O, Routine! french Amateur!

O, Routine! such a beautiful word, and only two syllables, just like blossom and womenseven and revere. Routine is a category of pornography to me nowadays. Believing that recent acts had been conducted with utmost conviction, imagine my surprise when I got into bed on Sunday night and could not sleep for the anxious workings of my mind! My alarm was set for five. As much as I sought to clear my thoughts, they ran at me with a furor. At eight, I had a meeting with my director, the director to whom I had addressed my letter of resignation. You have done the right thing, I kept telling myself, so fall asleep. How foolish, of course I would have trouble sleeping because, again and again, I overestimate my constitution. Not only that, but I had forgotten to take my allergy medication for two days; my whole body itching off the soft cotton of my sheets, and I clawed until my legs were raw. Soon my bladder began to irritate me, or at least I considered that I might fall asleep and then be woken by the need to urinate. But, no, do not move because then I will be unsettled and the bed will become cold. Sometime later, I submitted. I do not know when I fell asleep, but it was much later, and throughout the night I awoke of my own subconscious’ accord.

‘We’ll have a chat later, yeah?’ I nodded, opened my laptop and prepared for our catch-up. Three hours later, after a staff meeting, he, the director, dismissed everyone but asked that I stay behind; the first question he asked was—‘Why?’ From the edge of the room, I stood up and took my coffee to the big table. Once I began to talk, I noticed that I was beginning to grow very emotional – choking on my words and struggling to get them out. ‘I used to be great at not thinking about work,’ I told him—‘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 sipped on my coffee to stop myself from crying. How silly if I should cry! So focused was I on avoiding tears, I accidentally swallowed a mouthful of coffee grinds, grimacing.

The conversation went on for what felt like a long time. He swung wildly between criticising and praising me. One moment, he would condemn my past behaviour, then the next he complimented me. He appeared eager for me to stay on, telling me that he had not yet accepted my resignation, but offering me new positions and opportunities, and then carrying on—‘You’re really going to struggle finding work,’ he said—‘because you don’t have a qualification.’

It was a beautiful day outside and we were up in a meeting room on the fifth floor, so out I looked at the sun cast on the decorative Georgian eaves of the building opposite and the way its rays caught and rippled across the uneven slates of the roof – my view when I could not stand to make eye contact, or wished to regain my composure. ‘I know. You went at me in ’08 to go back to school and I said no then – I hate school – and I knew the risks and I have no regrets.’

‘It’s just it’s going to make it very hard for you to get another job.’

‘I know, I know.’ I slumped—‘So be it.’

He looked at me and I at him—‘I’m disappointed you didn’t come and speak to me first.’

I shrugged, not knowing what to say.

That evening I struggled to sleep once more. There were nightmares and so forth. They are almost not worth mentioning, but I do so as to not become accustomed to them. My alarm for six o’clock felt like a lie-in, although as I recovered in the sleepy blue that pushed through, my bowels began to torture me! I leapt up and ran to the toilet. Groaning and terrible sounds that might wake the dead. After my shower, it happened again, and I crouched ungraciously on the bowl, perspiring, wondering what was happening to me. As sour as my insides felt afterwards, I knew that I could not go again, as I would miss my train. I walked like a cowboy into the kitchen where my father was doing the washing up—‘Sounds like IBS, son.’ I would make up for sleep on the train, but still I could not, hearing each station name through my headphones.

Looking up and seeing the grand scale of the vacant skyscrapers, the serrated glass that caught rectangles and pierced through spring mist. It was my favourite season, and my favourite season to be in London. I used to adore walking through the city to work in spring, seeing the gradual explosion of plump white blossom, and adjusting my route so that I passed as many trees as I could, until they inevitably shed what clung to them so delicately. Canterbury Ln was beautiful, yes, but not so much as St Botolph St and up into Middlesex St, where the cloudy trees juxtaposed your breath away against seventies concrete and the settled black dust of rushing cars.
After I used the toilet again, I poked my head into the meeting room – ‘Excuse me, gentlemen’ – and my director told me to return to the office in the late afternoon for a meeting. I would listen to another sales pitch of my proposed responsibilities and opportunities.

There was a site survey that would take up my day. Although I was running late, I picked a route that would permit me to walk through Bank, down to Cannon St, and then alight the tube early onto Embankment, up through Trafalgar St and then Pall Mall. It was such a perfect day that I wanted to walk through as much of it as I could. It was hot. There were reports of the driest April on record. I sweated heavily and lingered on the shaded side of the street wherever I could, but in the expanse of Trafalgar Sq, under the gaze of Nelson, that was difficult. When I got to the meeting, twenty minutes late, I fanned myself with a lump of cardboard I found in my backpack. We worked until half-one then dismissed ourselves for lunch. I walked for something to eat with two colleagues. There was a very cheerful man in the café who was pushing a loyalty scheme for free coffee; I told him I had already signed up, but it made me smile to talk to him nonetheless, and, after I had paid for my sandwich, I stood there observing him. The three of us went to a local park, sat down on the soft, dry ground and ate, as tiny hairs from the tree overhead spilled down; I scratched them off my trousers, unable to find a comfortable position, yet basking ever so happily in the serenity of the square. All around were people quietly chatting on their lunchbreak, or eating alone, lovers and friends. There was a woman in a light purple coat sat on a bench underneath a tree with the exact same shade of blossom. I pointed out the scene to my colleagues and we enjoyed it together.

There was no sleep to be had on the train home, either. Running late, I just about managed to take a seat, but it was next to the door, and nowhere to rest my head. A woman sat down opposite me with a french bulldog. At first he sat on her lap, then clambered off and took a seat for himself. He began to nuzzle the man next to him, who, despite all appearances, afforded himself a moment of tenderness and petted the dog in return, allowed it to lick his wrist. Then the dog dropped in a curl and sighed, big eyes. My mind lulled, staring at him over the lid of my mask, smiling behind it. The sun shone in, tried to disrupt my gaze, but could not; I smiled. Unable to sleep, I put my head back on the rest, peacefully content to stare at the dog, his eyes looking left & right, eyebrows twitching, calming, smiling behind my mask.