…to be in awe of the awe inspiring     

Rather than sitting in the staffroom and declare himself at a loose end, to be a loose end, or at the end of a tether, his tether, the tether, cast off, let loose, adrift, with no one to talk to, talk at, listen to, nod at, disagree with, agree with or ignore, Henry decided to adopt the appearance of someone with no time for sitting around, idle chatting, passing time, sitting back, or anything like that, but someone with just enough time, maybe just about enough, to do what really had to be done, something very important, which had to be immediately addressed, and he had no time to lose. This was easily achieved by walking quickly, long firm strides, looking straight ahead, not allowing his gaze to settle on anything to his left or his right, the odd quick glance, but no more than quick, looking straight ahead, chin raised, line of sight aimed just above the horizon, into the distant future which is always up, up, up.

Henry walked quickly to the photocopying room, where he quickly grabbed a yellow form and two smaller white pieces of paper, then he walked quickly to his classroom, where something of great interest and importance had taken residence in the top drawer of his filing cabinet, then he walked quickly to his car, in which he sat for a moment, in which he thought about curling up in the back seat for the better part of an hour, or the worse part of it, until lunch was nearly ended, at which point he would walk quickly back to the staffroom, look quickly about for someone who wasn’t there, and then he would have to almost run to his classroom lest he be late, lest his A-level class suffer the loss of one moment of his presence, lest the whole world fall apart, a world which had, up to that point been balanced precariously on a word he must utter, a thought he must have or something very important he really must remember.

He started the engine of his car and backed out of his space with great urgency, almost knocking over a child who was walking into school the wrong way. His left mirror hit the folder she was carrying, scattering her papers all over the road, her voice calling out, a cry of dismay, her distraught face briefly appearing in his rear view mirror, Henry’s smile angled into his shoulder, one sheet of foolscap sticking behind the wiper on his rear window. Henry made it into the world outside, just in time to drive quickly down quiet roads, wait impatiently behind traffic that had backed up, and then just get the last space in the supermarket car park.

The supermarket was always somewhere you had to go. It was the location of last resort. And it was well within anyone’s capability to stride purposely down aisle after aisle, spend hours looking for something that didn’t exist; great chunks of your life could be swallowed up in reading the ingredients on the backs of tins and jars and packets, and you could throw away minute after minute of your dwindling number of minutes standing in line at the checkout. And Henry had only twenty minutes, unless he wanted to arrive at school late, seeming even more pressed for time, more in demand, more full of things to do, and people to see, and people to whisper significant whispers to, and phone calls to make, and there’s a call for you, it’s for you, can I speak to Mr Bridgewater, there’s a letter for you, can you see Mrs Merryweather in her office… how things had changed: Henry would now give everything, though he only had twenty minutes, to be summoned to Mrs Merryweather’s office for a significant word, but it’d have to be a quick one.

A word. What would that word be? Well?

“Well, well, well!”… words which he now almost tripped over at the end of the cereals’ aisle, the words of Tommy Kilpatrick, leaning against a shelf of dun coloured organic produce, almost a smile forming, a nod, and an expectation to have a word with Henry. But Henry just nodded his acknowledgement and walked past and returned the smile in kind – he had things to do; he had only eighteen minutes left, before he had to drive back to school, a journey of ten minutes at the very least.

Reaching the end of the cereals’ aisle in a great hurry and sharply turning the corner, Henry came across Richard Greening, Head of Geography, who looked up in faint surprise from a half full trolley, and as he gained the head of the next aisle and began to walk purposely down it he almost tripped over the overflowing basket of the new religion teacher, whose name he couldn’t recall – the woman who was normally standing in the corner of the staffroom pretending to be absorbed in the notices on the various notice boards. Around the next corner he saw, in the distance, her head and shoulders sliding past a display of fruits from around the world, Julia Madden, the buxom P E teacher with a glint in her eye – but he didn’t catch the glint in her eye right now, having quickly fallen to the floor to avoid her notice, from which vantage point his gaze managed to fall on the particular variety of pesto with coriander he could have been looking for – Henry couldn’t believe his eyes.

Now that Henry had found out where it was everyone went for lunch – how everyone absorbed their free time and so managed to look busy, look rushed, look like they were out of time, that there wasn’t enough time, there’s never enough time, with so much to do, how can it all be done, no time to talk, no time to stop, no time… all that time was dripped away here…

At the check out, seven minutes left, Henry quickly glanced to his left and his right, quickly taking in the row of checkouts extending off into the distance either side of him, he counted eleven other members of staff queuing up to pay for their purchases. In his basket rolled the single glass jar of pesto with coriander, which caught the eyes, both of them, of Tommy Kilpatrick, who had joined the queue behind him, and who could not help but smile at Henry’s purchase – either the substance, quality or quantity of his purchase – offered up the obligatory “fancy seeing you here,” before commenting further on the amazing coincidence of their meeting like this.

They were then both amazed to see the whole of the maths department sitting in the coffee shop in the corner of the store at the other side of the row of checkouts. “Amazing,” Tommy Kilpatrick offered, “To think that god made all of this in six days.” To which Henry offered his amazement with a grunt.

Helen walking in at this point provided Henry with the impetus to appear to be engrossed in conversation with Tommy Kilpatrick, a sudden turn of events which took Tommy Kilpatrick by surprise – especially as Henry’s conversation was nonsensical, disjointed and wholly without precedent, ending with the non-sequitur that they had only two minutes so they had better hurry.


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