Just before Christmas, I sat late in my office waiting for the cleaners, so I could wish them a Merry Christmas. As I sat there I started thinking, what if they did not celebrate Christmas? What if I upset them? And I did not have anything to give them, either, because I had been avoiding the shops in the lead up to Christmas so I didn’t have any chocolates or other sweets to proffer with my cheery Christmas wishes. Heck, I don’t celebrate Christmas. I decided I would wish them a happy break. And then I wondered, do they get a break over Christmas?
After all this navel-gazing, I did not end up wishing any of the cleaners a happy Christmas / couple of days break / accidentally insult them, because no one came to clean my office while I was sitting there. I gave up, half relieved, half disappointed.
I like our cleaners a lot. We get along like rather apologetic houses on fire. Most evenings, if I’m here when they come round, there are a series of apologies. They knock on my office door, and I call out, ‘yep?’ which is what I call out whenever I hear a knock on my door, whether it’s partner, trainee or cleaner. They all get a, ‘yep?’ The door opens a crack and a head peers in furtively. The head could belong to any of the cleaners who come through: the one collecting dirty mugs, the one who empties the bins, the one who wipes the surfaces, the one who vacuums. Immediately, the head will apologise and begin to retract away. “No, no,” I call out. “Come in. Sorry I’m still here.” They say sorry again and start doing whatever it is that they’re there to do. When they leave, they apologise one more time for good measure, and I refuse to accept it and offer my own apologies. Usually as I leave the building, I see one or all of them again and say a cheery ‘Good night!’ and they say the same to me.
If the head appearing round my door is the person who collects mugs, she will say, “Any cups?” Sometimes she says to me, “You! Your cups! How many today?” I like the way she asks: it is playfully accusatory. I am guilty of collecting mugs. I have my first hot beverage in the morning before work; usually a cup of black tea. After the black tea, I have a cup of herbal or green tea. The herbal or green teabag stays in the mug and gets hot water added to it as the day goes on. At some point around lunch time, I have a cup of coffee. After lunch, I frequently have a mug of hot chocolate. Sometimes, when I forget to bring a water bottle, I have a glass of water. If I remember, I return my mugs and glasses to the kitchen as I go about my day. If I don’t, the mugs collect on a little side-table I have, which is for my non-work things. I never, ever, put mugs or cups on my work desk. Because I will undoubtedly knock them over when I reach for the phone, or a file, or the Green Book of Relevant Legislation.
The mug-collector has started to learn to read what my collection of mugs means about my days. If I have no cups for her, she says, “Bad day, no time for drinks?” And I will concur, or I will chirrup, “No, I had time today to return everything to the kitchen.”
Recently, she poked her head ’round the door and startled me. I looked wildly around for my mugs – there were three. I picked them up to hand over to her and noticed that they were all half-drunk. “Ugh,” I said, “Sorry, they’re disgusting.” She looked at me amusedly and pronounced, “Today, you had a very bad day.” I grin at her, “Yeah. Too many interruptions!” She shakes her head at me and says as she leaves, “Tomorrow you will have a better day.”