The Cleaner

Once all the suits have started leaving and the lights are turned off in the office, most of the time there’s a bloke what comes in to give the place a good clean and tidy up, so that it’s nice for everyone the next day. That’s what I do most nights for a finance company down on Hamer Street. It’s an alright job, long hours with an alright wage. I get to chuck my headphones in while I’m at it, since no-one’s around to tell me not to. That’s the thing, you see, you’re in the place all on your own with your thoughts and your windolene - lot of people call that lonely, but not me - I reckon it’s good for a bloke to have a bit of a think. Only problem with it is all them horror films what people watch. The butler did it, the driver did it, the gardener, the caretaker, the cleaner. Always some lackey like me what gets the blame for killing some poor bird in cold blood and that gets people thinking, you see. The amount of times something’s been pinched off a desk or eaten out the staff fridge and I’ve been the first mug they point the finger at. What a laugh. This place I’m at now isn’t so bad but at my last one I was pretty much chased out with pitchforks and torches. Nah, this place is alright. Apart from a couple of young lads who give me grief when I pass them on my way in as they’re leaving for the night. One of them, this lanky git, reads my name badge when he goes past. Isn’t so bad, it’s just the way he says it out loud.

“Ronald.” Right slow and snarky. “Ronald.” I don’t know what it is about it but it gets him and his mates chuckling as they walk off. When I first started, I found a cartoon in the bin what they’d drawn of me. One drawing had me standing above a dead body with a hunchback and a sort of mop-spear covered in blood. I’ve had a crooked spine since I were a lad so I can see why they thought it would be funny to draw me like that, like I were a monster. But I don’t think they’d be joking about it if it was the other way. If I had a bad back but I wore a suit and tie instead of marigolds and overalls. I suppose that’s just the way the world goes. I’m the cleaner. They’re always gonna look down on me and make judgements. My old mum used to call it stereocasting. Happens everywhere.

Recently though, I’ve been talking to one of the office lot. Only for a second or so when she’s leaving or for a couple of minutes if she’s working late. She only started a few weeks ago and she’s a bit older, like me. Grew up round here as well, we reckon our grandparents probably knew each other from working in the pit, how mental is that? She’s lovely, she is. When we were chatting the other night, that lanky sod came over and asked,

“Are you okay here with Ronald? Do you want me to walk you to your car?” That great big grin on his face, said it with me right in front of him.

“I’m perfectly capable of walking to my own car, thank you.” I couldn’t think how glad I was to hear her say that, shooing him away with her words. Since then, I couldn’t stop talking to her. Turns out she’s travelled all around the shop in her younger years, playing folk music. Says she spent a spell living in the states as well. Imagine that, someone who grew up not three miles from me, doing all this and all that. She really did amaze me. Got me thinking about how all of us aren’t really that different. We’re all people, humans. Some of us clean up coffee stains and empty the bins, some give advice on tax law and file investment reports under miscellaneous. Some of us learn instruments and live free, some of us finish school early and get a job for thirty years. We’re all different, but we’re all the same.

Once I started thinking like this, I opened up to her a bit and after a while, I asked her out to a nice restaurant up town. Just her and me. She said yes and I was elated. What a night. I dressed up as sharp as I could and she came in this lovely little velvet number. From the second she smiled at me from the doorway, I got to thinking about how I hadn’t been with a lady in so long but it didn’t matter. She made me feel so right, how I reckon I deserved to feel. At dinner she said to me, “Ron, you are a wonderful man. You’re kind, you’re funny and you’re so humble.” Got me blushing, she did. “I feel like you don’t know how good you are and that breaks my heart. I worry that other people can look at you and see nothing more than a cleaner because everyone deserves to see you through my eyes. To see the generous, gentle soul under the overalls.” She leaned toward me and grabbed my hand. “I’m so lucky to know the real you.” She said, before kissing me. It was the most beautiful thing anyone had ever said to me. She was right, I always sold myself short. Suppose it’s all them horror films, snarky comments and nasty drawings bringing me down. Making me feel like I was something I’m not. But right then in that moment, I realised that ‘Cleaner’ was my job, not my definition.

We left a little bit after that. She was gonna drive me to hers for a couple of drinks and dessert. I really was smitten, I was. When we got outside there was one of them parking wardens writing a ticket on her car.

“Sorry, it’s parked on double yellows. Thirty pound fine.” this bloke says to us.

“What? Oh no!” My lady says. Absolute rubbish, she was about four inches onto the line and he’s fining her for that? I kicked off, telling him to sort this out and undo the ticket but he didn’t budge. Course he didn’t. All them parking blokes get a commission for every ticket they write. He probably moved her car over the line. Probably keeps paint on him so he can extend the lines. What kind of sick fucking bastard goes around on a Friday night giving poor lovely ladies fines for no good reason. I had such a great evening and it was all ruined by that selfish mug. Scum of the earth, parking attendants.