Friday (Saturday Sunday)

Sometimes one suffers an affliction that affects them so terribly that they come to be obsessed with it. What can be simply written down with only a few strokes of the fingers, such as toothache, migraine or fever, for instance, may consume those in their grasp. The mind can think of nothing other than the affliction and the misery it causes, until it drives one slowly insane and their life feels utterly lost. It could even be something as seemingly trivial as hiccups, but how it torments when it is incessant!

And then, one day – or perhaps even from a moment to the next – it stops. The suffering is no more. The toothache disappears of its own accord (a wisdom tooth eventually piercing the gum, or one particular nerve edged aside); the migraine subsides at the careful correction of some chemical or neurological imbalance; the fever calms. Our bodies so magnificent, at once so delicate and so hardy, so fragile and yet so resourceful, can be disrupted by the most imperceptible of influences. What can survive a car accident or barfight, may also be crippled by heartbreak, may shudder in the slightest breeze or roused by the stroke of a lover’s tongue.

I smile to myself – certainly not alone – that when such suffering ceases, I do not notice! I do not sit before the clock, counting down, waiting impatiently, and then crying out with joy when I am cured. I do not notice. Our bodies, the strongest of freaks that have survived these trials of nature, do not call upon us to celebrate or applaud it, but carry on.

So it was that I regained my ability to have a decent night’s sleep. Often I will sleep very little – barely five hours a night – but if it is good quality, then I can continue. There was a time, a couple of months, when I could not sleep; I might lay down my head at one, arise at six, and would be truly exhausted, for I would wake during the night. Those couple of months drove me insane. As I became more tired, so I would become angrier when I could not find sleep, and so I would remain awake longer. At weekends, when trying to recover what had evaded me during the week, I still could not, and would toss, cursing my state of affairs.

‘Why?’ he asked me.

‘I used to be great at not thinking about work, … but recently, I can’t help it. Used to be that I left work and – bang– I’m no longer thinking about work. If I wanted to think about work, then I could, and then I’d switch it off and continue with my day, but I can’t do that anymore. I’m always thinking, always worrying about work. I try to relax or read and I’m thinking about work. I play guitar and I’m thinking about work. I get into bed and I’m thinking about work. I have dreams and nightmares about work. I fucking wake up thinking about work. And I can’t handle it anymore. I really can’t. This last year has been so fucking shit… and work is one of the reasons that I can do something about. And I need to sort it out otherwise I’m going to lose my mind.’*
I did not notice the first time I got a good night’s sleep again. It may have happened by accident, but it happened and was not a hallucination. I did not notice until perhaps a month later, when I recalled, midway through a sentence—‘I no longer have trouble sleeping!’ and I could hear her smile. No longer was the phantom of work keeping me awake. I had sought to cure myself of the insomnia and terrors, and when I had finally done so, my peaceful soul gave not a moment of celebration or even recognition! And how feeble did that make everything feel, as though the beast that had hounded me for so long was not a beast at all but a mouse! I quit my job of fourteen-and-a-half years because it was ruining my nights. As it dawned upon me, and I voiced to her as much – as she so expertly tweezes it out of me – I chuckled as if I had come. ‘Fuckin’ hell,’ I said—‘I didn’t even notice…’

For right or wrong, Manvinder came to represent lockdown to me. It was not long after we were prevented from visiting site that he took over the contractor’s design responsibilities and every Friday at two o’clock in the afternoon we would have our meetings: he, me and my colleague. I always arrived (logged in) late (practically swallowing my cigarette after a two o’clock lunch), and came to find him and my colleague talking informally and laughing. It was my colleague, too, that I had grown closer to over lockdown. True, we spent a lot of time together before, but after the twentieth of March, isolated in our locations at the beginning of spring, we engaged in many conversations on the phone that would soon divert away from work to more personal matters as we, social animals, craved companionship. I always had with me a half-empty glass of squash from lunch, and inconspicuously with my tongue licking bread from between my teeth saying hello. Manvinder said hello and, although I never noticed what he was wearing, he was comfortingly overlayed upon his background of the house, what looked to be a loft conversion, always and forever. His headphones and camera and his chair were all of a high quality, so I enjoyed to imagine him as a streamer, but he was a man probably older than me, his beard strewn with greys, although his demeanour and manner altogether much younger. He said hello and we shared smalltalk for a moment or two, and because he had only known me in lockdown, I was careful to reveal too much, as I cut, after all, such a sorry figure having retreated to my parents and single, and so forth. For want of a better of a better word, I found him such a nice gentleman – and that is rare enough – that I did not mind our Friday afternoon arrangements. Meetings on a Friday afternoon used to irritate me greatly. It was not so with Manvinder; he would always begin—‘Let’s keep this brief; I’m sure we all have other things we’re busy with.’ My colleague – my friend – was much more vocal than I, and he led our responses, although when I was called upon I sprang into life! If my friend was ever unable to attend, I apologised profusely. But I did like Manvinder. He fit within that exceedingly small group of people who would be liked by both my mother and I; it was only in the background of our meetings that my mother pottered, attempting crosswords or reading; both of us ready for Saturday Sunday; Manvinder, too.
Last Friday at the end of the meeting, he asked if there was anything else we wished to add. I waited until all else was disclosed – one electrical supply, two-number LVAC, the three-month-old issue of motorised-smoke-fire-dampers – until I said—‘I dunno if you remember…’ I did, the exact date, too—‘but you said that if you don’t like your job, then get another one.’ I paused, an invitation for him to say he remembered uttering, but remaining silent. ‘About three hours later, I handed my notice in. So our meeting next week will be our last.’ He did not say much, kind of mouth open; I suspect he had not intended for me to pay any attention to the comment. It had been put out there, months ago, but now it was too late to withdraw. ‘Fuckin hell,’ he said—‘that’s come back to bite me in the arse.’ My friend laughed. It is silly, but I felt sad to tell him. Only the week before he had shifted his camera from one side to the other, so that I was exposed to a whole other half of the room; a nylonstring hanging guitar (excitedly enquired about, although he said he needed to practice more and could not really play, but thought he might if it hanged there) and a large framed photographed of (what looked to be) the 07/08 Manchester United squad. Too, he had an air about him of Mr Killen or Woodcock, in that, despite the position, he addressed my friend and I – younger, less experienced, and technically his employees – with equality; extending respect and we back to him so that afterwards and inbetween we would regard him with fondness.

A week later – or, more accurately, six days – he came to say good-bye to me at the end of our final meeting. He wished me luck and was the first person to do so. He gave a full-spirited good-bye and I listened carefully, thankful. I would miss him, or at least I would miss what he came to represent; for after our usual meetings, I would put my trainers on and go for long walks along the edge of England with thick cigarettes and the border of a weekend. Even then – so feeble – I felt my voice begin to waver as I said good-bye, too, and that it was a pleasure to meet him.

It is not long now until this chapter of my life, spanning almost fifteen years, comes to an end. At the moment I know I am unflustered but soon I will be a wreck, so I must enjoy it while things last. The first, his good-bye, marks the beginning, and there is always a beginning to these things. Slowly I find myself shuffling off stage. It was Manvinder who shooed me along.

Afterwards I went to the refrigerator and, upon opening the door, was basked in the wonderful cold of the box that boasted upon me the colour blue. There was a fruit cup I had not completely finished at lunch; blueberries, mango, cantaloupe, kiwi, pink lady’s apple; I shovelled them down without grace, juice upon my chin. And then I finally came to settle at my desk in a silence of unceremonious still, against a mood of what-happens-next; things were in motion. I trembled.

*Excerpt from O, Routine! French Amateur! because my memory is not that great.