‘Greasy Stranger’/’Ode to Prudishness’/’Ode to Hygeine’: a poem

Greasy stranger in my waiting room
Uch
Why are you greasy?
How is it that you and I can co-exist on this earth
when we have such disparate definitions of ‘normal’, and ‘acceptable’ behaviour,
or of personal care or routine?
I know there are people who don’t wash their hair,
I have read about them,
and I know,
I am painfully aware,
from years of serving the public and cleaning up after them in communal toilets,
that most
people do not feel the need to wash their hands
after they have been
and done their business…
More on that, later.
You are in my waiting room.
You are looking around as if birds were tweeting in the surrounding forest,
as if you just strode on stage for the opening of Oklahoma,
as if everything was fine…
I assure you, it is not.
To be so confident and self-assured would be annoying in the most acceptable of circumstances,
but to be so when you are so greasy is just…

He turns my way.
Oohhhhhh no.
He holds my gaze expectantly, as if he is about to ask a question –
I respond politely with my
“Yes, I’m here,”
eyebrows…
Instead of a question, he raises his own
polite
eyebrows
at me
me, a normal person,
with normal, clean hair, and modesty.
He says,
“Hullo!”
Well, fuck me.
For this, I was not prepared.
“Hhhheellloo…”
seeps out of me like a wince at a careless nurse
knocking a bone back into joint with shabby share of grace…
my brow frozen in furrow,
my manners in disbelief
How dare he?
How dare you!
Although, I cannot speak,
albeit from a distance,
via time, space, and now, poetry,
I cannot speak directly to this greasy stranger anymore,
because now, he has broken all the rules,
he has turned civilisation upside down
in acting as if things are not
as they are
How could I predict his next behaviour?
This alien operating system could change at any moment,
indeed I am braced already,
his polite eyebrows are not half as pleasant as mine,
and I have not even plucked today.
No, it is no use,
we shall have to sit in silence, you and I,
I shall not be making small talk with you,
and I shall look affronted at your efforts.
The clock will tick by to your not-soon-enough appointment,
and I will wait
it
out.

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‘Commitment’: a little bit of prose

The cream in the fridge is a slight way off from its usual, acceptable scent, but that does not matter to them. It is slid out from the beginnings of crust on the middle shelf of the fridge, and onto the counter where it waits as they turn to each other. This was never supposed to last.

Apologetic-looking fruit is taken from a plastic bag. Only one bag. The words ‘bare minimum’ are reigning this household. A receipt is crumpled and slipped under the lid of the bin. This was never supposed to be thorough. Or perhaps it was, just not… So serious. So right. So completely fine.

‘Age’: a little bit of prose

“Age is our friend,” he toyed, winning their annoyance. A council of women switched off from the listening side of the conversation, and began spewing their individual responses to the offensive keyword, barreling over one another to regale their bitter memoirs and sour predictions.

He sighed, letting this one go, being intelligent enough to recognise a lost cause, and glanced longingly at his watch. He enjoyed this, and held onto the moment. ‘Well, age is my friend,’ he thought to himself, and stroked his facial hair, appreciating each fresh sprout like a newly blossoming rose, knowing that, because he was a man, he would fare easier than these people hell-bent on misery.

“He’s not even listening!” one of them cackled, and the group broke into that dirty kind of laughter that only occurs in response to things that are not funny, and are not jokes. He smirked politely in response, returning from his daydream, from his sideburns, and cut his mental ties with each one of them as easily as he had lost helium balloons from restaurants as a child.

They hadn’t even let him alone for enough seconds that it would have taken to fully absorb the waitress, a much more pleasant presence, one who probably didn’t give a damn about age.

He hoped his friends would hurry up and die soon.