The Three Degrees
written by: Patrick McAteer
Having awoken, I went out, opened the window and put on the kettle. I then noticed I was up half an hour earlier than I expected. I returned to bed with the cat waiting anxiously near its bowl. I could not see my watch as it was dark but when I heard someone outside clear his throat and spit, I knew it was one of the builders who stay in the hostel opposite. I knew then it was time and so I arose again and closed the window. I then prepared my lunch together with my son’s. When I went to get his lunch box, I noticed he had not touched his sandwich from the previous day and so I just exchanged the old sandwich with the new, and placed the old one in my bag and the fresh one in the fridge. I have gotten used to this juggling with food and have turned into quite the expert in this regard.
I had a cup of tea and read some of my Bible. I tried checking some things online but the sands of time were now on their last freefall into the glass. I arose, poured the tea into the flask, awoke my son, and set off into the dark rainy streets on my bike. I stopped at a pedestrian crossing and held onto the lamppost for support. I struggled to get a proper grip on the cold wet surface as another cyclist pulled up and fired a cross glare at me. It was clear, he wanted me to press the button as there was a never-ending stream of cars passing. Eventually, I got around to it and some white lights flashed indicating we needed to wait. The green man then appeared and we crossed.
After about a hundred yards I turned into Berg Strasse where my friend lives. A large bus appeared coming towards me. I was aware of a car behind me. It quickly overtook and came a bit close which got my heart pumping. I noticed it was a silver VW Golf and knew my neighbors were most probably in it. They are nice folk with the surname Otto, so even though they only have cleaning jobs, they always have an auto. It seemed like they had not heard that builder cleaning his throat and so were running late.
I was relieved that the bus passed without incident and then it was over the lumpy road and onto the pavement to bypass the traffic lights. Onwards bound with a cold wind in my face reminding me that I was awake. A bicycle light was held in my steadily numbing left hand, I began to see the University Tower up ahead, its upper regions shrouded in mist. Having arrived I locked my bike outside the university, a habit I have had since attending university thirty-three years before and locking my bike outside Trinity College Dublin.
It was still dark as I made my way through the pedestrian zone which at this hour also serves as a road for delivery vehicles and bin lorries. One cannot switch off less one be subjected to the sound of a horn. I reached the oldest shopping arcade in Germany where my workplace is located and stepped onto the marble tiles, passing the posh jewelry store and the Klangbrunnen, a bronze vat filled with water where different tones can be produced by rubbing brass handles. I then turned and pressed a buzzer to open the door. It did not work and so I pulled the knob and made my way inside.
Having made my way up the stairs, the cleaners’ trolley blocked my entrance. I maneuvered my way around it and hung up my coat, hat, and helmet. I noticed the cleaning lady at the back of the call center with the door to the men’s loos wide open. She is a very thin woman in her sixties with grey straggly hair and as per usual was wearing her blue and white cleaning tunic. Her cheeks were an unhealthy red. It is strange to see her at this hour as normally she starts even earlier but it seems a lot of people are late today. I glanced at her again as she approached my trainer’s desk. He was surprised by this unexpected visit. He smiled at her as she pottered around at his desk before exchanging pleasantries.
I was hoping she would not come to my desk as I am not a morning person. I say hello to her when I see her. That is enough for me. Thankfully she went to the desk in front and began to wipe and clean. She must have been really starved of social contact as there are very few on duty when she arrives at six in the morning and indeed those who are around are like a crumpled piece of tissue one would find in their pockets. She spoke to the surprised quiet young man, complaining about the inclement conditions outside. He nodded and said, yes, I think it is just three degrees. She turned with her spray and cloth to the next unsuspecting worker whose gaze was fixed nervously on a screen.
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