My head hangs close to rim of the disposable cup. The steam is bitter. The heat both blessing and curse. I am pouring what is left of my will into this coffee and in turn it is holding me up for one more day. That’s all I need, eight more little hours. Then rest.
I have been working for nine straight days. Somewhere north of one hundred hours and what sleep I steal between those is haunted by calls for two sirloins on eighty four, firing, one eight ounce mid rare, two rumps medium, to follow three Rib eye’s all rare, Lets go!
I can feel every minute of those hours in every inch of my body. My knees creek like a man four times my senior. My arms dangle from my shoulders like scarves from a hook. Someone has poured concrete into my fingers. The skin flakes and peels from every shattered nails edge. Blisters line my forearms.
A lot of people say that while you are young you feel invincible but I can tell you now that my body has never felt more mortal than sitting at a faux antique bar in Costa. The coffee remains the only thing holding me aloft.
Through the shop window I can see normal people living normal people lives. Suits, briefcases, phonecalls, taxis, newspapers. What did I do to be shunned from that normal life? Nothing I guess. I remember that this is what I want to be doing. It seems insane at this moment in time but it is. This is where I belong. If it’s not, then at the very least, at this stage, in the words of Joseph Conrad; I must be loyal to the nightmare of my choice.
After my shift today I am free for an evening and a day before I head back into the smoky, shining steel, gun deck of a kitchen where I earn my humble keep. Forty consecutive hours of not being shouted at or burning myself. It might only be a short about of time but I feel inside like I am about to take three month cruise around the Bahamas. It is a welcome reprieve from this job that seems to demand so much and offer so little.
That thought takes a little of the pressure off the coffee as my sole source of support and I stand to walk the three minutes down the road and into the restaurant. The sun is low and seems intent on tearing a hole in my retinas. It’s going to be a warm day. A fresh wave of envy hits me as I think again about the normal people getting to enjoy normal people things, like a sunny day and fresh air and bones that don’t feel like swizzle sticks.
The coffee diminishes. The day passes. I’m about to leave. I make a smart ass comment to the chef. The guys on the grill laugh. Chef tells me to fuck off home and get some sleep. I smile and feel better than I have in days. I’m beaming as I change back into my civvies and head to catch a tube home. Either out of sleep deprived deliriousness or a genuine sense of feeling at home there, I start to look forward to going back into the kitchen in a few days time. I’m still smiling as my eyes grow heavy and sleep takes me there on a rush hour Piccadilly Line tube. I miss my stop but it was the soundest sleep I had had in weeks.