After some time, a bearded, balding, overalled, paint spattered, coot man – stepladder and duffel bag in hand – came into the low level buzz of the waiting room. He clumsied himself and his chattel through the door, allowing a brief rush of oily, night cold air to enter, too. The gust, flustering the newspaper pages, the floor debris, the faded posters and hems and hairdos, drew a breath of huff and brief complaint from all who gathered within as it rolled around the yellow room.
Knott caught a glimpse of the forecourt in the doorway as the man entered and he saw that everything and nothing had been changed outside; the station was now bleached with a neon glare, the blithe bus still purred on the concrete. Within that brief view the sleek vehicle still held an allure, made more so, perhaps, by the white night light in which it was now bathed. The driver, something of the father-to-be about him, paced, with great appetite, its wonderful shape, whilst whistling some vague tune, his shape, in that borrowed view, bending and bowing in the hubcaps, the chrome; the breath clouding from him. The city beyond the domed forecourt had dimmed and all that remained was shadow.
The man closed the door with a sole of boot and crossed the room with some clatter, some gruff apologies. Eyes followed slyly, then drifted to a point of interest on the dirty floor, or closed. He set the bag down near the far wall. He set the step-ladder up against it and unravelled, hand over hand, a length of cloth from the bag. He laid out the dust sheet, taciturn, on his hands and knees, smoothing the corners and edges with a series of perfunctory palm gestures and clearing errant feet and bags with a soft coo rising from his black pearl throat. Shoo-shoo.
The room returned to as it was before, except now the balding coot man was above their heads daubing the wall with broad strokes of ghastly green emulsion that he sopped from a handled can snagged onto the top rung by means of a small, metal S.
Knott closed his eyes and, for want of something to take his mind from the monotony, summoned, as best he could, the strangers in the room around him. He made vague sketches of them on the backs of his eyelids; fleeting, insufficient, loose renditions – just coloured, amorphous shapes really – that came and went, playing in and out of focus, of view, of memory, dreamlike – the way, he imagined the autumn sun might dapple a sleepy orchard, revealing ethereal strands of dew web in the trees and bursts of apple-reds and yellows, the dawn-wet brome, breeze-blown, just delicately, the rising and falling limb and leaf shadows, the glinted sea beyond.
All of these things fell away and again she appeared, smiling, emerging from some indeterminate space between the trees, as clear as if she were before him. He caught, he fancied, the sillage of the white musk she favoured (what was that?) as she passed and melted away again into the undefined space somewhere at the front of his head. His heart grew all at once heavy and hung in his chest as an overlooked cooker might from an October bough, or a can of ugly green paint snared atop a ladder.
Someone coughed and he opened his eyes for some reason and was again in the waiting room. The wall was now mostly wet with paint and the coot man, back on the floor, was blotching, at arm’s length and then with a crouched and lazy monkey-like manner, the remainder with the green paint. Several of the others had moved away from that side of the room and had found themselves new seats. Those that endured clamped their faces with palms or cuffs or the crooks of their elbows or handkerchiefs, leaving only their eyes on view.
Knott breathed in the emulsion that had consumed the room and (perhaps it was the result of the cloying odour or the tone of the colour itself?) all at once came to the sudden and sad realisation that so many of his notions, about life, about love – taints that had lain half buried and unchecked for so long within him – were mostly laughably immature and actually (though quite thoughtlessly) pitiful – if not to those he cherished, he pursued, then certainly to himself. His tendency to quick judgement, petty jealousy, self doubt, only served to highlight an encroaching loneliness and some nameless existential jitter that was drawing, inexorably, toward him, or vice versa. A tear of the obnoxious paint had streamed, unseen or carelessly, down the wall and was now pooling on the concrete floor among the old newspaper sheets and the dirt.
The coot man, shooing, dragged the dust sheet – with the paint pot, the duffel, the stepladder laid out on it – with great oofs (and some grumble from the potential travellers) toward the second wall and the idea spread through Knott that she would not appear this evening and that he would remain, unless he gathered up his own scrap chattels with an enormous effort and made quiet exit, forever in this waiting room.
A moth must have been brought in from the forecourt on the breeze, for there was one now: a large, black blurring thing, stitching the irresistible light above the ticket office window with an intricate, incomprehensible wooing.