Thursday, 30 June 2011

After five o'clock

They arrive in a group just after five o’clock. If I walk through the lift lobby around that time, I see them gathered together, chatting away in a language I don’t recognise, though I guess it’s from somewhere towards the east of Europe.

They’re a mixed bunch; men and women, a range of ages, but they look pleased to see each other as they come together. It’s the end of my day, the start of theirs and I wonder what they’ve been doing since they went their separate ways last night. Maybe it's just having the same job and a shared language that brings them together, or perhaps there's something more; remembered histories, whispered secrets, common experiences or family ties.

I’m not very good at leaving work; there’s always just one more e-mail I could deal with, a paper to read for a meeting the next day, a new policy document I really ought to get my head round.  So I’m still at my desk when there’s a quiet knock and he pops his head round the door.

“ahh sorry” he says with a heavy accent, backing away quickly but grinning widely.

“Oh, I’m still working” I respond. Never quite sure how strong his English is, I gesticulate clumsily, waving an arm vaguely in the direction of the papers piled up on my desk, the bright computer screen blinking in the corner.

“I’m really sorry” I add, “I’ll be done soon”.

But he’s gone:  off to hoover the corridor outside. I hear him whistling over the hum of the vacuum.

I don’t know how to explain that I really am sorry. I know he’s got a job to do, that I’m getting in the way of him doing it, delaying the time when he can finish and go home. I don’t know where he lives, I’ve never asked him, but I imagine a small flat at the top of a converted Victorian house that’s seen better days. I picture him walking slowly up the steps to the front door, trying to open it quietly so he doesn’t wake the children.  I wonder if he complains to his wife about the stupid English lady who makes his work take longer. Or perhaps he shakes his head pityingly as he tells a tale of the sad woman who sits at her desk long after the others have gone home.

I carry on for a bit, trying to make some sense of my inbox in the vain hope that it will give me a better start the next day, but I’m tired, so it’s not long till I start to pack up. As I leave the office I look around for him, hoping to catch him and tell him the office is clear, I don’t want to leave him hanging around any longer than he has to or guessing when it’s safe to knock on the door again.

As I get to the stairs, he walks out of the kitchen.

“Good night” I call out, falsely cheerful, knowing I’ve still got a long drive ahead.

“Gooood night”. He says in return.  And then, slowly, articulating each word with the utmost care, he adds

“I hope you have a nice evening”

And I go down the stairs smiling.


Baglady said...

Lovely. I hope he understands and appreciates your wishes because I know that you mean it.

I have a strange relationship with our cleaners, too. I worry that saying "thank you" when they empty my bin is more patronising than ignoring them. Then I worry that I worry too much.

Mr London Street said...

I loved this. I'm sure if your kindness comes across half as well in the office as it does in this post then he can tell.

I try really hard to be nice to our cleaners because they have a shit job and never complain.

Pat said...

Baglady: never worry about taking the trouble to say thank you.
Sharon: as you are happily married I won't suggest you learn how to say something friendly in his language. Gawd knows what that could lead to. Short story?

Brenda Susan said...

AAh, this is one of those special reads that is so satisfying but you are not even really sure why. It was just a lovely collection of words that created a picture of your life for us. Beautiful.

Bobby Stevenson said...

:-) I'm sure he thinks you're the best lady in the place.

Cle reveries said...

We have to be very pride of our kindness, when we are as gentle as you.
I adore to read your stories that are fresh and full of joy of life.
Many thanks for that, my dear Sharon.
Cle Reveries

otherworldlyone said...

Great post, Sharon.

I'm the same way with the office cleaner here. I tell her thank you when she leaves my office because it feels wrong to say nothing at all, like most of the others do.

lladybugg said...

I've had this post up on my screen all day, but have been bustling past my computer all day. I'm glad I got to sit down and read it.

This was a wonderful snapshot of the everyday moments that leave us walking away with unseen smiles. I am sure your kindness translates very well.

Eryl said...

Wonderful! I want a book of yours on my kindle.

Happy Frog and I said...

I love the cleaners at my work place, they are so friendly and chatty. Your writing is superb and an absolute pleasure to read. This is definitely one of my favourite posts of yours.

Madame DeFarge said...

Our cleaners are universally wonderful and much maligned. Loved this post.

Olga said...

Excellent writing. I think that people always feel the vibes that emanate from others, positive or negative.

savannah said...

lovely, sugar! sometimes, i think the cleaning staff at my old office knew TOO much about everyone and loved sharing what they knew more times than not! i guess that's small town living at it's best! ;~) xoxxo