SICK DAY | Take a day off with Laura Mitchell-Ghafoor’s short story.
by Laura Mitchell-Ghafoor
The rain hammers at my face horizontally. I trudge onto the train, grabbing the handrail as I lunge onto the cold, damp smelling carriage. The other commuters, who look considerably less wet and less frazzled than I am, dive for the remaining seats. My shoes squelch as I approach the last in the carriage and a man slides into it rapidly before me. On sitting, he made eye contact that at first appeared apologetic until I realised his smugness. My eyes bore into his receding hair as he swiped through a dating app, unaware of my watch.
At each stop I will someone near to where I stand, backpack slouching between my ankles, to take their leave so that I can relax for a few moments before the rush of the day.
A woman tutted as I shifted to let someone squeeze past and my still wet Mac brushed against her neatly powdered cheek. I blushed and avoided eye contact and pushed the volume up then immediately down again on my headphones as if the action will teach her a lesson.
The rain has slowed by the time the train lunges into the station. I swipe through the turnstile and head to work via the little cafe with the friendly, loud woman singing as she smears cream cheese on bagels. I won’t get the chance to come out at lunch but at least I won’t be having soup made by adding water to the dull powder, dehydrated for convenience but with no known nutritional value.
The day dragged on in a swirl of small talk and deadlines. I crawled through my to do list. As I added more and more to the impossible list, the corner started to curl up on itself and I rewrote it slowly and neatly on a fresh page, highlighting the stuff I must do and striking through those I’d achieved. I escaped to the toilets and sat for ten whole minutes reading an article about what the worlds richest people do with their mornings on my phone. I justified it to myself by bartering that I was in early and hadn’t stopped to eat properly, instead chewing through the bagel while tapping at my mouse then brushing the crumbs to the floor.
The day drags to a close and outside it’s already dusk before I pull my jacket back on. I make my usual excuses when someone asks me to join a couple of the others for a drink. I resent them for not hating this place as I do and for extending the working day even further. My feet are still soggy and have been intermittently cramping all day.
I get a seat on the journey home and lean my aching head on the cool window. I nearly miss my stop watching the droplets of water race down the dirty pane of glass while the rhythm of the train pulses through my exhausted body. I blast music through my headphones on the walk from the station, each foot following the other rhythmically. The beat is interrupted by my phone ringing. Mum. I have to answer or she’ll worry but the insistent questioning about how my day’s been, have I heard about what so and so’s daughter’s doing and am I eating properly is more than I can face today. “Hi Mum? Sorry I’m just heading to meet some friends. I’ll be back late – shall I call you later in the week? Yep, okay. Will do. Love you too.” I walk the rest of the way with guilt heavy in my stomach and the heavens open again.
“I can travel today without a commute and without leaving the solace of my home.”
My ground floor flat is a pokey, depressing state of affairs. I describe it as cosy or homely. But really, it was all I could afford. I often keep the curtains drawn in the evening partly because people stare in when they walk past but the long, dark curtains also hide the mould that’s creeping up the wall under the windowsill. With the curtains concealing it, I forget its there. I wipe the black patches with a cloth when Mum comes to visit and burn a scented candle to hide any smells I’ve become too accustomed to to notice.
I wriggle out of my tights. They’ve felt twisted all day. They’re sodden below the ankles and holed at the crotch. I’ve felt cold all day but in the struggle to unzip my dress at the back I become hot. I scroll through social media for an indeterminate amount of time, sat on the edge of my unmade bed in my greying underwear as the last of the days light is finally completely extinguished. Everyones lives look so much brighter than mine. They’re eating fancy breakfasts and travelling to interesting places. The mundane seems too good for them.
I swallow a ready meal subduedly and half-watch mind numbing television. Later, I pad along to bed and listen to the rain still pattering outside. It sounds peaceful now; I’m always quick to forget or forgive it for beating me earlier in the day. I turn out the light but somewhere there’s still the hum of electricity.
Eventually, I sleep dreamlessly until the alarm screams in my ear. I start to smear foundation onto my face and rub it into my sore, chapped cheeks with two fingers. It collects at the driest points.
The decision is made in a moment. I punch in the number, knowing my manager won’t be in the office just yet. Won’t even be in his flash car at his time or leaving his fancy detached house in the part of town people call the suburbs because families have two cars and electric gates.
“I’m not going to be in today. Terrible migraine.” The words spill easily, quickly absorbing any guilt like a tea towel mopping a spill that at first glance looks like it would saturate anything but a bed sheet. “I’m going back to bed so if you need me, let it ring a few times in case I don’t hear it” I add the last bit just to make sure no one will call.
I jump into the hot shower and stand with the water running over me for an obscene amount of time. The world outside is bright even though the evidence of yesterdays downpour lingers at the side of the main road and I hear a bus rush through the deep, murky puddles on more than one occasion.
After my shower I squeeze the water out of my hair and bundle it loosely atop my head without even pulling a comb through it. I switch my phone to silent and leave it plugged in before I pad through to the kitchen. Last night’s plate and cutlery is still obediently piled where I left them. I lower them into the sink.
I reach for a tea bag and decide better of it. I dig at the back of the cupboard and wipe the dust from the teapot I retrieve. I carefully, ceremoniously, measure just the right amount of loose leaf tea, a gift that I save for the rare occasion I have visitors. I breathe in it’s earthy musk. The kettle clicks to a boil and I rush the leaves with water. I don’t move for a moment while the pigment escapes like ink. I pour milk into a small jug that hardly ever gets used and carry the teapot, milk and a mug to the sofa. I concentrate carefully while pouring first the tea then the milk. The marriage of their distinct textures fascinates me for a moment.
I lean back on to the arm of the sofa and draw my knees close to my chest. I breath the ashy, milky scent and take a gulp while I listen to a momentary silence where even the cars outside seem to share my inhaled breath.
“I need this.” I whisper into the potion in the mug, now resting on my knee. Then I place it on the floor, stretch and reach for a book. I can travel today without a commute and without leaving the solace of my home. Winter daylight is streaming through my window and heat reaching for my limbs from the radiators. I exhale deeply and feel the tension in my shoulder blades stating to dissipate.
Laura Mitchell-Ghafoor lives in Halifax with her wife, 2 pampered cats and a grumpy dog. She writes when she can and dreams of completing a novel. She firmly believes she was a cat lover before the internet made it cool and has recently discovered a love of avocados.