A busy, bruising day. But the good news is: I’m safely back in the office, with just enough time to follow-up on a couple of calls and sort the paperwork out. It’s all looking great for a smart getaway – until Michaela calls me over. She has a last minute job.
‘Do you have capacity to deliver a commode to Mrs Albertson? Then you can go home! Okay, Jim? Okay!’
My mind flies up for a panicked, drone’s eye view of the mission, the time it will take to retrieve a commode from stores, travel to the address avoiding all the pinch-points, deliver the thing, then make it back through town to head home.
‘Okay,’ I tell her. ‘Fine.’
I take the details and run, putting on my coat as I trot-walk out of the office.
Once I’ve loaded up the commode I drive like a Toyota Yaris-shaped bat out of hell – smoking wings, smouldering tail, echo-sounding for gaps.
Ten minutes later I pull up outside the Albertson’s address, a block of flats set back from the road down an endless flight of concrete steps that descend and rise and descend again like something out of an infernal drawing by Escher.
‘Lift’s out,’ says a grim-faced guy lugging two garbage bags.
‘Oh great! They’re on the fifth floor!’
‘At least you’ll have something to sit on when you get there, mate.’
He holds the door open for me. I curse and clatter up a million stairs to the Albertson’s apartment.
It’s probably a good thing it takes a while for someone to come to the door, because it gives me time to catch my breath. Eventually it opens, and I’m greeted by an elderly man whose long silver hair sticks straight out behind him like he’d showered and then dried off in a wind tunnel.
‘Come in! Come in!’ says Mr Albertson, but, of course, it’s not as easy as that. Their apartment is tiny, cluttered from floor to ceiling with stuff, and Mr Albertson – trying to be helpful – only succeeds in anticipating my moves and putting himself exactly there, so that in the end I have to think three or four steps ahead and manipulate the man as much as the commode. Finally we make it through to the bedroom where Mrs Albertson is lying in bed. If Mr Albertson hadn’t been in the way the whole time I’d think he’d gone on ahead, jumped under the quilt and played out his hair on the pillow.
‘Well!’ says Mrs Albertson. ‘That does look useful.’
I’ve no clue where to put it, though. The room is as cluttered as the rest of the apartment.
I look at Mr Albertson, who has taken a seat on a chair at the foot of the bed. I guess that’s where he’s been sitting the last few nights, keeping his wife company, reading to her. It’s a shame to disrupt such a cosy arrangement. But the whole point of the commode is to stop his wife from having another fall when she struggles to get to the bathroom at night, so there’s no other option but to replace the chair with the commode.
‘No matter,’ he says. ‘I can sit on the commode instead, and when she needs it, we’ll swap!’
I feel bad about rushing the job. They ‘re a nice couple and I’d like to spend more time. But I’m driven by the tick-tock-ticking of the internal metronome I set in motion a half hour ago, and I can’t seem to do anything other than say goodbye and hurry down the stairs. Back in the car I call the office to say I’m done, turn off the phone and toss it in the dashboard along with my ID badge and pen, all in one movement, then turn the engine over and spin the car round.
The route back across town is strangely free of traffic.
I start to ease up.
It’s a clear night, and the city wheels around me in wonderful detail and colour. If it was true that half an hour ago I was moving like a bat out of hell, well, the little bat has run himself out now, passed into another realm, tucked in his wings and dropped through the eyepiece of a kaleidoscope.
Did the city always look this amazing?
I put the radio on.
Well sometimes I go out by myself, and I look across the water…
I turn it up, sing out.