In the warehouse canteen people chatter sedately during the early morning tea break. A man sits on an orange plastic chair, with metal legs, his shoulders slumped slightly forwards and his head leaning to the right, talking quietly to a man sitting next to him. Presently he leans down so that his face is obscured by the peak of his baseball cap. He draws a carton of cigarettes from a plastic bag at his feet, and his companion rummages through a collection of notes and coins cradled loosely in his lap and the palm of his hand.

Above them are two vast windows, making the canteen's back wall almost completely glass, and casting shadows across faces around the tables.

On the nearest table, for the moment, everyone is silent, all sat privately reading newspapers and magazines. Two women in their early twenties read the same article, smiles half formed upon their faces. A man in a dusty brown suit jacket with leather patched elbows bites into a bacon sandwich and leans back, wiping crumbs from his mouth and straightening his spectacles as he chews. The woman to his left turns to him with a look both angry and menacing, feigning disgust with an exaggerated sneer. She tells him that he stinks and asks him when he last washed.

There is sudden interest from the shadowed faces that surround him, all emerging from private thoughts, a strange kind of lust urging them on, masked in anticipant grins. The man opposite the woman gives a short, sharp, joyless laugh and glances towards her with a look of inquisitiveness and malice intended to encourage her mocking. Soon after, the inevitable echoes of this woman's aggression begin; the waving of hands in front of noses, the scraping of chairs being shuffled theatrically away.

He is no longer there in a sense - the same squeaking of chairs on hard floor, other children turning round to stare, and the teacher looking down at him from the front of the classroom with that same look of inquisitiveness and malice...

His distant gaze is not satisfaction enough for those sat at his canteen table. They want more, and as he grabs the glass of water being poured over his head, and flings it, crashing, against the wall, the room falls silent. His footsteps echo in the silence as he walks away.



© Colin Legge