She stood losing a staring contest with the new coffee machine before stepping aside for a copper. He overtook her on autopilot to resume the universal challenge of early morning indifference. Both of them united by separation anxiety from its predecessor. One that might’ve gurgled back in protest but didn’t tease regulars with fancy moves. Like dispensing hot water then pausing for a round of applause before introducing the headline act to the cup.
That’s when I invaded her peripheral vision with the offer of a lid they thought hip to hide from view, startling her in a manner usually reserved for catching my own reflection.
Ah. It’s yourself. I was away in another world there.
A world of under-eye shadows from Intensive Care Unit hours she’d been keeping; under eyes no bigger than curled up confetti from going through her revolving car-door leaving no time for make-up.
How are things?
Aye. OK. He’ll spend another week in ICU, then home. But recovery will be slow. It’s hard on Mum but there’s hardly a family we know that’s not affected by it. Is there, like?
Everything else is much the same. The boys are fine. Still fighting over Power Rangers cards. You know yourself. Is your wee one not into them things yet? Lucky you. They’re a bloody torture.
Aye. She’s a big Celtic fan though, I conceded, finally settling my end of the subtle transaction of child inspired exasperation. Like her Da. So, you know yourself, kinda awkward on sports day.
[In unison] Aye!
And with that we awkwardly strung out our goodbyes until she reached the till and the poppy on the lapel of her padded coat faded to something vaguely resembling a blood donor badge on a shrunken duvet. One she could cheerfully disappear under.
Aye. That’s not the only awkward day. I wondered what would she think if she knew I pulled my wee one from Remembrance Assembly last week. The one her two boys skipped into along with every other wee one from what I could gather on Facebook, where all the best rights are violated. Shouldn’t I have sent in her in there? Isn’t this what integrated education is all about?
Aye. According to the stock imaged posters, and those misty-eyed promos featuring Liam Neeson selling us the benefits of holding hands across the playground in a non-threatening voice. There he is. All whispery, beatifically laying his hand on a shoulder as the camera pulls away to reveal me gnawing my fist. For fuck’s sake, Liam. Too many people already think integrated education is for pretentious wankers and toffs. Ham up the local brogue there like a good man.
Aye. OK. I made that last bit up.
Of course it’s for bloody toffs you stupid eejit, pointed out my friend diplomatically. You have to drive to get to it!
Aye. Right enough.
And where does your wee one go, the integrated?, enquired a colleague condemned to my front passenger seat longer than should ever be necessary.
Fair play til ya. Our ones see it as a Unionist school where we’re the guests.
Wait a second. So there’s no Irish at all?, another mate re-checked, ramping up the incredulity.
Join the army today!