Revolt of the Albumen
Revolt of the Albumen
We’ve all got our own lunchtime bench. You are considered lucky if you don’t have to share a bench. I must be extra fortunate because no one ever sits next to me. Even on a nine foot barge of a bench, if I sit at one end, other people never choose the middle, but perch on the opposite end. You can set a watch by it. It is as though between us we are anchoring the bench, stopping it from simply floating up into the sky. Or we are sat either side of a vast invisible object we can see through, but not move.
Today is no exception and a woman in a large brown overcoat with a ruffled collar is setting a new record for the fastest packet of crisps ever eaten in a public place. She is around fifty-one years old I would say and the noise that comes from that packet of crisps is like cheese and onion gunfire. Her fingers swoop in and out of the packet like kestrels. Her pace is relentless. She finishes by crushing the packet into itself then pushes it into a pocket in her overcoat. Licking her kestrels clean, she is no quieter, her fingers giving up shrill bird sounds as she runs them over her tongue.
Opposite me, a couple have settled onto a similar bench. She is dressed in bright woollen garments of jarring colours. He is dressed in a raincoat, grey slacks and brown brogues. They are aged around sixty-seven, possibly a touch more. They are dressed in that mismatched way that speaks either of relaxed self-confidence or the opening notes of a lengthy performance of dementia. With no interludes for drinks or toilet needs. In a second, whilst I enjoyed a slow blink, they have produced plastic boxes from the air. It is time for sandwiches. At their age it will be a precise time – 2 o’clock it would seem.
I cannot tell what sandwiches she has, for she nibbles them into oblivion. She holds them close like a harmonica and stares out over the top of her sandwich. Her stare passes through me, the glass wall behind me, through the buildings beyond and out to somewhere she is not prepared to talk about. It is the sort of long range stare that would be at home with the sound of a ticking carriage clock in a highly polished room.
It is easy to tell what sandwiches he has, because he has an accident almost immediately. Maybe his fingers let him down; maybe the bottom slice of bread gave up unexpectedly. Either way, a mixture of egg and mayonnaise has ended up where it shouldn’t. In trying to shake it loose from his fingers, the egg immediately jumps to the man’s face. Reaching up with his hand, the yolky smear spreads across his left cheek, reaching out for an ear lobe. It is an egg smeared face that just won’t give up. As a drama it has no effect on the stare of the woman beside him, though I think I catch sight of her body deflate with an exhausted sigh.
I smile to myself, watching as he attempts to remove the egg from his cheek with eggy fingers. Eventually his egg mishap is scrambled with a heavy handkerchief. I am still smiling later when I think of him spreading egg about the place as his wife – which I now assume her to be – feels every beat of her heart is a finite number. She wonders if counting them would make her life harder, or easier.
When I think about all of this later – oddly enough in the grip of my own incident with a chunk of butter laid out across my kitchen unit without a care in the world – I think it is funny, but human funny. I don’t think the laying hen would have found it all that funny.
Then again, research has proven time and again that hens are playful, some even renowned for their humour.