Other People's Boredom
DOWN ON THE STREET there's some kid kicking a ball against a wall. Just some kid. Looks poor, in a tatty tracksuit, spotty, fat on cheap crap. Andrew has been watching him. Andrew watches a lot. He has a flat on the second floor of a square building surrounded by other square buildings.
He stands at the window, wearing his dressing gown, drinking tea. It's four PM. The sky's grey and everything's quiet. Muted. He watches the kid kick the ball against a street light. Too hard. It comes back and smacks his face. He falls flat on his back. Andrew chuckles. He can appreciate that sort of thing. It's funny. The kid looks like he could use some sleep anyway.
He looks away from the street. The buildings nearby all look dead. There is one, though. One window with curtains open. There's a woman sitting on a chair. Plump. Long black hair. Wearing a dressing gown, too. She's watching TV, some historical epic. All Sundays are good for.
He sips the tea. It's long since gone cold, but he doesn't care. Mo used to go nuts over that. 'How can you drink it cold?' she'd say. He'd shrug and slurp it down. She'd shudder and throw a cushion at him. Always the same cushion. Always the same couch, too. Brown and uncomfortable, flattened by their swollen behinds. These thoughts make him sad. He liked that couch. Probably. He spent enough time on it.
The woman gets up, walks out of sight. She looks young, thirty maybe. He keeps watching. Nothing else to do. She comes back with a small black box on a plate. She sits and peels something off the top of it. She jabs a fork inside, then lifts a lump of something to her mouth. Microwave meal. He's been living off them since he came here. Never cooked, even with all these chefs hijacking TV. Too hard. All ends up looking the same anyway.
He watches her eat. She plays with it a lot. Maybe she's got no appetite. Maybe she wants to lose weight. She puts the plate down then stares at the TV. Andrew looks down onto the street. The kid is getting to his feet, shaking his head. He picks up the ball, runs away. The woman picks her nose, wipes her finger on the chair. He watches for a bit longer, then stops. Other people's boredom is just boring.
Monday. Tony phones, hopes Andrew will enjoy his week off. Andrew is sure he will. Seven days away from collecting his fat bin bags. Seven days away from people asking how he is after the divorce. Hard to answer when he doesn't know.
He watches the woman eat her breakfast. Looks like cereal. She has her hair up today. She watches some program with two people sitting on a stage, arguing.
When he looks back in, she's wearing a tight tee shirt and shorts. She's jumping up and down, waving her arms. Copying some woman on the TV. Her shorts look too small. Her buttocks wobble all over the place. So do her breasts. She should wear a sports bra, Andrew thinks. Strange watching a woman exercise. Mo never did. She used to get taxis everywhere. No wonder they were always broke. She said she liked traveling in style.
The woman drops. Press-ups, with knees. Andrew watches where she places her hands. Her arms are spread too wide. She slips and ends up on her stomach. Andrew doesn't laugh. Not that he feels sorry for her. He just doesn't find it funny. She gets up, switches the TV off. She stands still, probably catching her breath. She walks out of the room. Andrew watches TV for a while, but she doesn't come back.
Tuesday. Andrew gets a letter from his daughter in Essex. She's lived there for ten years. When they told her about the divorce, she visited for a day. Didn't try to talk them out of it. Had probably been expecting it. In the letter, she said she hoped he was all right. He was, but he decided not to write back, like she asked. Never was any good at expressing himself. Found words tricky. Always a bad speller.
He put the letter on the coffee table. Would read it again. Maybe later. He always left reading mail to Mo. She was a good reader. Fat paperbacks, mainly. Romance ones. His idea of hell. What's the point? They always end with a wedding. She used to do crosswords too. In bed. Worked out well for him because he'd gone right off sex. With her. Still liked a bit of XXX TV when she was at her bingo Wednesdays. She knew all about it. Used to encourage it, too. Said she couldn't be bothered with it anymore. Said it was a young person's game.
Tomorrow was Wednesday. Did Mo still go to bingo?
Andrew goes to the window. The tea is cold. No problem. Has less flavor hot. The woman's been out. Now she comes back into her living room. With a man. They're both dressed up, probably been out. It's late evening now. They sit on the couch. He puts his arm round her. She turns and looks out the window. Andrew worries she'll see him, then remembers. His lights are off. He's invisible.
The man's nuzzling her neck. She puts her hand on his head and pushes his closer to her. He massages her breasts. She pulls his head up. They kiss. Andrew hasn't seen anyone kiss in real life for ages. He feels himself rise to the occasion. He finishes the cold brown swill. Put his hands in his pockets. The woman is topless now. Her bra's huge, even from this distance. Bets she's wearing a padded one. All a big con.
They leave the room, hand in hand.
Andrew makes himself another drink.
