The stillness of the dawn amplified the few signs of waking on the quiet street. The glow of a solitary bedside lamp burned bright against the murk, and behind the dimpled glass of a front door a distorted figure loomed large as it shuffled to the distant clink of empty milk bottles.
Mike’s silhouette appeared at the crest of Cromwell Road – an outstretched arm tilting an envelope in his struggle to read the scribbled address in those minutes between lamplight and daylight.
His route covered the junction of three boroughs, zigzagging through areas of rich and poor – a diversity that flavoured three decades stomping that same round each day. But there were younger and fitter guys eager for his job, and management had informed him he was to see out his days sorting at Depot Seven. Today was his final delivery.
* * *
The symmetrical and pristine facade of Number One, with its central door shouldered by lower and upper windows, disguised the chaos behind. Mike glanced through the living room window at a blurred snapshot of frenzied movement. Three children wrestled over mislaid shoes and schoolbags, and through an archway a woman brushed crumbs from the kitchen top into her cupped hand. A suited man lifted the spread pages of The Guardian, searching for his keys as he dashed to the hall. The opening door wafted Mike with an aroma of coffee and burnt toast. He handed over the envelope and two small parcels, which the man dropped straight onto a small table below the scrum of hanging coats.
“Get the hell out of my garden, you little shit!”
A Jack Russell, with leg cocked over the miserable-looking gnome nestled under the dahlias, scrabbled back under the fence. The man flashed Mike an apologetic smile as he rushed towards the driveway, the three children trotting behind and clambering into the car. Fresh envelope in hand, Mike saluted the noses pressed against the misting windows and closed the gate behind him.
* * *
Two miles north, in a bungalow beyond the weathered sign welcoming visitors to the city, Andrew cursed the previous night’s decision to continue drinking past two o’clock. The bedside alarm had the volume of a reversing lorry, but it still took fifteen minutes to rock Andrew from the depths. The large, red numbers screamed that he would again be explaining his lack of punctuality to his manager. He scrambled from the bed and hopped as he untangled himself from the top sheet, muttering through gritted teeth as he stepped into the shower.
* * *
Other residents of Cromwell Road scuttled to their cars without so much as a passing glance at Mike, but he was greeted by the distinct character of each of the houses. The lavender at Number Seven always brought a sniffle, the heavily sprung letterbox of Number Fifteen snapped at his fingertips, and the overhanging rose bushes and unchallenged pampas-grass of Number Twenty Three transported him back to his army days in the tropics.
* * *
Andrew skated about the kitchen floor in untied shoes, shovelling dry toast into his mouth and adjusting his cufflinks. He braced the open briefcase between his knee and the cupboard door and slid the loose pile of papers from the marble top, scrambling to pick up disobedient sheets gliding to the floor. He slammed the case shut and within seconds was turning the key in the ignition.
copyright Damon King 2014