The lavatory attendant didn’t need a watch to know what time it was. His regular customers – for want of a better term – were like the clockwork figures on the town hall clock back home; they always arrived at the same times, unless of course their trains were delayed, and then the attendant would adjust his internal clock accordingly. Here was the overweight businessman who always squeezed into the left-hand cubicle; here the long-haired fellow who was too old for the ponytail he sported; the student with his shoulder bag brimming with books; the youth in the tracksuit who never washed his hands. We are all creatures of routine, the attendant mused, and I am no different.
Eight years ago, he had had to become accustomed to a new routine, a new job, a new life in a different country. But that was a long time ago. Would he go back to practising medicine, he asked himself? No. The one thing he had decided when he had fled the ruins of his home town and the smouldering corpses of his family and neighbours: there would be no going back. Of any description.
He sprayed and wiped the washbasins and waited for The Man.
Sure enough, at precisely 8:10 the outer door opened. The attendant glanced in the mirror above the sinks. It was The Man all right. The pinstripe suit he wore, the newspaper tucked under his arm, the umbrella…it was him. There was no doubt in the attendant’s mind.
He had been watching The Man for months, slyly, discreetly, until he was certain there was no mistake. It was most definitely the Man. The Man who had led the raid that had turned the attendant’s whole life upside-down and deprived him so cruelly of all those he had loved.
While the attendant emptied a bin, The Man installed himself in the right-hand cubicle as he always did. The attendant knew he didn’t have long, He flicked the lock on the outer door to prevent interruption. He sidled up to the cubicle door and spoke in his old language.
I know it was you. I know! And I’m not taking any more of your shit.
From the other side of the door, there was nothing. Silence.
The attendant blocked the sinks with paper towels and turned on the taps.
“I say!” came a voice from the stall. “Is there someone there? There doesn’t seem to be any paper! Could you help me, please?”
The attendant froze, the gushing taps in synch with the galloping thoughts flooding his mind.
“Hello?” said the Man. He’s good, thought the attendant. Better English than me. Not a trace of an accent.
“Hello?” the Man repeated. The door jiggled a little. “I say! The lock is jammed! I’m stuck!”
With a smirk, the attendant tiptoed through the outer door and locked it behind him. He affixed an OUT OF ORDER sign – water was already seeping under the door. He took off his hi-vis tabard and dropped it in a litter bin.
“Not like you to be knocking off early,” observed Terry at the gate. The attendant kept walking. It was time to seek out new routines.
There would be no going back.