You know those mornings, dreary and disinterested; even the rain is indolent, can’t be arsed, just kind of hangs there for you to walk through, and I do: all the way to work. They know that umbrellas are against my personal principles, so when I arrive sodden, I get fond chidings rather than sympathy. A quick rub down with a tissue and a nibble on a rich tea finger as I wipe my specs, then I’m ready for the working day.
This is a big day because I have an appointment in my diary. Yes, someone wants to sit next to me and talk databases. Generally speaking, my little corner of the office is left undisturbed by human presence: if my phone ever rings, people stop working and turn to watch as I tentatively pick up the receiver – hello…. no, it isn’t…. no, no, it’s fine... – and they raise their brows innocently and ask – wrong number? – and I shrug, and they return to their work, sniggering; if I am alone in the office and a visitor pops her head round the door and asks – is nobody in? – I smile sweetly and mutter – nobody of consequence, obviously, fuckwit.
But this day; this day I am someone of consequence. On this day, someone will come in and ask for me, and she will sit and listen whilst I explain to her the finer workings of a cantankerous lump of data. She will nod and make notes and I will smile reassuringly and offer her a rich tea finger.
And this is what happens, but something else, too. I vaguely know the woman who comes to sit with me; she is Danny, the grouchy lesbian. I know she is a lesbian because she is tall and shapeless with short hair and I can easily imagine her wearing dungarees; she prefers to use the male form of her shortened name rather than Danni, and she is sour-faced, with the hostile air of the unfairly oppressed. Except on this day, she isn’t. Her face is rounder, her eyes have softened and she carries herself with the grace of contentment.
As I walk home through the mizzle, I think about Danny and wonder what has turned her from that to this: the mellowness of maturity; the self-possession that comes with a hard-won acceptance; or the love of a fine woman? Is that something I should consider, maybe – expand my horizons a little, could be the making of me. There was a manager used to work with us – always yelped – I’m about to eat my brain here – when she was annoyed – she was men all the way until she met the woman of her life, and she stroked my face once, when everybody knows not to touch me. And there’s Cagney & Lacey from IT, they’re always looking at me coquettishly. Although they have matching squints to match their matching bomber jackets, so it’s anyone’s guess really.
I frown as I wait for the green man to tell me I may walk. It’s tricky. I mean, I appreciate a comely woman as much as the next man, but I’m not at all sure what I’d do with one. At the end of the night, where would be the point?
Paddling along the narrow path that is both pavement and soakaway to the road above, a black umbrella approaches, and I consider whether to dodge and tut, or just accept the poke in my eye, the cold drip down the back of my neck. But from underneath the umbrella emerges a man in a dark three piece suit and a bright yellow turban. He notices me, and his smile is as sunny as his turban as he steps into a gateway to let me pass, and holds his umbrella over me as I do.
I grin back at him, and ‘this,’ I whisper.