He’d timed himself by doing three dry runs this week so knew it was possible.
In ten minutes he’d be across the open plan office, down the five floors to reception (lift, not stairs, and he’d factored a 30 second wait), straight across the busy lunchtime main road (because walking 20 yards to the pedestrian crossing would waste precious seconds) then along the High Street to another pedestrian crossing – thankfully en route – and on to Mr John’s office next to the big branch of W H Smith.
He’d be there twenty minutes (‘give or take’ Dr Kamal had said, which he’d thought slightly vague). Afterwards he’d reverse his journey, be back at his desk in another ten, and the remaining minutes of his lunch-hour he’d spend actually eating. It felt energising to be in charge of a plan and he’d even put on deck shoes this morning because they had a deeper rubber grip than his usual footwear.
As digits and hands on various clocks on the walls around him chuntered towards the hour, his pulse picked up speed. He was a soldier; a sergeant major in charge of manoeuvres; about to show his brave, strong army of men how all things – if they were planned to perfection (taking unknown quantities into account, of course, because soldiers must have contingency plans) – would fall into logical, sensible step. And if they didn’t, then this venture would serve as an example for future tactics and re-calibration next time – though hopefully there wouldn’t be a next time.
Scufflings and murmurings indicated that the females in the office were getting their handbags from their drawers (combination locked of course – you can’t be too careful) and gathering whatever outside garments they’d take with them on their break. He looked up. Sixty seconds to go. He made sure he’d saved his documents, backed them up, swivelled his chair around and got to his feet. Static fizzed at the edges of his jacket as he slid it from the back of his chair, shouldered it on and checked that the hand of the office clock agreed with the digit on his watch.
Not wishing to be drawn into meaningless conversation, he kept his head bowed in the lift (no wait, so a probable thirty seconds added to contingency), squeaked his soles resolutely through reception, and then branded his retinas with the white glare and buzz of the midday street. Irritable pedestrians lined the curb waiting for a pause in the sluicing traffic and then, determining a suitable gap, he headed into an angry blare of horns, navigating his way through the melee of cars. Being a probably thirty seconds ahead of schedule was positively invigorating.
The queues at the next crossing were deeper; sweaty agitation, heaving anxiety and terse irritability closed in around him. When the green man appeared, the banks burst, and he beavered his way through the marauding throng to the safety of the pavement beyond. In four buildings’ time, he’d be at the doors to Smith’s, the chrome plaque which bore the specialist’s name and credentials, a mere paving slab away. And having the goal in sight (in mind) as any good solider knew, was half the battle.
A thick, sweet smell of freshly fried doughnuts filled his nostrils, reminding him that his lunch lie waiting inside his desk drawer but, brushing off his sergeant major’s stripes, he battled through, ignoring his belly’s discontent.
Finally: Mr Ambrose Johns FRCS. To his eyes, the words spelled: ‘mission accomplished’ – or perhaps half-accomplished as he still had to repeat the journey in reverse. He rang the bell and pushed the door open at the same time as instructed on a notice pinned behind the glass of the door. A smiling lady greeted him at the top of the stairs and asked him to be seated whilst Mr Johns finished making notes from his last patient. She asked if he’d like water and he nodded that that would be very nice. He checked the time – the schedule – and relaxed a little, congratulating Mr Johns behind the heavy wooden door that he had the good sense to also be a disciple of excellent timekeeping; such a refreshing thing to encounter in these haphazard times.
At precisely the designated minute, the receptionist looked up as Mr Johns’ face appeared around the door to his room. He brought down dark-framed spectacles from his head, settled them onto the bridge of his nose and peered over, indicating his next client.
Entirely unnecessarily albeit good manners, the lady stood to show him the door to Mr Johns’ room and he happily followed, bowing his thanks to her. He sat when Mr Johns told him to and turned his attention to a screen that Mr Johns had in front of them which had a blurry negative image of a cauliflower or a butterfly on it when the light was switched on at the back.
Dr Kamal’s twenty minutes approached and Mr Johns had spoken a lot; he’d tapped his pencil at the image on the lightbox and asked the lady outside if she could replenish their glasses of water, but hadn’t appeared to appreciate the importance of timekeeping. Should he mention he now only had twelve minutes in which to leave and retrace his journey to work?
Did he have any questions? Well, there was no time for those. He’d have to ask Dr Kamal for a summary when he saw him next. He stood to thank Mr Johns and offered his hand.
‘I’m sorry; I don’t have long.’ He explained.
Mr Johns received his hand and patted the back of it with his other.
‘And we’re very sorry too,’ he said.
*written for the www.creativewritingink photo prompt competition 2nd March 2017*