a considerable outburst, for which my director apologised on my behalf, and I sat there stewing with disgust; what was I angry about? Was I so worn out that I would blow up at strangers, or become furious at an incident from five years ago? My knee was bobbing. The irritating man kept staring at me and I pushed my eyes back into him.
Waiting patiently for lunch. I had been anticipating a walk, but, by then, was quite hungry and weak. No! I thought, I must go for a walk.

The streets were deader than I had imagined. Having worked in the office from August to December, I assumed I had grown accustomed to how empty everything was, yet it had emptied even more and surprised me further still. So miserable was I that I often contemplated turning back through the numerous side streets, but persisted, as though it were a harmful act, attrition, inflicted upon myself. Whether it was a symptom of the season, diet, or migratory instance, I noted, with curiosity, that the birdshit on the pavement was a peculiar colour. It formed huge light brown splatters underneath the planetrees. Ornithologists might have stated that it was healthy-looking shit for city birds. Its dried shapes were crushed underneath my heels. Everything was closed, offices, shops. The lonely place had grown lonelier, with only vehicles passing by and a cloudless grey sky.

When I got back to my desk, I did a crossword as I ate my lunch greedily. The proceedings had left me fatigued. A headache I had been suffering for five hours was intensifying; the pharmacy was closed; maybe ask around for a painkiller, although I did not wish to engage with anyone. Remembering, certain that there was a packet of ibuprofen on my old desk. It was in the office next door. I entered. Silence. There was nobody there, not a soul nor the tick of a wall clock. Sure enough, next to my old desk, on the floor, half a packet of ibuprofen. I picked it up, blew off the dust and carried it back into the other office. As I did, I turned and saw the empty room behind me and paused. I saw it ten years ago, as we moved in, all my old colleagues from then, working and laughing alongside each other, a whole different group of people, now moved on or retired. There was a photograph I had taken from that exact spot. I gathered myself, swallowed and continued out of there.

One train an hour leaving London, too (to my destination). I read my book, then gazed out of the window until we reached the rim of the M25. Woke up thirty minutes later. The man next to me was still drinking; he crushed his cans and took them to the bin. At the next stop, everyone got off and a couple got on. Through my music I heard them shouting at each other. They were both very drunk and could not walk straight, the rock of the train on the tracks sent them flying everywhere. Still, they shouted at each other and cursed. Then they came and sat next to me. The man was middle-aged, the woman old, mother and son, perhaps. They screamed at each other, then stopped to drink some more, then began screaming again. Every five minutes the man stood up and walked past me to the toilets. When he returned, they shouted at each other and opened another drink each. I got up and walked past them, apologising, and into the next carriage. I stared at the back of the head of the man in front of me, then at the factory in ruins next to the penultimate station. I was alone again. I do not know why, but I began to weep. I could not wait to get off the train, remove my mask and let the sea winds cool my face. On the platform again, after what felt longer than twelve hours, I looked behind and saw the drunk mother and son still stumbling, still screaming at each other, as the mother dragged a trolley with one of the wheels busted. Below the trees on my walk home there were more colourful splatters of birdshit. I do not know how I came to be so interested in birdshit all of a sudden.