He has big hair and stubble that is more than a couple of days old. And, as he squints from behind thick glasses he has a look that is questioning, uncertain and potentially disagreeable.
It was a few weeks ago.
The disposal room.
A place where service assistants, housekeepers and cleaning staff deposit their bags of clinical and regular waste – cups, tissues, bottles, that sort of thing.
The room is windowless, it has an automatic light.
Each day the porters arrive, take away the bags, leaving space for more rubbish.
Today the roll-cage had been removed and the bags chucked unceremoniously, randomly into a smelly heap.
The porter, I’ll call him Nick, wasn’t impressed. He was hugely pissed-off; he had to find an empty roll-cage from somewhere, load all the fetid, sweaty bags onto it before unloading them at the collection point for disposal.
You know how it is, there are some jobs no one likes, but which, we accept as being part of life – picking-up socks and pants from the bedroom floor, scraping burnt curry into the bin; mopping up child or dog or cat vomit – all these occupy a space of never much fun, always unpleasant.
The system, or, whoever had borrowed the original roll-cage and, subsequently collaborated in tossing the bags into the room were part of the same mechanism.
Nick was pissed.
And, I got how he felt. I sensed his frustration, although, likely, not to the same extent; Soon, I was off, brewing my coffee, checking patients or replying to emails.
Last week I read the novel, The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden, by Jonas Jonasson.
In the beginning, Nombeko, the protagonist is a latrine cleaner in Soweto, she moves swiftly to manager then nuclear scientist, refugee and king-saver; Nick isn’t moving.
Most people don’t move; they don’t find an escape that changes their fate. We walk along the road and keep on going until there is nowhere left.
Nick, frustrated, went away, found a cage, came back, loaded and unloaded and so it goes, so it goes-on.
I wanted to step-in, to help, express my empathy, show that he was not alone, in his frustration.
We have this special ability as humans to look at the lot of another and feel great compassion, overwhelming affinity and, at other times, nothing. Not even numbness, just blank.
Walking along Euston Road last week, the homeless men and women, grimy, dirty, tired in the gutters, didn’t trigger a response; I was protected, shielded by my alienation.
As I glanced at the ingrained dirt, the sun-beat wrinkles, flaking skin and exhaustion, I looked this way and that, diverted focus to my phone, to the surrounding, road signs, traffic lights.
Look away; don’t look here. Don’t look there, don’t let anyone see you are looking at them, for, if eyes connect, the reality escalates and you find it harder to back away, to turn around and pretend everything is OK.
Nick, who works as a different, but equally important cog in the mechanism of health and care that I inhabit, spins round in his own orbit, interfacing with friends and family, colleagues and acquaintances.
There is an iPhone game called ‘Geared’ – in it you have to move around different cogs in order to create the perfect balance, to establish a coordination that allows you to move-up to the next level.
I see Nick and I, like that, spinning around, rotating in our own worlds, dancing to our own rhythms.
It is funny. We cannot live alone. We all need to be a part of society in order to exist, to maintain our wellbeing and sanity; isolationism might be proposed by a certain US president, it is not, however reality, it is counter to our evolutionary spirit, our prime directive, which is be, feel, grow & connect.
Where is Nick now?
I am sitting in my garden; washing machine just finished its final cycle, song thrushes and sparrows beckoning the twilight.
Where is Nick?
Still, dishevelled, tired?
I have so much to appreciate, that, I don’t see it.
Most of us do not value what we have until it is gone, until it is too late, when the moment has passed. When, we are old, looking back on a life that might have been different, altered for the better or the worse; lighter, higher, more enlightened.
I’ll end by thinking back to Jo Cox who died a year ago today and all the celebrations of diversity and unity that have been held across the country.
We all serve as counterbalances to the good and bad of society, we all carry the can for the aspirations and failures of our friends, families and colleagues.
We are the branches of the tree that must keep growing, as the roots are forced deeper into the earth.
Nick, I would gladly trade places, at least for that moment, to diminish your frustration, to accede to the reality of that windowless room.
Is grass really greener, or is it just grass?