Monday, October 6, 2008
“You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment.”
-Henry David Thoreau
I was employed, for a mercifully brief time some years ago, in a fast-food restaurant. It was a thoroughly disturbing experience, not least because I found myself ordered about by a girl who was, legally speaking, not old enough to work. I noticed that she paid far too much attention- with her probing fingers- to the various facial piercings she displayed, which were weeping and oozing even as she served and prepared food. Between not really being able to look at her, and not really being able to listen to her, it was an awkward sort of relationship, one doomed from the beginning.
The rest of the staff, while paling in comparison to our young friend, were either immensely creepy, violently temperamental, or rude; and although I liked the work I was out of place there, and I loathed the hours spent.
One late night, anyhow, I happened to look up from my business of cleaning a table at the front of the restaurant. The dining area was narrow, but long, and I saw some of my colleagues engaged in deep discussion at the far end.
Following on from that, I observed that all my colleagues, and my boss, were engaged in deep discussion at the far end.
Every one of them had their backs turned to me. A thought darted across my mind like a mischievous sparrow: namely, that it would be deeply satisfying to go out the door, run away down the busy street and never come back. If I left, my young, self-appointed supervisor, poor thing, would have to clean the entire restaurant at closing time- a task she was not accustomed to.
I continued to scrub the table, but I found that my hands had started to tremble. My mind, try as I might to carry on with my job, just would not be silent. It felt as though my head had woken up and expanded in the course of three seconds, and indeed was now not only increasing in scope but saturated with a single thought: leaving while the others' backs were turned.
The thumping of my heart, which had lodged in my throat, drowned out all else. It seemed that cars buzzed past the restaurant in slow motion and time seemed at once to slow down and speed up.
It was, I well knew, a very rare moment in which there were no customers and every person I worked with was distracted, leaving me quite alone by the door.
I hardly know how much time actually passed, but it was likely not to have been more than half a minute. In hindsight, I sometimes feel it was half an hour, such was the back and forth, the justifying why and why not. At times I thought it already too late; my colleagues would, I knew, turn around any second and return. But they did not, and still that tantalising carrot was dangled before me.
Finally the thought grew too big for my head, and I knew that nothing would ever be the same again. Who could work when such terrifying thoughts of freedom threatened to overwhelm the senses?
I left the cloth on the table, snapped my jacket off the hook, eased the door open and, with one final wary glance at the other end of the restaurant, slid into the street.
I ran for five whole minutes without a pause.
At times I laughed aloud to myself as I sailed through the air; there were, admittedly, brief half-moments of doubt, of wondering if the others had noticed yet and if perhaps I could still return and pretend nothing unusual had happened, but they were soon diluted by the night breeze on my face, the triumphant echo of my shoes slapping the footpath- the latter being the only proof that my feet touched the ground at all.
I caught, as I flew, the partial murmurs of late-night pedestrians- free, like I was- on their way to parties or pubs or friend's houses.
My flight was almost derailed when it occurred to me to examine the jacket I had snatched in haste; if it turned out not to be my own, I would have had some dreadful, sheepish explaining to do. I had chosen correctly, however, and the unsettling thought was soon dispatched.
I found a public telephone at a safe distance, found my breath, and called my mother, and asked her to collect me- but gave Mater strict instructions not to venture within a hair's breadth of my workplace. We made arrangements to meet elsewhere.
The recriminations that followed were slight ones: that my boss called my house some hours later, demanding from Mater to know my whereabouts; that I chose to forfeit my last wage rather than meet with the threats he delivered to us; that I had to find another job; that I would, for some years afterward, see my young colleague on the street and would have to, as they say, duck out of sight.
I remember how it struck me to have one notion in my head grow and grow until I could not help but act on it, and I remember how marvellous it felt to be so absolutely sure of the validity of an idea, and to have but a blink of an eye in which to accomplish it- and to run with it.
Posted by Phyllis Hunt McGowan at 2:39 PM