Wednesday. Andrew sits on the couch, prodding his belly. Definitely getting fatter. At least Mo kept him trim. Now he eats what he wants, when he wants, all synthetic. Five a day? Half of one a day, maybe. Likes a few peas with his microchips. Exercises while working, walks street after street. Maybe eats too much, not burning it off. Even getting boobs.
He picks up his cup of tea. Wonders what it's been sitting on. Picks up the letter. A big brown ring in the centre, a kiss after chocolate. He screws it up and throws it away. No use keeping it now.
Mo always said he needed to be more sentimental. Said he drifted through life. Said he needed to make more effort. But he liked drifting. Said people would wish to be like him. Just going along, no worries. He didn't like getting bogged down by stuff. These days, everyone's got a problem. A gripe, whether global warming or human rights. He can't change these things. What good would it be to panic?
He goes over to the window. Woman and man, watching TV. Both in dressing gowns. Eating cereal. Andrew peeks round the curtain. Doesn't want to get spotted. No idea what they might do.
The woman puts her bowl down. She stands and goes to the TV. Off it goes. He pauses, bowl in hand, spoonful of cereal to his mouth. She turns and starts shouting, hands waving. Andrew can't hear, but her mouth's open wide and she's pacing. The man's frozen, watching her go nuts. Andrew feels sorry for the guy. Mo used to fly off on one. It'd come from out of nowhere. That vanished before the divorce, too. Virtually no communication at all. Not that it bothered him. Always hated women's need to talk. Wanting to discuss feelings all the time. His daughter's probably like that now.
Andrew reaches back to the table, grabs the cup. Sips while the woman slaps the man's head. His bowl drops. Milk everywhere. They both look down, then she carries on. Probably blames him for dropping it. Must've smacked himself over the head. He stands and shouts. She smacks him again. He shakes his head, walks out. She sits on the floor and puts her hands over her face.
Two minutes later, he's on the street. Wearing his smart clothes. Gets into a car. Drives away. Andrew sips his tea, watches her sit there. Her hands stay over her face. Andrew checks his watch. Mo's probably getting ready to go to bingo.
Thursday. He's been watching her for a while now. She's done another workout, had a bowl of cereal. Mo sent him a text message before. She had sex last night. Some forty-eight year old stud, she says. Best one yet, she says. Andrew replies saying 'masturbated last night. Best one yet,' he says. Gets no reply. Tells himself he's won that round.
He's angry, though. Very. Wants to believe she's lying. Knows she's probably not. "Young person's game," his arse.
She's wearing a coat, putting on some trainers. He wants to know where she's going. Wants to know if she's going to see that man. He puts on his trainers. A few seconds after she leaves, he leaves. He's walking behind her. Trying to be stealthy. Imagining he's a spy.
They go through the loud estate. Kids on bikes. They go through the back alleys. Plastic bags and graffiti. He's starting to think they're going to the supermarket. He sees he's right. They get to the trolley bay. She gets one, he doesn't. They go round the magazines and the newspapers. She buys a paper, he buys the same one. They end up in the cereal aisle. She buys a few boxes of crunchy squares. Then she buys a pile of microwaveable meals. He buys the same.
She turns and looks right at him. He looks down before her eyes can meet his. He wonders why. He's not ashamed. He's not stalking her. Just curious. Wants to see what she does outside the flat.
She buys a lot of stuff. He stays as far behind her as he can without losing sight of her. She goes to the checkout. He lets an old lady go between them. The girl scans her items. She pays, then leaves. The old woman is taking too long. The woman's almost out the door. He think. Leave the stuff or lose her? He pushes past the oldie. Get a few feet behind the woman. Hopes she doesn't know he's there.
They go back through the alley. A couple of kids climbing over someone's wall. They go back through the estate. Nobody about. Sky of charcoal. She turns. He crouches down behind a bin. Wasps fly out. She carries on. He jumps, swatting. She goes into her building. He goes into his.
Mo used to love the weekly shop. Bought fruit, bags of chocolate. Days later, empty bags, rotten fruit. He'd just follow her round, grunting. Didn't care what she made, as long as he could eat it. He wonders what she's doing now, seeing that forty-eight year old, maybe.
He puts his shopping away. Checks his voice messages. Tony, again. Asks if he wants a pint later.
He goes to the window. The woman's in her chair. Coat's still on. She's eating a chocolate bar. Her shoulders are going up and down. Laughing. Crying. He can't tell. He makes a drink. Lifts his top, squeezes the gut. Huge. Almost as big as Mo's. Funny how she could feed him good stuff but not herself. Fat, plain. Bad clothes. Wonders how he stayed with her so long.
Sips drink, watches the woman. She stands, takes off her coat. Looks at the window, walks over. She looks down at the street, then up. At him. She isn't surprised. Isn't anything, just looks at him. He waves, slowly. Doesn't smile. Isn't sure what she'll do.
She closes the curtains.